7 Ideas to Help Beat the Winter WFH Blues
COVID-19 has certainly thrown a wrench into 2020, hasn’t it? Back in March, I couldn’t have predicted that we’d still be social distancing and working from home for the rest of the year—and through the winter. 🐻❄️
Let’s not beat around the bush—this winter will likely be very different from previous ones. In addition to the shorter and colder days that can naturally prompt a dip in energy and motivation, COVID-19 has also prompted us to socially distance to keep our communities safe.
The outdoor activities that have kept many of us sane—long walks, dining al fresco, picnics in the park—will soon be much less comfortable due to winter weather.
That just means we need to find new ways to keep us sane. 😌
The following list isn’t meant to be the end-all, be-all solution to the malaise many of us may feel this winter—rather, we consider the small things that can make your work routine a little smoother, a bit more manageable. If one tip doesn’t help, try another. I, for one, am already planning to slowly make my way through this list. 👋👇
1. Experiment with lighting
It’s well-documented that lighting can have a big impact on your mood. One study found that there is an “indirect and direct influence of light on mood and learning … [and] light, the circadian clock, and sleep interact to influence mood and cognitive functions.”
Light—it keeps you regular. 😉💡
There’s all sorts of science out there around how specific types of lighting prompt certain responses (e.g. people feel energetic in blue light, or “sunrise” light—great for doing work, but not so much when you’re trying to fall asleep). Here are a few options to explore:
- Bask in the sun: You can get vitamin D from being exposed to UV lighting, and a great way to do that is to soak up all the winter sun you can get. Why not try moving your desk or working space next to a sunny window?
- Bask in the sun (lamp): Of course, if you live somewhere with an abundance of cloudy, rainy days (hello, Pacific Northwest! 👋), it can be difficult to catch enough rays during the cooler months. Light therapy products, also called sun lamps, are a popular way to artificially recreate the effects of sunlight and are a great way to brighten your day.
- Smart light bulbs: Light bulbs have joined many other technologically-advanced domestic appliances in becoming “smart!” These light bulbs can be automated to shift in hue depending on the time of day, minimizing the effect of blue light in the evenings and regulating your circadian rhythm. Plus, the ability to turn the lights off with a clap of your hands or voice command is always a fun party trick.
- String lights: Listen. String lights are just fun, and an easy way to make your workspace Certified Cozy.TM Plus, the holidays are coming up, and it’s always fun to be a little festive!
- Device lighting: Using options like dark mode or night shift on your devices, or easy-to-install software like f.lux, is a great, often automated, way to minimize blue light exposure.
2. Be vulnerable with your team
As tempting as it can be to keep up a poker face in your professional life, research done for our annual Employee Engagement & Workplace Report actually revealed that workplaces that openly addressed anxiety and stress are more likely to have highly engaged employees.
“Highly Engaged employees are 3.2 times more likely to be on a team that encourages open discussion of anxiety and stress at work than Actively Disengaged employees.”
–Bonusly’s 2020 Employee Engagement & Workplace Report
It’s a stressful year, and many of us are struggling! At Bonusly, we regularly hold wellness and reflection meetings, and the opportunity for us to be vulnerable with each other is extremely valuable. It builds trust and candor with your teams, and helps with feelings of workplace isolation.
It bums me out that many of my colleagues are feeling stressed or sad at work, but it’s also a strange comfort to know that we’re all working through these strange times together and makes me all the more determined to help out where I can. 💪
3. Meal prep lunches
You’d think that my proximity to my kitchen would eliminate the constant conundrum of, “What should I eat for lunch today?!” But, alas.
I am certainly guilty of snacking at my laptop or skipping lunch altogether. Considering that my usual routines are thrown outta whack as it is, I should do better to preserve this noontime ritual.
Luckily, wintertime in the Northern Hemisphere calls for big batches of cozy comfort food—perfect for meal prepping. Making large weekend or dinner meals to repurpose for lunches makes for one less thing I have to think about during the work day, and makes it easy for me to actually sit down and take a break for lunch.
Meal Prep Dinners For The Week pic.twitter.com/09yH786Ace
— Tasty (@tasty) October 24, 2020
Did you ever think you’d miss your daily commute? 😬
I’ve had commutes ranging from a brisk 10-minute walk to a two-hour public transit adventure, and while I don’t necessarily miss the actual traveling part, I do miss having dedicated time to read, listen to music or podcasts, and decompress on my own.
"You can’t disentangle home and work anymore, and that’s not always easy," says Jon Jachimowicz, an assistant professor in the Organizational Behavior Unit at Harvard Business School. A new study, co-authored by Jachimowicz, examines the function of the commute as a psychological threshold between home and work.
–Damian Fowler, BBC Worklife
Having that buffer time between home and work is a part of my typical routine that I miss the most. It takes longer to switch my brain “on” in the mornings and “off” in the evenings, making the line between work and life all the blurrier.
A solution to this is to implement a new daily routine that acts as a signal to your brain of the change between your work and home mindsets. Here are a few ideas to recreate that transition time:
- Change into your work outfit in the morning, and into a different outfit (AKA pajamas) at the end of your work day.
- Do you have daily morning standups? Designate some time for afternoon recaps as a way to sign off for the day.
- Actually “commute!” A quick walk or bike ride is a great way to get your blood pumping at the beginning of your day, and to decompress at the end of it.
5. Optimize your productivity
Daylight savings is coming up for many of us, and now is a great time to re-think your productivity hours. If you feel a slump in the afternoons thanks to early darkness, why not shift your working hours earlier a few hours? With so many of us working remotely, with distributed teams in all time zones, it shouldn't be an issue to work when you're most productive.
6. Track your movement
Have you been thinking about getting a smartwatch or Fitbit? Now’s the time.
I’d worked from home a couple days a week before COVID-19 hit, but until I started working remotely full-time, I hadn’t realized how little I moved during a regular work day. Slipping into sedentary habits is super easy, so I’ve been vigilant about checking my Fitbit for how many steps I’ve taken each day.
It might also be worth it to set a timer on your phone or watch to make sure you’re not staying still for too long. It’s important to stretch, rest your eyes, and give your brain a break. My watch encourages me to walk at least 100 steps an hour, and it’s easy to get up and do some jumping jacks with a little prompting.
For bonus points, combine activity with vitamin D by taking a brisk walk outside. ☀️
7. Protect your time
Blurred lines between life and work means that you have to make time for yourself. And sometimes that means saying no!
- Saying no to meetings with action items that can be conducted asynchronously
- Saying no to Zoom social events
- Saying no to projects that aren’t aligned to your quarterly strategy or goals
- Saying no to scope creep
- Saying no (or rather, saying nothing, or “I’ll dig into this for you tomorrow morning!”) to colleagues who message you after work hours
- Saying no to turning your camera on during calls
- Saying no to work (i.e., take personal time off, please!)
That’s not to say that saying no is easy, especially at work. But if there’s a time to be gentle to yourself, that time is now. 💚