Many organisations have been swift to respond to the COVID-19 crisis to set their employees up working from home. The purpose behind this move is to ensure employees observe safe self-distancing from others to slow the spread of the virus. Although the move to working safely from home is supported by many, it does come with it a number of challenges.

This blog discusses the issues of working at home including home office set-up, loneliness and isolation, maintaining connectedness with others, keeping productivity up, managing employees at a distance and separating work from general home life. 
Safe Home Office Set Up
You need to ensure that you have an ergonomically sound set up, with a chair and desk that feels right at the height that suits you best. The chair should be adjustable to height and back angle and provide lumbar support. Where possible, you should use a foot-rest.

Your desk should be large enough so that you can work at your computer and have space to write and read materials. The desk should be between 680mm and 735mm high. You should position your computer monitor at an arms distance from when you are seated upright at your desk.

If you use a laptop, it should be positioned at height or on a docking station to avoid neck strain. Note any glare on the screen and move to position monitor and laptop screens away from direct light sources.

Your mouse should be at the same level as your keyboard. Your elbows should remain close to the side of your body when using the mouse and keyboard.

You need a well-lit, ventilated space and an area that is free from distractions while working from home.

Feeling Isolated and Lonely
Working from home can place employees into lonely and isolated environments. They are in fact “lone workers”, and there are several studies that show this group to be at high-risk. Lone worker situations are challenging because no one else is readily available to conduct observations and provide real-time feedback about safe and at-risk behaviours.
Lone workers are prone to loneliness and reduced social connectedness. Loneliness and isolation can have negative impacts while working from home, and you must pay extra attention to the social aspect of work. You need to be proactive and frequently communicate through chat forums, phone calls, and video conferences.

Try to commit to reaching out to 3-4 workmates per week, just like they would have had a conversation if they had run into someone in the office kitchen. If you are struggling, it’s important that you reach out to a colleague and make contact.

How Do We Keep Productivity Up?
A further issue from working from home is around productivity. It is here that it is critical to have a dedicated office space at home with the right equipment to allow you to conduct work.

Set up a daily routine to structure your workday at home. Start and finish each day at a set time. Make sure you dress for the day and get out of your pyjamas. Work to a plan and prioritise tasks and tick them off as you complete them.

Managers have a crucial role here in that they need to provide their employees with the autonomy to get on and get the work done without keeping constant tabs. A quick daily check-in should be enough together with weekly planning sessions.

Managers should set clear objectives from the outset and address any issues or concerns early and before they escalate.

Separating Work from Home Time
Having a healthy work-life balance while working from home can be challenging, especially if you live with children. Remote working has the potential to upset both your work life and your home life, so you should consider critical issues before they become a problem.

An advantage of this working arrangement can be that you are more flexible with your family, but it is essential to set boundaries with the people who live with you. Interruptions can interfere with your concentration and performance, so make it clear when you are and are not available for conversations.

Discuss with the other people in your home, explain how you generally like to work and agree on some ground rules regarding space and noise levels and general expectations.

Not going into the office means that you gain the time you would usually spend on the commute to work. Try to use this time on self-care and to spending time outside – the fresh air will help your mood.

To Conclude
To reduce the spread of COVID-19, many organisations have set up their employees to work from home. However, working from home comes with it some significant issues for safety, injuries and mental health.

It’s critical that the home office is organised with chair, desk, monitor, keyboard and mouse ergonomics in mind to avoid back, neck and elbow injuries. The last thing we need are strain injuries to develop while working at home.

We need to develop routines to remain productive and establish regular check-ins with others to ease the loneliness and isolation. It is critical that we separate work from general home life to avoid the trap of being ‘on’ 24/7, but also to avoid distractions and interruptions so we can get our job done.

Managers need to allow worker autonomy and trust their employees will be productive. Setting up expectations from the beginning and weekly planning helps to keep everyone on track.

For many employees, working from home arrangements are new and can be problematic. In the first few days, working efficiently may not be achievable, but over time with set routines and planning working from home can be highly productive. In this COVID-19 crisis, working from home is likely to be with us for many months to come. Who knows, when the emergency passes, many of us may wish to continue in our home offices and only occasionally visit the office.