Ways to be greener and support your mental wellbeing whilst working from home
Written by Hannah Robbins
I don’t know how many times I’ve started a piece of writing since March 2020 with the words “this year has been drastically different from others”. I feel a bit like a broken record, but it’s true – many if not all of us have had to do things or are doing what we never imagined we’d be doing.
I think if anything, it’s certainly highlighted the importance of looking after ourselves and the planet with renewed vigour. Whilst the climate change debate continues and is by no means a small challenge to tackle, going green has never been more talked about. I don’t know if it’s the Attenborough effect or Greta effect – or even a COVID-19 effect, but whatever it is, it’s a positive thing. That’s important to acknowledge.
Yes, there’s so much left to tackle – government policy has a long way to go (and it can often feel like pushing water uphill) but it’s by no means out of our reach. And whilst less cars are on the road, less offices and businesses consuming energy may seem like the right answer to reducing greenhouse gases (GHG), it’s a little more complicated than that.
Additionally, we must address the elephant in the room too – that supporting our wellbeing has never been more important. The choices and actions we make impact our mental wellbeing more than we realise.
When the SaveMoneyCutCarbon offices closed their doors to all but essential staff in March, I remember feeling this surreal feeling that I’m sure many of us up and down the country felt. Pretty much overnight we all had to make drastic changes to our routines, changes that impact everyone in different ways. I was certainly seeing a lot more of my partner than I had anticipated – and a lot less of my family. It’s no secret that everyone’s been struggling with this over the past few months – whether you’re an essential worker, on the front line at NHS hospitals, furloughed for weeks and weeks or been stuck at home working the 9-5.
We’ve all been weathering the same storm in our different boats, and though all these lockdowns, tier changes and restrictions may feel a bit old hat and frustrating, they will likely be lasting a good chunk of 2021 also.
So, with all that in mind, what are some ways you can support yourself and the environment in this new reality we’re living?
Be smarter than your smart meter
You may not have control of your energy use from your computer or home office equipment, but there are certainly lots of ways you can minimise your energy consumption, whether that be for electronics or you’re heating.
- Make sure your computer is switched off overnight – this is good for your bills and for your mental wellbeing. You’ll be able to have that full “switch off” feeling during the day.
- Sleep your computer or set it to low-power mode during lunch breaks – this will further reduce your energy and force you to take regular breaks.
- Fill your kettle using your mug, not the tap – this makes sure that you’re only ever drawing enough energy to make your cuppa, and not masses more water than you’ll need.
- Consider the brightness of your screens and other DSE equipment – whilst further reducing the power needed to run your machine, it’ll also reduce strain on your eyes.
- Reduce ‘vampire power‘ on any plugged-in devices or chargers you’re not using – the trick is if the plug is hot, then it’s drawing energy. Using standby power can be prevented by switching off your tech and appliances at the wall when not in use – this may be your microwave, TV, oven, games console etc.
- Time your household chores well – for example, you can avoid using the tumble dryer and use an airer when your radiators are on, or for when it’s forecasted to be sunny outside. Try and save on washing up and laundry by re-using dishes (I.e. water glasses, mugs, even plates) and re-wear clothing. It’s unlikely your clothes will wear as much if you’re at home most of the time, so re-wearing tops and trousers a couple times, and jumpers and jeans 3 or 4 times should help reduce your washing. (although that being said, if you’re wearing jeans at home, I salute you – in my house I’m permanently in comfy loungewear bottoms!)
- Turn off electric items when leaving a room – this is a no brainer. Leaving lights or electronics on in rooms you are not using is just wasteful, for you and the planet.
- Invest in some energy efficient bias lighting for behind your monitors or screens – this will help reduce strain on your eyes. It’s called bias lighting – it’s placed behind a screen (commonly a TV) to increase the ambient light around the screen. This reduces light shining into the viewers eyes, helping reduce eye strain and fatigue by keeping our eyes from constantly trying to adjust from bright screens to darker rooms.
Set yourself up to succeed
Making sure you’re giving yourself the chance to succeed (whatever that may look like in your circumstances) is vital to maintaining your wellbeing. There are many ways you can do this, and they’re all applicable whether you’re working from home, furloughed or on the job hunt.
Create a routine – and stick to it
Whether you’re working from home or not, creating a routine will help focus your mind and give your day a structure and purpose. Consistency is key. If you are working, make sure you are clear on the lines between working and personal time, following your usual working patterns. You could wake up at the same time you do for work and schedule a “commuting time” and spend that time going for a walk, working out, reading or listening to music.
If you aren’t a home worker, making sure you wake up at a consistent time (maybe treating yourself to a lie in on the weekends) will help keep your sleeping patterns in check. You could also create a simple to do list to bring focus to your free time – and it doesn’t have to be a daunting one. On it could be things like take a shower, get out of your pyjamas, read a chapter of your book, set up a new playlist – it could be anything, it doesn’t have to always be productive. Ticking these off will help you feel like you’ve achieved something today, and (hopefully) motivate you.
Also make sure you stick to a reasonable or your usual bedtime!
Make a dedicated work or productivity space
This one is probably more applicable to home workers than not but works if you’re setting up your side hustle or job hunting too. Set up a dedicated space to work from, somewhere that’s quiet (wherever possible) away from people and distractions like the TV. Even in small or shared spaces, try and find somewhere that can serve as a conducive working environment.
Gather all the things you may need – pens, notebooks, chargers, resources and materials – and set them all up neatly, so the clutter doesn’t make your mind feel cluttered. If you can, try and get an adjustable chair to help with sitting long hours at your workspace, but if you don’t have one or can’t get one, you can use cushions and boxes to support you in your chair and as a footrest.
