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Seven steps to healthier remote work habits

Denmark has long been recognised for its healthy work/life balance. With the rise of remote work - much of it here to stay - how can you maintain that healthy habit when your home is also your workplace?

Photographs: Unsplash

Text: Sarah Redohl

It’s official! One in 10 people in Denmark has been fully or partially vaccinated against COVID-19. Did you know that’s the exact same proportion of people who are looking forward to returning to the office once the rest of us are vaccinated?

It’s true; nine out of 10 knowledge workers would prefer to continue working remotely post-pandemic. And employers agree; three-fourths reported they planned to permanently shift some portion of their workforce to remote work.

Despite the rollout of vaccinations and the impending rollback of restrictions here in Denmark, remote work is likely here to stay for many of us. In a country long recognised for its healthy work/life balance, how can we maintain that healthy habit when our homes double as our workplaces? How can we shift from a mindset of surviving our remote work situation to thriving in it?

After six years of working from home - whether ‘home’ has been the United States, Germany, Croatia, or Copenhagen - here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1. Maximise productivity - YOUR WAY.

Part of what attracted us to Denmark was the work/life balance. No emails on weekends and no after-hours calls were a refreshing change of pace from the American mindset. So, when employers reported a boost in productivity during the pandemic, I feared it resulted from less division between work and home. For some, it probably is. For others, the productivity boost might be because we can better schedule our workdays in ways that work for us.

For example, I can schedule my most challenging tasks for mid-morning when my brain is sharpest and relegate menial tasks to late afternoon when my energy level naturally drops. After all this time working from home, we’ve all probably learned a thing or two about the work rhythm that suits us best. Take a moment to consider what you’ve learned that could be applied to your daily routine.

This control over your schedule can also result in improved productivity in your personal life. For example, there’s nothing like going to the grocery store at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday. Anyone who’s popped into Fotex after work knows how hard it can be to socially distance in narrow aisles with every other 9-to-5er picking up ingredients for dinner! The ability to run errands during off hours not only saves time but is also helpful in reducing contact with others in the middle of a pandemic.

2. Stay sane when spouses become coworkers.

Copenhagen apartments are tiny; our first apartment here was 45 square meters! Trying to accommodate multiple people working from home in such a small space took some getting used to. The early days of COVID were mired in plenty of debates over who would get the best spot in our apartment for Zoom calls, where the 5G signal was strong, the lighting was good, and all the clutter of our small space was conveniently cropped out.

Although our current apartment is much larger (call it a COVID investment), we still have to put in the effort to prevent stepping on each others’ toes. With our apartment’s open floor plan, both our ‘offices’ are in the same room. So, we’ve defaulted to the kinds of rules and expectations we’d have for coworkers in a shared office space.

Silence is our norm; if you want to listen to something, wear earbuds. Bluetooth earbuds have been my favourite purchase during COVID! We share our calendars to prevent double-booking work calls and book a communal conference room at our “office”. We try not to interrupt one another at our desks; heading to the kitchen or plopping down on the couch is equivalent to the office water cooler and is an invitation to chat.

3. Invest in comfort.

When we moved to Denmark shortly before the pandemic, our first furniture purchase was a set of chairs to replace the uncomfortable ones in our furnished apartment. When we later moved across town, we had desks before we had our couch! Maybe the changes to your workspace are more minor - a seat cushion, better back support, improved lighting, or fresh cut flowers. Whatever the case, working from home has persisted longer than most of us imagined. Perhaps it’s time to make that investment. How much more productive - and comfortable - would you be with a proper desk, your computer at eye level, and a good chair?

Clothing is also a matter of comfort and even productivity. Some people say dressing as if they’re going into the office boosts their productivity. I’m not one of them. My work uniform is a nice top in unexpected Zoom calls and a rotating rainbow of yoga pants. Although I already had a sizable work-from-home wardrobe, I’ve invested in a handful of new additions from sustainable, comfortable Scandi brands, like Organic Basics and Filippa K.

