This pandemic has brought many hurdles with it for us to deal with. Us as a society. Us in our own communities, Us in our own family units. At every level we have been challenged. And while many aspects we’re dealing with currently show some promise of returning to a version of normal we are somewhat familiar with, our new ‘working from home’ status, may not be one of them.

Millions of us are now clocking in at home, potentially for the first time in our working career. Whether you’re sat at the dining room or kitchen table, perched on the sofa at the coffee table or are in fact working from a home office, your working environment will have a lot to with how your mental health is affected by our new ‘at home’ situation.

It’s no secret that levels of depression have increased during the pandemic, plus, in a recent survey by the Royal Institute of British Architects many people said working from home had made them more stressed.

For some working from home will be a great fit, some may wonder why they haven’t been doing it for years – we have a feeling a lot of companies will see it that way too, after all if there’s one thing closing an office will do, it drastically reduces overheads. But it does bring employee mental health and whose responsibility it is in to question.

The question is, what can be done to keep us happier at home? We spoke to Becky Valentine, Director and Chief Operating Officer, Spenbeck. Becky is leading sustainability, wellbeing and inclusion within Spenbeck’s portfolio, working with companies to create the optimum physical working environment to ensure they and their employees thrive. She gave us her top tips so that you can make your working from home experience more mental health friendly and, ultimately, more productive.

Be aware of your context

It may sound obvious, but where you work will have a huge impact on your mental health. For example, are you at the kitchen table or in a home office? It’s been shown that those in a dedicated work space like a home office do fair better than those utilising ‘home’ areas to work from.

If you are working from a spare room or kitchen or dining room table, discuss with your employer any constraints to see how these can be managed flexibly. It could be the smallest thing that makes all the difference, such as, clearing your kitchen office ‘desk’ once the kids are home, then doing another hour or so of work when they’ve gone to bed.

Be honest with yourself and manager about your context and then decide which small steps can you take to make it less overwhelming – I have a box that I hide all my work stuff in when I clear away before the kids come home!

Remove triggers that will negatively affect your mental and physical health

Outside of your immediate work area, your desk, there are further things you can do to assist positive mental health in your home.
To start with, you can remove plug in air fresheners and non-natural candles. We give a lot of thought to the air outside, but how much time have you spent thinking about the air inside your home? The inside of our homes can be more polluted than that outside. Studies have been carried out to measure the different substances that air fresheners emit and the results have shown that they contain numerous chemicals associated with toxic effects and in some cases cancer. These include: volatile organic compounds – VOCs, benzene, formaldehyde, toluene and phthalates to name a few.

Some air pollutants such as plug-ins can also emit secondary pollutants, which are caused when the primary ingredients mix with ozone – a coming indoor and outdoor pollutant – which is often in our homes. These too are detrimental to our health poor air-quality can result in headaches and respiratory issues. Going fragrance free will dramatically improve your environment and if you’re worried about odours, baking soda is a safe way to absorb them.

Alongside artificial smells, you should also consider artificial lighting. You should ensure it is suitable for working at a screen (if applicable), not just for living under. Get as much natural daylight as possible, it’s been shown that those who work closer to a window are seen to be happier to work a full schedule, the exposure to vitamin-D will also do its part to help combat depression and chronic pain.

Block out any distracting noise where possible – if something is niggling you in the room you’re working in, sort it out. Otherwise it will bother you subconsciously all day and affect your concentration levels.

And, if you are planning on a home office refurb, or creating one from scratch, try to use low VOC paints and flooring. They don’t let off as many harmful compounds as your regular options, which can only be a good thing!

Improve your physical environment

As we’ve already established, working in as much natural light as possible should be something you strive to do daily. If you can find a garden view or work in view of plants as it is proven to improve worker concentration, engagement and cognitive ability.

Keep your windows on vent throughout the house to improve indoor air quality. Ever wondered why you get that slump at around 3pm? At this point most people head to the kitchen in search of more caffeine and a biscuit. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but it isn’t a sugar slump. Research in to air quality actually shows that by mid-afternoon CO2 levels build up enough to make you rather drowsy. When it’s warmer, or the room you’re working in gets the sun, keep the windows open even wider.

Try your best to keep certain rooms entirely work free. Working from home brings with it many challenges, it is vital you have some spaces that are still entirely free from anything remotely to do with work.
And that’s not even taking into consideration temperature levels – a contentious issue in every office around the globe… at least working from home you’re in control of the room temp!

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