Taking a break from the work commute because of coronavirus? Make sure your new workspace is good for your mind and body
Working from home comes with its own challenges, including how to stay motivated, how to maintain a healthy posture in your home office and how to unwind at the end of a busy day. The coronavirus pandemic (and the rise of the Omicron variant) has forced us to consider how we can stay productive at home, despite the distractions around us. To help, we’ve put together this advice guide that explains how you can improve your working environment.
Keep scrolling and incorporate our 10 tips into your working day – with our help, you can tick ‘Take care of myself’ off the to-do list.
1. Keep on moving
When we’re in the office, we leave our desks for conversations with colleagues, trips to the photocopier or bathroom, or to get a hot drink. At home, we tend to be more sedentary. This isn’t great for our health and doesn’t give us the break from our workstation that the body needs. It’s important to include breaks in your working from home schedule. You can build movement and stretches into your home working day.
For example, try: Walking around (freely or on a treadmill desk) rather than sitting still when you’re on a phone call. Doing squats while you wait for the kettle to boil. Using the bathroom on another floor so you get some exercise climbing the stairs. Doing a workout on your scheduled break The Health and Safety Executive says that ‘short, frequent breaks are better than longer, infrequent ones’. For example, five to 10 minutes every hour is better than 20 minutes every two hours. But if you find yourself getting achy more often than that, listen to your body and move around a bit. If you fancy doing a home workout in your breaks, our guide on how to set up a home gym will help you get started.
2. Look after your eyes
Hours spent looking at a computer screen won’t do your eyes any favours. It’s always a good idea to adjust the brightness and contrast controls on your screen, depending on how light your room is. Adjust display settings on Windows If you’re using a Windows PC to work from home, adjust your brightness by going to Settings > System > Display. Meanwhile, the Night light tool on Windows will show warmer colours in the evening that are easier on your eyes. To configure it, click Night light on the Display page mentioned above. From there, choose Schedule night light, then pick between Sunset to sunrise or Set hours.
Adjust display settings on Mac Every Mac has dedicated brightness increase and decrease keys. If your machine has an ambient light sensor, you can go to Apple menu > System Preferences, then click Displays. Choose Automatically adjust brightness. To manually adjust brightness levels, you can play around with the Brightness slider on the Displays page mentioned above. With Night Shift on Mac (a pre-installed tool), you can shift the colours of your display to the warmer end of the colour spectrum when it gets dark. Go to Apple Menu > System Preferences > Displays > Night Shift to configure the tool.
When configuring your PC monitor or laptop screen, remember to: Make sure individual characters on the screen are sharp, in focus and don’t flicker or move. If they do, your equipment may need adjusting. Choose a text size that is large enough to read easily on the screen when sitting in your normal working position. Select colours that are easy on the eye – for example, avoid red text on a blue background and vice-versa. Kirsty Angerer, ergonomic consultant and member of the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors says: ‘Our eyes are muscles so they, too, need to move regularly and also have frequent rest breaks from looking at the screen.’ Try and follow the ’20/20/20 rule’ to give your eyes a little rest. That means that every 20 minutes, you look 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
3. Create boundaries
Working in an office affords us the opportunity to both physically and psychologically leave our working life in the office at the end of the day. Caroline Boyd, business psychologist at The Manager Hub, says: ‘When you’re working from home, this isn’t so easy to achieve. However, creating a demarcation between work life and home life may be beneficial to your mental wellbeing.’ If you’re lucky enough to have a whole room for your office, close the door on it when work is over and don’t return until the next time you’re due to start work. It’s also worth tidying your office space at the end of each day so you don’t dread returning to it – a Which? Best Buy vacuum cleaner can help you get the job done.
Document boxes and file boxes can also help with organisation. Sticking to a strict work time routine will help to structure your day. Set your alarm to get up, prioritise tasks and pause to mark progress at the end of each day. You can also try: Clearing away your laptop from a shared working space, such as the kitchen table. Using screens or room dividers to shield work paraphernalia from view during downtime. Dressing for work, even if you’re not on Google Hangouts, Skype or Zoom calls, to get your head into a work frame of mind. Putting a sign on your ‘office’ door giving instructions to others, such as ‘In a meeting – do not disturb’.
