Working from home is a new trend that’s here to stay. As improved technology makes it easier than ever to work remotely, more and more employees are ready to skip the commute. One recent study 1 found that remote work grew by 159% between 2005 and 2017 -- and that was before the 2020 pandemic accelerated the trend. Telecommuting is quickly becoming the “new normal.”
If you’ve just started working from home recently, you may have found that this new lifestyle takes some adjustment. Going to an office provided a structured routine to your day, with neat separations between work and home life helping you shift gears between different priorities. At home, the only structure is the one you create. Without a plan, it’s easy for healthy habits to go out the window.
Working from home gives you the freedom and responsibility of creating your own routine. Think of it as an opportunity to design your life in a way that helps you stay healthy and productive. With a little bit of structure, you can keep track of your goals and priorities so that nothing falls through the cracks. Here are some healthy habits that can help you stay balanced when you’re working from home.
1. Set Clear Boundaries
The quest for work/life balance takes on a whole new meaning when both things happen in the same place. Drawing a clear line between work life and home life will help prevent either one from overtaking the other.
Set regular work hours and stick to your schedule. It helps to have a consistent morning routine, just as if you were going to the office. Get up at the same time each morning, get dressed for work, and be ready to start your work day on time. This will help your brain shift into work mode.
When your work day is over, sign off for the day, and turn off email notifications. Don’t let work bleed into your personal time. Take time to exercise, meditate, or catch up with a friend and let your brain shift out of work mode.
2. Set Up Your Workspace
Have a designated work area in the house, and make sure other family members know when not to disturb you -- for instance, during certain hours, or when the door is closed. If there are too many distractions at home, find a comfortable place outside of the house to work, such as a cozy coffee shop or a quiet library.
Set up your work space so that it’s comfortable, uncluttered, and pleasant. If possible, get an ergonomic computer chair that's supportive and adjustable, so that you can maintain a healthy posture while sitting for long hours. Your feet should be flat on the floor and your forearms should be parallel with the floor when you type.
Make sure you have good lighting and that your computer screen is positioned at eye level, without any strong glare off the screen. If your work environment is noisy, you may want to invest in some noise-cancelling headphones to help you get into your zone.
3. Take Desk Breaks
Even if your desk setup is ergonomically correct, it’s unhealthy to stay in the same position for too long. Not only are you likely to develop muscle strain and eye strain from your fixed position, just being sedentary for that long can have a negative impact on your health. Extended sitting has even been called “the new smoking” because it comes with similar health risks.2
Set a reminder on your computer to get up at least every hour. Do some stretches, or better yet, take a quick walk around the block. If you can, take your calls and virtual meetings on a walk, too.
Walking outdoors helps boost your mood and relieve stress, especially if you can walk in a green space.3 Getting a few minutes of sunshine will also help you get your vitamin D, as well as regulate your circadian rhythms, which helps you sleep. It’s also good for your eyes to take a break from the screen and focus on varying distances outdoors.
4. Prep Some Healthy Food
Sometimes when we have too many options, we end up defaulting to the easiest one. For example, when you have a whole kitchen of food at your disposal, you may not think to plan your meals the way you would if you were packing a lunch. Then, when you get busy with work, it’s all too easy to just grab the nearest snack, rather than preparing a healthy lunch.
That’s why it helps to plan ahead. If you want to take out time from your work day to make lunch, block out the time you need. Have a few simple lunch recipes that you can cycle through, and make sure you’re stocked up on the ingredients you need. If you’d rather not take an extended lunch break, prepare your lunch ahead of time. You can also make extra portions of dinner at night and save the leftovers for lunch the next day.
It’s also smart to have some simple, healthy snacks you can grab. Rather than reaching for simple carbs, which will cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash, try something that includes protein and fiber, like yogurt and fruit, veggie sticks with hummus dip, or a smoothie with a scoop of protein powder. This will give you longer-lasting energy.
It’s also important to stay hydrated. Keep a water bottle on your desk and refill it regularly. Avoid making a habit out of sugary drinks. If you find water uninspiring, try adding a few slices of fruit or mint leaves to your water pitcher for a little flavor infusion.
5. Schedule Your Exercise
When you’re at home, surrounded by constant reminders of all the indoor projects and activities you want to do, it’s easy to lose track of your health goals. You may have great intentions about getting in regular exercise, but if it’s not in the schedule, it probably won’t happen.
The good news is that staying active at home doesn’t have to be hard. Health experts recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate activity a day to stay healthy.4 A simple walk, jog, or bike around the neighborhood can fill this prescription. If you have an exercise bike or treadmill, you can keep this up in poor weather, too. A fitness app can help you track your progress and meet specific goals.
If you need a scheduled class to help motivate you, there are plenty of options, and more of them than ever are available online. Your local gym or yoga studio probably offers virtual classes, and if not, you can easily find live-streamed or pre-recorded home workout classes by subscription, or even for free on YouTube. Whether you’re looking for intimate one-on-one instruction or an upbeat group class with a communal vibe, there’s something for everyone.
6. Stay Connected
It’s natural to feel a little isolated when you start working from home. But just because you’re physically distant doesn’t mean you have to be socially distant. Keeping in touch with your co-workers through chat, calls, and video will help everyone feel more socially connected, which is good for morale and mental health.
Remember to get out of the house now and then, so that you don’t go stir crazy. Take a walk in a local park or grab a coffee and find a bench where you can watch the world go by. Keep in touch with friends and family outside of work and home. You’ll feel more balanced and whole if you can stay connected with the wider world.
1. Hering, Beth Bracio. “Remote Work Statistics: Shifting Norms and Expectations.” Flexjobs, Feb 2020.
2. Laskowski, Edward R. “What are the risks of sitting too much?” Mayo Clinic, May 2018.
3. Koselka, Elizabeth P D et al. “Walking Green: Developing an Evidence Base for Nature Prescriptions.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 16,22 4338. 7 Nov. 2019, doi:10.3390/ijerph16224338
4. Lakowski, Edward R. “How much should the average adult exercise every day?” Mayo Clinic, April 2019.