After months of working from our front rooms and kitchens, enduring Zoom call fatigue and attempting homeschooling, returning safely to the office seemed too good to be true for those who missed working in-person and seeing colleagues face-to-face.
And it was. With cases rising and the Omicron variant spreading, many of us are returning to working from home once again to keep those around us safe in the run-up to Christmas.
For the people heading back into a period of remote working, how exactly can we readjust, avoid burnout and maintain a work-life balance this time around? Experts weigh in.
Don’t stress about Zoom
“From a personal and professional point of view, certainly this time, I will be trying to be less worried about what other people think about what’s going on in my house at the same time that I’m trying to be professional on a Zoom call,” director of Public Speaking NI Sinéad Lunny tells the Belfast Telegraph.
“I remember last March, at the outset of lockdown, I was very stressed personally because my children were going crazy in the background, and I was pretending that everything was very calm.
“But I think given the high-profile incidents, as we have seen on the media, about children running in and all kinds of things happening, people have become a lot more tolerant of it. I still think there is a little bit of anxiety from some people in relation to trying to make sure that everything is just perfect looking and perfect sounding.”
The weather may be crisper and the days getting darker but getting some fresh air can be a good way to get out of the home office (AKA the living room). Shaun Hawkins, founding director of finance recruitment company Hire IQ, recommends doing so “even if it is over lunchtime… just to clear your head”.
Siobhan O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s Mental Health Champion, says that exercise can be a “powerful mental health intervention”. “Even 10 minutes for a wee walk to go outside and get some light and exercise is really, really important,” she says, noting the importance of getting sun during the darker winter days.
And Shaun adds that going to the gym or incorporating a home workout routine, if possible, can be a beneficial way to keep the body and mind healthy. It also helps to maintain some kind of work/life structure while working from home, too.
“Diet is a big one,” Shaun says, “because you can fall into the trap of when you’re working from home, you’re just so close to the fridge. You know that you can just walk in and grab something.”
With the novelty of working from home wearing off, trying to stick to a healthy, balanced diet can improve your mental health during the workday, giving you enough energy to avoid burnout this time around.
Use breaks well
“I know we’re all very tired right now, and exhausted, and we’re fatigued with the pandemic as well and there’s a lot of worry around that. So, don’t use your breaks to scroll the internet and look at social media. Really try and look after yourself during this time,” Siobhan says.
Practising mindfulness can be a good way to relax on breaks, she says. “Just take a couple of minutes to focus on the present,” she says, adding “don’t be tempted to squeeze in more than you’re able for because you’re working from home”.
Remember it’s not permanent
The last time rules stated we should work from home where possible, some of us despaired at the thought of how long it may go on for. But this time, things are different – especially with the roll-out of vaccinations – and maintaining a good mindset this time could help to avoid burnout.
“Remind yourself that this hopefully is not permanent,” Sinéad says. “It’s not going to be here forever. We got through previously – hopefully this is going to be temporary, so we got through it before, and we can do it again.”
During the first work-from-home period, Zoom catch-ups and online calls with colleagues seemed like a fun novelty. It’s important to maintain those vital interactions this time round, Siobhan says, even if it seems like the novelty has worn off. “Make a plan to connect with certain people by Zoom – over the computer is better than the phone – but do schedule in virtual cups of tea, virtual coffee breaks, just so that you keep yourself well.”
Sinéad echoes this. “We all know Zoom calls and working online can be quite draining but I really would encourage people to make the effort to interact with others whether it’ll be another Zoom call or even telephone call – something that makes you feel connected to others, so it’s not just work, work, work.”
“A lot of people are in the same boat,” Sinéad says. “It’s very easy I think with this ‘woe is me’ attitude whenever we’re thinking ‘I just can’t wait to get out and about again’ but there’s a lot of people in the same boat really.”
“I think it’s a privilege to be able to work from home,” Siobhan points out. “We need to be grateful that we can do that because we’re keeping ourselves and our loved ones safer when we’re working from home.
“So we should actually try and practise gratitude for being able to work from home, you know, for the availability of the boosters that are being rolled out and to try and appreciate what we have got rather than focusing on the negative.”