Why is work a need?
Work can be simply defined as an activity, involving mental or physical effort, performed to achieve a result. In reality, it is much more than that: work is a basic need, relevant not only for maintenance but also for the quality of life. It enables us to meet other material needs, like the mere physical survival, as well as to satisfy some immaterial needs, like the more sophisticated identity, belonging and purpose.
Work also has a collective meaning: it establishes a network of connections and interactions able to determine social cohesion. For this reason, the way work is organised within a society defines the achievable degree of equality within the community itself.
The meaning of work in the human experience is crucial: it balances the opportunity to take part in society while preserving personal autonomy. This aspect can explain why unemployment or working in dangerous, unhealthy or underpaid conditions deprives people of the basics for his/her development and his/her contribution to the growth of society. These situations are not only an alarming economic indicator but also the root cause of bad mental health.
What is smart working?
Nowadays, the evolution of technologies and the consequent change of social contexts impact on our lifestyles, redefining the priority and the balance of our needs. All this inevitably also affects our professional sphere.
To adapt to the change and survive in the new competitive arena, companies are transforming themselves: new organisational models are adopted, focusing on the principle of self-organisation. This new way of working, called Smart Working, is clearly distinguishable from the traditional approach:
- It promotes an organisational culture based on trust, empowerment, well-being and individual/collective productivity.
- It revises the model of leadership and relationships between people, abandoning the control of time and physical presence in favour of greater autonomy, orientation to results and transparency.
- It ensures more effective and shared communication by using collaborative tools and technologies to guarantee flexibility, mobility and cost-effectiveness.
Which are the smart working practices?
Smart working optimises the way of working by emphasising proactivity, reducing non-value-added activities and ensuring greater agility in approaches and relationships. To deploy it, companies leverage on practices such as:
- Flexible working, referring to the way that work-time is organised like flexi-time, part-time, job share, time off in lieu, annualised hours and more.
- Remote working, referring to the location from which work is performed like hot-desking, working from home, teleworking, mobile working, virtual team working and more.
- Agile contracts, referring to the types of work collaboration established like freelance, associate and more.
These few points redefine the paradigm, changing the way we have been used to work since the Industrial Revolution: the worker finally is at the centre of the organisation. This is an epochal change of mindset in which the individual worker is empowered, owner of his work, aware of the results to be achieved, conscious of the teamwork and independent in defining the optimal methods and timing to perform the activities. In a few words: individual well-being is put at the centre to achieve collective well-being and vice versa.
Which are the benefits of home working?
Homeworking is one possible practice of smart working. It is enabled by:
1. The redefinition of the scope. The worker focuses on achieving the agreed objectives on time and in quality, receiving trust instead of control.
2. The provision of technologies. The worker can perform the daily activities thanks to tools of collaboration which ensure full connectivity.
3. The redesign of spaces. The worker can be wherever he/she prefers to ensure the most comfortable working environment for him/her.
The benefits of home working are directly related to the worker and the company, but have their impact on the overall society, improving professional, personal and social well-being.
In particular, the benefits for the worker are:
- Improved work-life balance thanks to time and location flexibility that avoids daily commutes and enables more proximity to beloved ones.
- Increased productivity, thanks to a personal work environment that decreases distractions like office noises and unplanned interruptions.
- Enhanced empowerment, thanks to the awareness of own responsibilities and a working relationship based on trust.
The benefits for the company are:
- Increased productivity thanks to a more serene, empowered, responsible and aware team of workers.
- Reduced costs, thanks to the reorganisation of spaces (reduced in size or redirected to profitable initiatives like special projects or third parties rent) and optimisation of processes (reduced travel costs, improved standards).
- Enhanced brand awareness thanks to a higher attractiveness and new talent pools in other regions of the world.
Which are the pitfalls of home working?
While there are certainly benefits, home working can have some pitfalls for the employees' overall well-being when not properly managed:
- Increased stress levels as a result of reduced personal interaction with both peers and management team and an increased sense of responsibility on deliverables.
- Risk of loneliness, as a result of moving to a solo working environment.
- Lack of stability, as a result of blurred boundaries between professional and personal lives.
- Complex interactions with family and housemates, as a result of limited available spaces.
- Uneasy team coordination and management, as a result of physical distance and lack of trust.
To avoid this, institutions, companies and workers have to join forces on the definition and implementation of a successful operating model customised to their specific needs.
