Posted: 27 Mar. 2020 6 min. read

Staying healthy (and sane) when working from home

Blog 1 in our series on wellbeing in a crisis

Across Australia, many businesses are temporarily shutting their doors to halt the ongoing spread of COVID-19 and ‘flatten the curve’. Recent public health and government advice calling for people to practise physical distancing and avoid public gatherings, which has led to a large proportion of the workforce working from home – some for the first time.

While it may seem like a great opportunity to stay in your slippers and avoid your commute, there can be side effects to remote working. As we attempt to protect the physical health of employees, what is the impact on psychological health, both now and following the current crisis?

While isolation is an effective measure to minimise our exposure to COVID-19, as with most drastic changes to routine and lifestyle, it poses other risks to our health and wellbeing. Although some of us may be accustomed to working flexibly or from home once or twice a week, many employees are now required to do so indefinitely until the spread of COVID-19 can be contained to safer levels.

This subsequent lack of social connection, which may spike during extended periods of social isolation, can have a significant impact on physical and mental health.

Some research compares the impact of social isolation to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, or having an alcohol use disorder. When this becomes mandatory, people lose choice and control. Many employees, who would not typically choose this working solitude, are forced to work in an environment in which they may not thrive naturally. The negative impacts of social isolation and loneliness stem from people’s level of satisfaction with their connectedness, or their perceived levels of social isolation. As a result, we can expect to see an increased risk of negative impact to the health and wellbeing of many workers who must now adapt to and embrace working from home on a long-term basis.

We also acknowledge these changes will not affect all workers in the same way. Some employees who are naturally more introverted may be more satisfied with physical distancing and may not suffer the long-term negative health impacts as a result. Introverts are typically energised by being in solitude and can find their energy levels are drained when over-exposed to group situations. It is important to remember that one size does not fit all when it comes to looking after the health and wellbeing of workers.

So, what can we do to help workers look after their health and wellbeing and stay connected?

Schedule frequent virtual team check-ins

Without the lunchroom, water cooler or printer where you would normally run into colleagues and discuss weekend plans, the next best option is to schedule virtual check-ins with your team. These may be as short as 15 minutes, with a coffee in hand, and used interchangeably to discuss work-related matters and planning, as well as informal discussions.

Getting out of your pyjamas and dressed in the morning, is a great way to switch on and get your brain ticking. We encourage people to turn on the video (as well as audio) during virtual check-ins to reinstate lost non-verbal communication cues and create an in-person experience.

Make time for chatter

Using the multitude of technological platforms available to us now, ensure you keep in touch with others socially. This could be achieved by using instant messaging apps with your colleagues. Maintaining this level of engagement can create a sense of social support, leading to lower stress levels and an increased sense of connectedness. It also shows people you are available and contactable should they need to talk.

Embrace a holistic approach to health and wellbeing

Health and wellbeing are holistic concepts and rely on many interrelated systems working cohesively together. Ensure you are still maintaining a healthy lifestyle as much as possible. Try to maintain healthy meals (resist salty meal deliveries) and go for a walk around the block at lunchtime. Incidental exercise is invaluable and we will miss it given the walk to the fridge is likely to be shorter than going to your favourite café near the office! Ensure you’re getting a good sleep in line with recommended hours.

This blog is authored by the mental health and wellbeing experts in Deloitte Risk Advisory. It is the first in a series of blogs featured during the COVID-19 outbreak on maintaining mental health and wellbeing during a crisis. Stay tuned.

Authors: Tenneile Manenti, Rachel Shan, Manfred Ng, and Eresha Abenayake, Deloitte Risk Advisory.

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