Pile of tarts sitting on a kitchen tabletop

By Warren Evans, Wellbeing Officer in the School of Government

Human beings are wonderful things, and we can find silver linings in most places we look. Here are some of the benefits of new ways of working.

Arguably the most enjoyable part of working from home is not having to commute. For some of us, that gives us back around two hours of our day. Whether you choose to lie in, exercise, or use the extra time in the evening to enjoy a hobby, this added time is definitely a perk. One person I spoke with is using his regular commute time as running time. Another has sown loads of different seeds for the first time.

Meal times are so much better! Personally I rarely used to have a full lunch break, and the time I did have remained in front of a screen and was open to interruptions. Now, I have a proper amount of time away. I also hadn’t realised exactly how sick to the back teeth I had become of sandwiches and packed lunches. Even a simple thing like having hot meals for lunch (even a simple variation of “… on toast”) has been delightful. Even better, is the ability to have very flexible meals each day, therefore less monotony! And there is also the aspect of being able to spend it with someone I love, and not talk shop. Simple things sometimes bring the greatest rewards. So, you forgot your packed lunch again? No worries, you’re in the comfort of your own home. You can heat up as much stinky fish in the microwave as you like – something you could never do at work! – or not have to rush a sandwich from the shop that you didn’t really want anyway. And feel free to go nuts with the garlic (disclaimer, do remember the others you live with too…) I am planning mealtimes so much better, and am eating more fruit/veg, as you need to eat up the perishable food. With more time available, I am able to eat a healthier, and more balanced diet. I am rushing less, so don’t find myself putting convenience food into the oven, but can actually take time to make proper, satisfying meals. This further results in less snacks!

At work, you may lose some credibility by playing the greatest hits of S Club Juniors on repeat for four hours – but not at home! There’s been a rise in mood-boosting song recommendations, and many are creating collaborative Spotify playlists so everyone gets a chance to DJ. As mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I am working standing up. The first thing I did when I started working from home was to set up music in the room I am in. I have the opportunity to listen to what I want, when I want. I am able to listen to lots of music I haven’t listened to in years. Much of it is great, some of it…less so. But you can lose yourself in music, or rediscover part of who you are, or were, or want to be. Frequently I have found myself dancing around the room whilst working (fear not dear reader, this is not a thing you will EVER see. Dancing, like singing, is an activity I only ever do when no-one will ever catch me.) Music, like books, can take you to a different place.

This can create other opportunities. I have started a blog elsewhere reviewing old albums that I haven’t listened to in years. Some are well known, others more obscure. The theory is to listen to an album you used to love but haven't listened to in ages. Do you still love it or has it not aged well? You can review in one word or write a 2,000 word essay. Spotify or Youtube links can be added, and others contribute their memories or opinions. Also, linked to how things work for you, there can be trends in music. I find that I am productive most mornings, but want lighter, gentler music on. Metallica’s Master of Puppets is unlikely to be ideal having just woken up but later in the day, maybe.  On afternoons, perhaps when I need motivation, I look for something more upbeat or with a little “Oomph!”. In addition, music with lyrics tends to be something I avoid in the morning or when on more cerebral tasks.

What about more time with your pet? Studies have shown that spending time with your furry (or scaly!) loved one can reduce stress levels and provide emotional support. Equally, anyone with a garden area can get close to wildlife, and studies show engaging with the natural environment is beneficial to wellbeing. How many different birds can you hear now? Don’t they go quiet in the clap for carers every Thursday, then sing again at 8.05?

One person I spoke to loved that she could do various ‘life admin’ activities like putting on a load of washing during the day, instead of eating up her evening or weekend time. Watering plants or weeding the garden during a break is another option, and is a good break from screen time. In addition, let us not forget how our subconscious can continue to work on ideas and thoughts, even when on different tasks. Facilitating thinking time is important.

Peaceful garden space

We all love a Netflix binge now and then, however if we’re doing it everyday it can lose its pleasure. In addition, screen time can swiftly get out of control. Why not catch up on the books you’ve been meaning to read, the instrument that’s been gathering dust or those strange Christmas gifts you were never sure about. I have built a wooden bi-plane, and started playing with a boomerang kit. Someone close to me has finally built a dolls house kit and furniture that has been sat around gathering dust for over 18 months. Interest in jigsaws has exploded, and how many small(ish) DIY jobs have you been putting off for months? This is an opportunity to improve your home environment!

There are additional social benefits. I’ve mentioned lunches and time spent with people I love but being completely distracted from work means in some ways I have been having better quality rest breaks than usual. In addition, the time to properly switch off from work has improved my productivity. I also have spent a great deal of time staring out the window observing. I do this a lot anyway. It has been fun seeing familiar faces almost daily, taking exercise. The family with their daughter walking each evening, always deep in conversation. The Caribbean lady opposite, who at the start was using a walking stick, yet has resolutely stuck with walking her laps and is now proudly swinging both arms, smiling, without a walking aid. I think about how peoples perspectives have changed. Postal staff are now seen as essential and the oft overlooked and downtrodden cleaning staff are given the respect and admiration they deserve for their work. (Little tip, cleaners are frequently the most useful people to know, and be on friendly terms with. Usually, people don’t see them, and even act like they are not there. Cleaners therefore see and hear a lot of information. They are usually also exceptionally discreet, as well as being intelligent, street-wise people.) For the past week I have spent too much time watching a family of squirrels learning how to run around tree branches in the trees at the bottom of the garden. More than once I've seen one of the babies fall out the tree. Hardy little so and so's manage to get back up there though.

Working from home is fine. You have to stop yourself going at it full pelt all the time. It can be very easy to develop a perception that in order to be working/productive, one must be in front of a screen typing away relentlessly. This is not work! It is also not a healthy self-perception! Find ways of enabling yourself to work in easier and more pro-active ways. Doing the same things you have done before isn’t an option, therefore this is your opportunity to be creative. Try new things (no-one will be able to see if they work or don’t work, so it is safe to do so). If it doesn’t work, move on and try something else instead. You don’t have a choice but to find new ways of doing things. If the old ways weren’t working well for you, then here is an opportunity to explore how you can work well!

Do things that make you happy. Listen to good music. Think about loved ones and how much positivity they bring to your life. Think in good ways about all the stuff that gives our lives meaning. Every evening, write down 3 things that have made you happy that day.

Finding oneself stripped of customary affirmations, satisfactions, comforts and defense mechanisms, and suddenly experiencing mortifying experiences such as restrictions on liberty and free movement, communal or isolated living, can impact greatly on our self-perception of how we see ourselves. The apparent reduction of issues we have control over, and the restricted way in which we must live can cause us to feel very out of control. Having no control creates perspectives of anxiousness. Therefore, are there ways we can regain control over our lives? Perhaps shifting our focus will be helpful. If we can create a perspective of our current persona and situation showing our favourable personal qualities, recalling how we overcame past adversity, then we can perceive ourselves as capable of overcoming other challenges. We will be ok. This is just one of those challenges which we can learn things from. This will pass. We’ll then just deal with a different crisis…