Protecting our wellbeing at work during COVID-19
As a country we are many months into a new way of living thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. People have experienced significant changes in their home lives and in their work life. We are all adapting to a new way of being, trying to remember who we can meet and to always carry a mask and hand sanitiser!
For many, home has actually become the workplace, with technology allowing us to operate effectively. Where companies had been reluctant to allow employees to work from home previously, it’s now expected or requested. For those that still go into the office or other work locations, there are social distancing rules and sanitising procedures to follow. Wherever your place of work, it’s highly likely that you have had to adapt to a new way of working in some way or other.
We’ve taken a look at both to see the new positives and negatives and how we can look to improve our wellbeing to make sure we remain well, healthy and comfortable in our new working environments.
Working at home
There are some real benefits to home working. First off, there’s a time and money saving! Unless you happen to live next door to your place of work, then you will save time on your daily commute to and from work and any costs of travel. How you decide to spend this additional time is up to you, maybe on something you enjoy; exercising or walking the dog; enjoying time with your family or going out for a meal!
Having more free time to spend as you wish is a great mood booster and can make you feel happier and more productive in the job you do.
Productivity may also increase if you are organised. You can be more focused and less distracted by colleagues and office chatter. This can make you feel positive about the job you do, improving your wellbeing. It’s also a benefit for the business you work for.
In your break time, you can prepare nutritious food rather than popping out for a coffee and cake, or chips at the pub. You’ll also be able to put a quick load in the washing machine or take the dog for a power walk, saving you time later in the day. The advantages of home working are appreciated by many.
However, working from home does not suit everyone and for some, it can be an isolating and lonely experience. If you are used to a busy office and interaction with colleagues, a quiet day alone can seem very long and eventually it could have a negative effect on your overall wellbeing.
You might not have the space to set up a comfortable workstation in your home which could lead to aches and pains if you are not sitting correctly over a period of time.
Eating habits can take a bit of a nosedive if you find the kitchen treat cupboard too easy to access because you just can’t get focused on your tasks, or you may get too focused on what you’re doing and forget to eat at all.
If you’re finding that working from home is not all that you expected it to be or you’re finding it hard to adapt then we have some suggestions and guidance, that may help.
How to work from home well
If you are finding working from home a challenge, there are some things that you can do to make the experience more enjoyable. Get into a routine similar to the one you followed when you were in your work location. If you stick to breaks and the structure of your working day when you were in the office, you will feel more in control. Take your breaks at your normal designated times and set an alarm so you don’t forget.
Prepare your lunch before you start your day, so you won’t need to grab something unhealthy at the last minute. When you take your break, move away from your working area. A quick change of scenery can make a big difference to your mental wellbeing and allow you to feel refreshed for the afternoon. If you’re snacking too often, try drinking a glass of water instead, it should suppress the feelings of hunger.
Make sure you stay in touch with your colleagues. In a normal working environment you are likely to interact with your peers throughout the day, so pick up the phone and speak to members of your team rather than sending an email, or set up a WhatsApp group to allow you to message each other with quick updates.
Find a comfortable place to work. It’s best to avoid soft seating like sofas or beds because they do not support your body well. The best place to put your laptop is on a table, rather than on your lap, because they get quite hot and can burn your legs. Ideally you should sit at a kitchen or dining room table. At an office desk you would be sitting in your chair with your thighs horizontal and your feet flat on the floor. This might not be achievable with home chairs, so you should make sure you stand up regularly and move about. Try standing up whilst taking a phone call or placing your drink at a distance so you have to get up to reach it.
Be safe in your home. Make sure that any cabling isn’t going to cause a trip hazard. Your new home workstation is not normally there, and you may forget about the wires that are trailing across the floor! You can also create an emergency plan, just in case you fall ill, have an accident, or experience a fire whilst working from home. With this in mind, it’s also a good idea to have your mobile phone with you at all times.
If you feel that your wellbeing is being negatively affected by working from home, you should speak to your manager or health and safety colleagues.
Office working during COVID-19
Whilst many companies have been able to accommodate working from home for their staff, for some businesses it’s just not possible. If you’re a doctor or dentist, in the care sector or provide veterinary services, it’s unlikely that working from home is an option.
In your work location, how you sit at your desk or workstation may not have changed, but the environment and way of working certainly will have.
Businesses have had to adapt their work locations to ensure that employees feel safe and comfortable and are as protected as possible against exposure to COVID-19 whilst they are at work. Safety measures may include socially distanced workstations, hand sanitising stations, gloves and mask wearing, regular desk wiping and the introduction of one-way traffic systems.
People should be encouraged not to congregate in communal areas, such as by the water cooler or in the kitchen. Eating lunch at your desk will avoid too many people in the kitchen, or you could try introducing staggered breaks. Any client meetings should take place via online communication methods where possible but if visitors do need to come into your building, a robust procedure should be in place to ensure you have taken safety measure before and after their visit.
Our COVID-19 risk management pack has some handy checklists including a visitor health questionnaire which you can access here.
Some people may feel nervous about being in a work location with others, which may have a detrimental effect on their overall wellbeing. To help any colleagues that feel this way, reassurance can be provided with regular risk assessment checks and reminders to all employees of the new ways of working, on a regular basis.
The Barnes Commercial Risk Management hub can help you to reassure colleagues with free e-learning courses and many potential areas of risk for your business. You can find out more about how we can help you to manage business risk here.
Wellbeing at work
Regardless of where you work, the pandemic is affecting us all in some way. Remaining positive and feeling well in body and mind is important, as we navigate through this unsettling time. Some employees or colleagues may be struggling with the situation, so we should look to support each other as much as possible.
We can reach out to colleagues that we think might be finding the new ways of working difficult. They might be experiencing stress or low mood as a result of the changes, which are ultimately out of their control.
Signs and symptoms caused by stress can show in lots of different ways. Here are just a few of the signs to recognise in ourselves and others:
- Low Energy
- Upset Stomach
- Aches, Pains and Tense Muscles
- Chest Pain and Rapid Heartbeat
- Frequent Colds and Infections
- Mood Swings
There are some things that we can do to help us manage stress more effectively.
Eat and drink well
Make sure you’re eating a healthy balanced diet and your meals are at regular intervals. Don’t forget to keep hydrated.
After work, take time to do the things that you enjoy. Make sure you’re getting regular sleep and establish a good bedtime routine. Our ability to cope with stress is much better when we are rested.
In your lunch break, think about taking a walk. If you’re at a work location, park a little further away so you have to walk to the office. If you can, walk or cycle to work. Exercise rewires mental toughness, reduces stress levels and helps us to cope and manage our mental health better. Less stress leaves room for more happiness.
Be kind to yourself
If someone offers support, take it. Focus on what you’re doing well. Try meditation – it will help with improved focus, reduces stress and anxiety, improves self-esteem and can lengthen attention span.
The last few months have been tough in different ways for different people, and our wellbeing may have suffered at times. But by taking positive steps to make sure that we are comfortable, healthy and well in body and mind, we can support our overall wellbeing, protect each other and prosper in our work environments wherever they may be.
For more information on how we can help you with risk management advice and guidance please click here.