The invasion of the COVID-19 pandemic in everyone’s lives has put forth unique challenges in front of the Indian workforce. As a large section of the white-collar workforce has switched over to working from home as a result of the Indian government’s-imposed lockdown that has now extended for a further 14 days over the originally proscribed 21 days, a few key concerns need urgent attention from businesses.
Working from home, under normal circumstances, allows employees greater flexibility, eliminates the need to commute, saving valuable time and spares them the stress of braving crowded public transport and congested roads. In the current situation, working from home has been most effective for employees in keeping their households running and maintaining social isolation. With schools and day cares shut, parents with young children are able to also attend to their children’s’ needs.
However, working from home has its own drawbacks, the primary one being the effect on mental health and wellbeing. According to a 2019 survey of over 1000 US employees by Airtasker, 29% remote workers struggle with work-life balance, as boundaries keep blurring between personal and professional domains. The other major problem is that of a sense of isolation and loneliness. Over time, these two concerns ramify, leading to worsened stress, the inability to unplug oneself from work, anxiety and depression. In a sense, without some checks and balances, working from home can result in the same conditions it was created to alleviate in the first place. Luckily, there are some solutions that are relatively easy to follow to help counter these.
- Setting boundaries in space and time for work:
The approaches that can be applied to combat the two major problems listed above are not mutually exclusive. Regardless of our individual traits, humans are fundamentally creatures of habit. Two immediate steps might help remote workers struggling to attain work-life: to have designated work spaces, and to establish and maintain a work schedule that matches ones’ office hours. One needs to build discipline about separating the space and time they establish for work versus private spaces and non-working hours of the day, barring emergencies.
Comfortable workspaces are known to boost productivity. Following common tips about ergonomic posture, eye health by controlling screen brightness and allowing for some green view goes a long way. General wellness tips such as maintaining hydration through your workday, choosing a comfortable chair with proper back support, using a screen which is height- adjusted to the eye level helps reduce fatigue and prolonged tension on neck and back. For postural comfort, and steady blood pressure, you can put a small footstool near your work chair.
Once you have set up your workspace, the next order of business is to organize your workday efficiently. Time management techniques like The Pomodoro technique, which breaks down an eight-hour work day in to segments of 25 minutes dedicated to specific tasks, interspersed with 5 to 7 minutes of breaks is a very useful trick to keep productivity up, while taking breaks. You can use these breaks to refresh your mind, do a couple of quick stretches to boost your ergonomic health or simply, take a short walk and refill your glass of water or tea. Usually making the breaks analog and away from the screen is a good strategy for maintaining wellbeing.
- Minimizing distractions using technology: If you don’t need to access social media for work, unplugging oneself from personal social media accounts is a good strategy to limit distractions. Many apps are useful to restrict social media usage or distractive web surfing. Broadly, these apps can be grouped by their ability to aid in streamlining focus, minimize distraction and enable teamwork. Several apps allow you to block distracting websites, custom block your time for specific tasks such as responding to emails and research or writing tasks and manage workflows for team members if you are in a managerial role. Apps built on principles of behavioral analysis help study behavior patterns and then set custom reminders to nudge you towards healthier habits. Most apps today integrate across multiple platforms and devices, and can help circumvent all difficulties of working from home as well as building better work productivity habits in general. A pretty comprehensive list is available here: https://www.ventureharbour.com/best-productivity-apps/
- Maintaining essentials of self-care: While we are required to practice physical distancing, staying in touch with friends and family over phone is important during this period for mental health. This lockdown might even provide urban families with extra family time. Allowing some time for yoga, stretching and meditation assisted by online apps or videos will help protect your mental health. Unplugging from work emails and texts outside working hours is important to protect the boundaries between life and work.
We are fortunate to have lives where we can retreat to the comfort of our homes, work and receive salaries. However, we should also spare thoughts for people who do not have this luxury, and acknowledge that by their labor, are our comforts made possible. We can honor the law enforcement members maintaining safety, the scientists trying to find a cure, the doctors and nurses at the frontline battling the virus, the supply chain workers for essential commodities who jeopardize their safety and are putting their lives at risk for us, by simply staying indoors and letting them do their jobs.