Working from home (WFH) can be a blessing for many people: it is time-saving, accessible and flexible for both employees and employers. However, it also comes with certain disadvantages that can negatively impact workers’ productivity, work-life balance, and focus during working hours. For my last Co-op semester, I had an opportunity to gain WFH experience while working at WorkSafeBC. Therefore, I would like to share some tips and lessons I learned that would be helpful for future students who plan to secure remote positions at WorkSafeBC or any other organisation.
During the first month at WorkSafeBC, I established a habit of scheduling my week in advance. Every Monday morning, I spend 5-10 minutes reviewing tasks, team meetings, or other events scheduled for that week. This way, I plan how much workload I should set each day. For example, my workload would be less on days when I have an event or a team meeting. This way, I have productive work performance and eliminate possible burnout and overwork patterns.
Another habit I learned during the first month of Co-op that significantly improved my work performance was assigning and scheduling my tasks the day before. I assigned and grouped some tasks on a timeline using the WorkSafeBC internal software platform. For example, I would plan paperwork/emails/training modules for the start and end of the day. I would also plan tasks that require high concentration and energy for pre-lunch and post-lunch time. If your organisation does not have an internal scheduling platform, I recommend a time-blocking method using a general calendar on your laptop. The scheduling will differ based on your job and individual variability in alertness and concentration (morning vs. evening person). However, I recommend scheduling your next work day the day before.
Another challenge while WFH is focusing during “focus time” and taking microbreaks throughout the day. Home environments may have distractions, such as family members, pets, household chores, personal devices or extra trips to the kitchen (guilty). Distractions can interfere with concentration and productivity. One way to resolve this barrier would be to work in a separate room designated only for working - an office room. However, having a separate office might not be accessible to everyone (including myself). Therefore, I developed some tricks to improve my focus. One trick is associating one item with work. For example, I use my desk lamp only when working. Therefore, as soon as I turn on my desk lamp, my mind and body instantly fall into a focused state. This helps me to concentrate better on my tasks. Another trick is reducing noise distractions by using noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs.
Another challenge of working from home is taking microbreaks throughout the day. Sometimes I sit in front of the monitor for a long time without breaks. Microbreaks offer numerous physical and mental health benefits. These benefits include reducing eye strain, increasing body movements, preventing cognitive fatigue, maintaining mental clarity, and reducing stress. Some tricks that helped me incorporate microbreaks throughout the day are using the Pomodoro method (40 minutes of work and 2-5 minutes of break) or an alarm/apple watch “Stand Up” reminder.
Regardless of working in the office or at home, we (desk workers) are immersed in a sedentary work routine. Therefore, walking outside can bring several health benefits beyond the physical domain. Working non-stop in the same environment for 8 hours can cause physical fatigue, mental fogginess, and stress. Spending my breaks outside helped me reset my day and create a mental shift, which promoted improved work performance after the break. Walking can be an amazing workout as it allows you to stretch and move your muscles/joints, get a daily dose of sunlight, if the weather permits and fill your lungs with fresh air. Incorporating daily walks is an investment in your well-being as you can recharge and enhance the quality of your work-life balance.