There are many positive aspects to allowing employees to work from home or adopting a more hybrid way of working. However there are some factors that do need to be considered that could cause a potential issue for those working in this way.
"The environment was beginning to make me feel rather burnt out as well as effecting my ability to function productively in my role."- Admin Assistant
The best way to advise on how to improve a home office environment is to take a look at the downsides as opposed to working in an office environment. So what are they?
- Poor seating and desk setup
- Less resources and equipment
- Switching off and setting boundaries is difficult
- Less inclined to take set breaks and have actual downtime
- Poor environmental factors
- Inadequate lighting
- Less communication
- Lack of connection with others in person
The desk and seating
Whilst working on your sofa may sound amazing, the practicality of it that it can cause numerous issues with your back. It is always advisable not just for posture, but for state of mind to have a separate work space dedicated to your time of working.
Space doesn't have to be an issue as you can actually set up an area in a small corner if you are clever about the choice of desk and chair. You could also make use of your dining table. And if you don't have space for an appropriate ergonomic chair, you could use your existing dining chairs and add a sitting wedge to angle your pelvis forward and correct your posture. You can also get a backfriend or lumbar support.
Poor seating arrangements can cause so many musculoskeletal problems (MSK). Other equipment that can be purchased to ensure a safe set up are a peripheral mouse, a wrist wrest and a footrest. These simple and sometimes inexpensive items can make a huge difference to future physical issues for someone working from home.
Equipment and resources
‘Tech neck’ is an issue to watch out for; the stress caused to muscles in the neck, back and shoulders by leaning forward for long periods of time. This is exacerbated by using smart phones, tablets and laptops. To reduce this risk it is best to a desk top PC where the monitor height can be adjusted to eye level.
Offices are designed in such a way that everything an employee needs is available. When they start working from home; that equipment they once had to hand such as printers, stationery, other office accessories and also adequate internet are no longer accessible. There is nothing more frustrating if you don't have the best Wi-Fi and the connection is continuously dropping out. Its enough to make the most placid person on the planet turn into a swearing lunatic who threatens the PC with actual physical harm.
Just 3% of UK employees want to work from home most of the time, according to research carried out by global workplace experts Steelcase in March 2021. The findings also revealed that nearly one in five (18%) reported a worsening level of productivity.
Not having that commute (however long or short) to the office can mean there is no clear divide between switching off from your home life to entering into the mindset of your working day. It is therefore imperative to ensure the worker is able to schedule in regular breaks away from their desk and screen to move around, go for a walk and just separate themselves momentarily. This will help to prevent any future burnout and issues with productivity.
Breaks and downtime
Employees should be encouraged to practice the 40-20 rule, which is to sit and work for 40 minutes, then move around and walk for 20 minutes. If this is not practical, encouraging the worker to take a lunch break walk will help instil some acknowledgement of self care and bring a sense of mindfulness as they walk, relieving and stress and built up tension.
Setting clear start and finish times is so important too as many have found they would be checking emails constantly and never actually switching off when they should be relaxing with their family.
Employees should be encouraged to cultivate a nice-looking home workspace. Somewhere a member of staff would choose to be, rather than be out of requirement. Therefore a good way to look at this and approach creating the space, is to make a home out of your workspace.
Similarly, the environment they work in should befit that of a respected person. Clean. Free of clutter, and decorated with personality (collectibles, stickers, statues). This way, a member of staff would feel relaxed, at home, and motivated. Ensuring your staff are aware of the importance of their workspace when setting up their office area is paramount.
The lighting around a member of staff can genuinely affect their mood and output a lot.
If staff are working in areas with weak lighting (broken lights included) - the staff are known to feel more lethargic, less motivated, and less driven to complete the tasks that are laid out.
Due to this, strong lights with warmer glows give a better sense of motivation to members of staff and are actually documented as having strong positive impacts on their mood; particularly if the source of the light is the sun. For this reason, setting up a workspace in an area with larger windows would be beneficial.
The greatest issue facing staff in the modern era is a feeling of disconnect between them and those who are supposed to be their superiors and also their colleagues. It is of the upmost importance to create a strong positive repour between staff members and management. This will ensure staff are not intimidated by situations where they may need to ask for help and can also gain assistance and guidance from their peers.
The best way to do this, would be to have some level of open chat between staff members. There are so many options available now for internal communications, and do not have to simply rely on email and calls. The members of staff should be encouraged to use all methods available to them that they are comfortable using.
It isn't uncommon for members of staff who enjoy their jobs to mention their good bonds with their colleagues, as the main reason for this enjoyment. This is a good thing to keep in mind in terms of staff well being when home working is being introduced. Additional team building and bonding days should be increased to accommodate the changes.
In a similar vain to the last point, staff often feel limited in their capability to converse with colleagues. A limitation often born from mental blocks, making them worry they'll be disciplined if they ever converse on topics that aren't entirely topical to the job they're doing. However, for the benefit of their motivation and enjoyment of their job, 'chatting' should be encouraged, as long as it doesn't interfere with their output too much.
It also has a significant effect when it comes to reducing burnout. Having a chuckle at a fellow member of staff's joke while working keeps morale high and motivation at its peak.