4. Put a plant on your desk Many home decor sites and online shops suggest home offices with plants benefit from improved performance among staff compared with those without. Plants can help to oxygenate a space and result in numerous health benefits, including reducing fatigue and headaches. However, contrary to popular claims, plants will do little to purify the air indoors.
5. Think about indoor air quality
The air you’re working in needs to be clean, particularly if you have hay fever, other allergies or asthma. With this in mind, you can try: Opening your windows to remove polluting particles from the air. Vacuuming carpets frequently as these can harbour allergens. Using less-polluting cleaning products. Dusting your working space. An air purifier may also help. In the Which? test lab, we assess air purifiers for pollen, dust and smoke removal. Noise and how much energy each air purifier uses also impact our recommendations.
6. Consider an air conditioner or dehumidifier
If your workspace gets hot and stuffy in the summer, you might want to invest in an air conditioner. You have two main options – a standalone air conditioner or a split-unit air conditioner. A standalone air conditioner, also known as a single-unit or portable air conditioner, is plugged into your mains socket. It works by feeding the hose of the machine through an open window. Meanwhile, a split-unit air conditioner is comprised of both an indoor and outdoor unit. Another option is a dehumidifier, which can help remove condensation and damp. These machines draw excess moisture from the air around you, which helps tackle condensation. To see which models we recommend, check in with our guide: Best dehumidifiers 2022. For more on maintaining a good temperature in your home office, read: How to buy the best air conditioner.
7. Create familiar noise
If you’re used to knuckling down in a busy office or relish the hubbub of a public space, such as a café, there are free smartphone apps that can help recreate the ambient sounds of, say a coffee shop, to get you in the work frame of mind. Or you can use sounds that simply help you stay calm. Android users can try: Ambientify – more than 130 ambient sounds. You can save your favourites for quick access. Atmosphere – soundtracks organised by environments including ‘Forest’, ‘Beach’ and ‘City’. Ambience – you can layer relaxing sounds on top of each other. Try picking a sound effect and then add a music track. If you own an Apple iPhone or iPad, try: Calm – music to help you focus and relax Rain Rain Sleep Sounds – more than 100 unique sounds for work, calm or study Slumber – soothing sounds to help you de-stress
8. Remember the importance of natural light
Natural light pouring into your home office is not only excellent for your eyes, it’s good for your mind too. The best position for a desk is at 90 degrees to a window, so that light doesn’t cause glare from behind or dazzle from in front. Changing your focus (by looking out of a window, for example), blinking from time to time and taking time away from your screen altogether are important to give your eyes a break. If your home office doesn’t have any windows, invest in a desk lamp to brighten things up. Alternatively, you could move your workspace to follow the best daylight throughout your working day by buying a desk on wheels, a laptop stand or a sofa tray desk. Compare more types in our home office desk buying guide
9. Invest in a coffee machine or blender
Standing up and giving yourself breaks from your computer screen is important. Heading to the kitchen to make your favourite tipple gives you an excuse to leave your desk. Find out which coffee machines make the tastiest brew, are easy to use and clean and how much they’ll cost to run, in our round-up of the best coffee machines. If you fancy making a smoothie or a milkshake, you’ll need a blender
10. Try colour therapy Give your workspace a makeover and inject new colours for a noticeable impact on your state of mind. That could be a coat of paint or a favourite accessory in your eyeline. Karen Haller, colour psychology expert and author of The Little Book of Colour, told us: ‘Pick colours that you love to help brighten your mood and improve productivity. When it comes to colour psychology, yellow communicates happiness and optimism – it’s like a cheery hello!’ ‘A dash of red could be the pick-me-up that you need, or a turquoise blue to wake up the mind. Go with what feels right for you, which could change from morning to afternoon.’