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by Jennie Dustin, CPE, CSP and Rick Barker, CPE, CSP

For a growing number of people, working from home is transitioning from what we thought was a temporary thing to a much longer, perhaps even permanent, change. The novelty of working from home wore off weeks or even months ago. The unique stresses of a home office are creating an increased sense of burnout. Our mental well-being is just as important as our physical well-being and, as ergonomists, we recognize that these are highly interrelated. Research indicates that psychosocial stressors contribute to pain and musculoskeletal disorders.

Here’s some tips and tricks from our combined 25+ years of working from home:

  • Don’t work where you relax. Having an office space in your family room or bedroom can make it harder to separate work from home life. While you are trying to rest or relax, the sight of your computer across the room can beckon with one more thing you could be getting done.
  • Close the door at the end of the day. This is hard for people who don’t have room for a dedicated office. In this situation, create a shelf, cabinet, or closet space where you can store your monitor and keyboard. This creates a clear action and visual signal that work is over for the day, much like closing your office door.
  • Emphasize the perks. Working from home has both hassles and benefits. Identify the benefits and emphasize them. Maybe it is as small as having time to change laundry loads during the day, leaving one less task on your to-do list for the weekend or evening. Consistently taking advantage of the benefits helps create better work/life harmony.
  • Dress for the job you have. Working in comfortable gym clothes can be a refreshing break but doing it every day can get old. If you are feeling less motivated than usual, try dressing like you are going to the office. Wearing work clothes can be a signal that today is a workday. Save the other clothes for weekends and evenings to help separate your personal time from your work time.
  • Change it up if you’re in a rut. Moving your office is a simple way to break a cycle. Moving rooms is great. Even changing which side of the dining room table you are sitting at can help.
  • Put more effort into social interactions. The office provides a place to see people, talk, and have lunch together. This social support helps counteract the effects of stress. When you work from home, you may need to actively seek additional social interactions, even if only by phone due to social distancing restrictions.
  • Maintain a routine. Even if your work hours are more flexible now, set a consistent routine. Starting, ending, and even taking exercise breaks at the same times each day help establish that boundary between work life and home life. Don’t forget to take a lunch break every day.
  • Spend time in the sun. Take a walk or sit on the deck. Even if the day isn’t sunny, get out of your home every day. Even a simple drive can help.
  • Call co-workers, rather than using text or email. If you have a question, you would ordinarily turn and ask a co-worker sitting next to you. Take the time to call rather than just sending a message. It will help you feel more connected.
  • Finish the day when the tasks are done. There will always be one more task you could do, one more email to respond to. Set your goals for the day. When they are done, turn off your computer, put your work phone on Do Not Disturb, and close the door.

If you continue to feel overly stressed or burned out, reach out to someone you trust. If you aren’t comfortable talking with your manager, consider contacting someone in HR or your Employee Assistance Program.

For more, read, “Managing the Ergonomics of Your Virtual Workforce.”