Take regular breaks – and cut yourself some slack
Being stuck at home all the time, (whether by choice or not) can get overwhelming at times. Working from home especially can make us feel like we need to be available at all times – even if you’re job hunting, forcing yourself to fill out application after application without some me time is a recipe for disaster. But being simply “present” isn’t helpful to your team (existing or future) or to yourself.
Feeling like you have dry eyes, blurred vision, trouble concentrating or struggling to keep your eyes open? You’re not tired, your eyes are straining. Try the 20-20-20 rule: for every 20 minutes of screen time, spend 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away (approximately). It takes your eyes about 20 seconds to relax, and by looking at something further away will help reduce eye strain.
Make time to socialise virtually, or connect with your people
Whilst you may love being home all the time, you can start to feel isolated. Make sure you’re checking in with your friends, family members and colleagues regularly. Lean on each other for support when you need to – this will help boost your mental wellbeing and theirs.
Making time outside of work for socialising will help – we’ve not got restaurants or cinemas or shops to go to, so it’s important you make virtual plans to compensate, as humans are naturally social beings. If you’re working, you could even ask to do a Zoom call with a colleague to work alongside them virtually, in silence if you like. That can help you feel like you have company, especially if you live alone.
Set boundaries – for others and yourself
Do you really need to send that email at 9.30pm at night? We all can be our own worst enemy at times.
It’s important to set boundaries when working from home, for you and for your teammates. These could be start and stop times, or conditions for replying to emails after office hours. This helps manage your boss’s, teams’, and your own expectations on the work you’re doing and when you’re contactable.
Even if you’re not necessarily working with a team in the traditional sense, finding the balance that works for you, but making sure both your work and you have those boundaries to follow. And, if you really want to send that email, you can always use outlook’s delayed delivery setting. But hey, I’m not encouraging you!
Be kind to yourself
You will have down days – you may feel sad or frustrated or struggle for no visible reason. That’s okay.
Make time to manage your feelings – try not to work through lunch and do take regular screen breaks. Had you been in office, this may have been a toilet break, a coffee-making break, or a quick chat to a colleague. The same applies at home – stretch your legs and eyes and refresh yourself, concentrating on something for 5 or 10 minutes that’s not work-related. Not only will this help your mentality, but also your productivity.
Also make sure you contact your people, reach out, communicate with your manager – whatever you need to do to make sure you give yourself the time and headspace to perform your best.
Think about your long-term situation
With 2020 turning home working on its head, it’s possible that this could be a much more common, long-term occurrence.
Are there any ways you could improve your working situation in the coming months? For example, a room that has better natural light, or that’s much quieter but it’s being used as something else for the time being? Are there different software or online platforms you could use to make collaborating with your team easier?
Help keep your home efficient
Whether we’re heading into the winter months or pushing through the summer months keeping your home energy or heat efficient is ever more important. I know in the winter that not pressing that little +1 button can be a challenge, take it from someone who’s just perpetually cold!
However, now that you’re at home more to experience the cold, you shouldn’t feel guilty for having the heating on more. There’s no point in wrapping up like an Eskimo at your desk (or kitchen table?) if it’s making you miserable or struggling to concentrate.
Similarly if you’re too hot, and your home office area is a sun trap you’ll probably find that just as much of a struggle. Find the balance that works for you and try some of these handy tricks.
- Close doors on rooms you’re not going to be using – this reduces cold air moving through the rest of your house, containing heat in the areas you’re using.
- Using thermal curtains, or keeping curtains closed in rooms you’re not in – only opening them during daylight hours to let the sunlight in. Probably best to keep curtains closed on any patio doors you may have as well, as they get older, they tend to be even more drafty.
- Use draft excluders to stop heat escaping through the gap between door and floor – and if you don’t have draft excluders, you can easily DIY one using tights and old socks, or any longer piece of fabric. As long as it covers the gap, it’s fine!
- Set a timer on your heating for hours when you really need it – admittedly this is trickier to do if your home 24/7 (bar any essential journeys, distanced meetups, or periods of exercise). Personally, I find having the heating on before I get up, just before I have lunch and during the evening once I’ve finished work is a good system for us.
- Invest in snuggly clothing and layers – now this may just be a personal preference, but cosy slippers, wearable blankets, dressing gowns, and roll neck jumpers are staples in my winter WFH wardrobe. This is also a great opportunity to make it work for you – if fluffy loungewear makes you feel too relaxed and not “switched on” for work, layer your normal winter wardrobe.
- Close curtains or blinds – like winter, having your blinds or curtains closed will prevent the heat of the sun from streaming in. I didn’t believe my partner when he said this – always scoffed at it thinking “surely you need air to circulate” – lo and behold summer of 2020 we tried it his way and he won (to my dismay).
- Close doors to unused rooms during the day and open them at night – this will prevent the heat permeating other rooms during the hottest hours of the day, and then open them during the coolest hours of the day so the cooler air can flow through the house.
- Place a bowl of ice or a frozen water bottle in front of your fan – place it at an angle in front of your fan and it will cool the air coming from your fan noticeably. It will create much-needed moisture to cool you down, as the ice evaporates and the air blows onto the bowl.
- Opt for cotton or linen bed sheets during the summer months – both are breathable fabrics and much better at keeping you cool during a heatwave than satin, silk or polyester and other man-made fabrics, – they’ll only make you sweat more!
- Turn off your appliances when not using them – appliances will be generating heat when they’re on, so turning off your dishwasher or washing machine and only running them in the cooler evenings will help reduce the heat generated in your home (especially if it’s small!). The same can be said for lighting – try and turn off the lights and use natural light wherever possible.