4. Keep work and home separate.

I may not change into a blazer in the morning, but I always make a point to change each morning (even if yoga pants are only a marginal improvement over pyjamas). I consider this part of my ‘morning commute’ from the bedroom to my office on the other side of the apartment.

Plenty of people enjoy skipping the commute, but others have found it challenging because that time offers natural bookends to the workday. I even heard about one guy who bikes around his neighbourhood as if it were his morning ride into work! Whether or not you take it that far, establishing some pre-work and post-work routine helps divide the day.

In the morning, it’s a slow breakfast and coffee made from the beans we pick up at our favourite local cafe (a great way to support local businesses during this time). Even if I’m eating breakfast within arm’s reach of ‘my office’, this gives me a chance to ease into the workday. At the end of the day, I stow my work supplies (out of sight, out of mind) and shift my mindset with a round of yoga and meditation - preferably an online class with Yoga Vesterbro.

5. Maintain good working relationships.

Despite social distancing, socialising is still essential. This includes maintaining good relationships with coworkers. My whole team Zooms every Tuesday afternoon, and we have an unwritten rule that anyone who wants to socialise a bit before getting to business joins up to 30 minutes early. It’s been great to connect with my coworkers - different ones joining early each week - despite the distance. Similarly, I’ve loved the Zoom happy hours and coffee dates with friends worldwide (it’s okay if one of you is drinking wine while the other drinks coffee).

I’ve long appreciated the strategic use of emojis in the workplace, and it seems COVID is amplifying this trend. With fewer opportunities to engage with our coworkers face-to-face and an ever-increasing amount of email- and chat-based conversations, exclamation points and emojis can go a long way to conveying the context of what we say. 🤗

6. Maintain (or establish) healthier habits.

Without frequent walks to the water cooler, make sure you’re getting up and getting moving at least once every 30 minutes (experts say). Consider a standing desk. A drying rack or ironing board makes for a great makeshift one as you discover whether or not you like working standing up - plus it folds up when you’re done (great for tiny apartments and minimising your desire to work during ‘off’ hours). If standing work is right for you, I hear there are some good deals on second-hand elevated desks on DBA!

Take mini-breaks throughout the day: stroll the block, run an errand, stretch a bit. When I hit a snag on a story, I can take off on a quick jog around the neighbourhood or to Amager Strand to clear my head. We also bought a cheap egg timer at Tiger to ensure we use our full lunch break.

Your eyes also need a break; experts suggest staring away from your screen at something 20 feet (6 meters) away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. And, protect your ears, too! As much as our Bluetooth earbuds have helped, we’re wearing them more than ever. Check-in on your phone’s health app to see if you’ve been listening to healthy volumes. And don’t let working from home hurt your sleep schedule. Working in the bedroom is forbidden in our house (studies show it negatively impacts sleep quality). If you must (or prefer to) work at night, invest in blue light glasses and adjust the night shift settings on your devices.

7. Don’t forget about networking and professional development.

Although the vast majority of us look forward to the days when we can have events in-person, the shift to online events has been a chance to participate in professional development opportunities that might otherwise be too far to travel or cost-prohibitive. For example, someone (ahem) attending South By Southwest will be able to take full advantage of a fantastic speaker lineup for a fraction of the cost - from the comfort of her yoga pants.

Additionally, many accreditation bodies accept online certification programmes they’ve never allowed in the past - what could you learn that would advance your career? What might you learn that could enhance your life in general? As the Danes know better than most, there is more to life than work, work, work.

PRO TIP: If you find it hard not to check in on work during ‘off’ hours, apps like TimeOut for Mac and Smart Break for Windows can be used to lock yourself out of your computer for specified periods. Alternatively, or additionally, if you find yourself distracted during the workday, turn off notifications, use plugins to block social media or news sites during work hours, consider automatic time-tracking apps like RescueTimeto see how well you’re sticking to your schedule.

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