Working from home is usually associated with more time for physical exercise, increased possibility of eating healthy, higher chances to heal from sickness as well as lower exposure to disease, and in general the opportunity to create a more suitable and ergonomic workplace.
Mental well-being and remote working are intertwined. Work can be the root-cause or the promoter of mental health issues, but it can also act as a support mechanism. For instance, work from home can decrease stress levels by diminishing interruptions from co-workers, keeping us out of office politics, providing a quieter and more comfortable work environment, and eliminating daily commutes.
Work from home impacts society in several ways, such as: reducing the environmental footprint (ex. decreased emission of carbon dioxide of daily commutes), fighting the housing crisis (ex. lowered demand/pricing of housing in metropolitan areas), levelling inequalities (ex. increased chances for people living in economically struggling areas).
1. Follow a schedule. Make the daily routine your priority by respecting the most important moments of the day: wake-up time, breakfast and snack times, lunchtime, dinner time and sleep time. Adhering to predefined timetables will help your mind to structure the rest of the day and to set the right mindset for the coming activities.
2. Prepare yourself as if you were heading to the office. Leave your pyjama behind. Taking a shower and dressing-up are all daily activities that we would do before heading to the office, and that can boost our productivity when working from home.
3. Plan your working day in advance. Use the last 15 minutes of your working day to review and complete the agenda for the next day. When doing so, try breaking-down what you need to do in working packages of about 50 minutes to stay focused.
4. Plan your working day considering your productivity peaks. Work during those hours in which you feel more productive and try to arrange low demanding tasks or personal duties during your productivity valleys. This way of planing will free-up time on your schedule.
5. Include breaks in your working day. Include 10 minutes breaks between the end and the start of each working package on your schedule. Walking around, taking fresh air, meditating or curating your plants will help to free your mind to approach the next task on the list.
6. Choose your workspace. Find the place in your home that provides the right environmental conditions for working, and that keeps you away from any potential distraction. Laying on the bed or couch is not advised as our minds usually perceive these as resting and entertaining areas. If you can not find a proper workspace at home, you might want to try working remotely from your closest coffee-shop or library.
7. Apply the 5S, not just to your workspace. Keep your workspace organised and minimalist, but not only it. When working from home, you will be using throughout the day other rooms like the kitchen or the bathroom. The 5S is a methodology that helps to organise your workspace by identifying what you need and removing what is unnecessary, arranging things logically, performing housekeeping tasks and sustain the new order. Keeping those spaces meaningful and tidy will help you focus on what is essential and in the present moment.
8. Share your working plan with flatmates and family members. Make clear to others when you are working so to avoid interruptions and to let others organise themselves correctly.
9. Put a line between professional and personal life. Remove any potential distraction from your working time so that you can do more in less time. For instance, when working, keep your phone away, mute your instant messaging and personal email notifications, delete quick accesses from your browser toolbar, log out from your social media accounts, and stay away from non-planned household activities. The same applies the other way around: try not answering some professional calls and messages to put some distance between your job and your personal life or do not check your emails when you have just woken up.
10. Define the communication guidelines with your colleagues. Make clear the communication guidelines that you want to follow with your colleagues when working remotely. Setting expectations will limit the number of instant communication messages that you will receive avoiding impulsive communication habits that can be present at the office.
11. Stay in contact with your peers, but not only. Use technology like videoconferencing and instant messaging to discuss with your colleagues about the progress you are doing and the next steps. Recurrent exchanges will keep you motivated and make you realise about the impact your job has when combined with the advancements done by others. As well, going out for a coffee or setting video calls with your friends during free-time will help you to stay human and to battle the "solitary" approach of homework.
1. Do not skip any meal. Make sure to respect your daily meals. Your body and mind need nutrients to function correctly, so feed them appropriately and regularly to battle tiredness and to keep your energy levels up. Instead of concentrating your food intake in three big meals, consider including some snacks to reach a total of five or six smaller meals.
2. Stick to healthy meals. Eat what you would eat at the office. When working from home, you risk breaking your healthy habits by, for instance, eating high-fat foods. Avoid that: today, there are lots of healthy recipes that require low-effort at preparation and that are precious to your palate. For instance, by including nuts, eggs, kale, broccoli, coffee, avocados, berries, dark chocolate, whole grains or fat fish on a diet you will be supporting the correct functioning of your brain.
3. Stick to good manners. Eat the way you would do it if you were accompanied. When working from home, you risk breaking some good manners by, for instance, eating from other places rather than by sitting around the dining table. Avoid that: if you find that difficult or you do not like eating alone, you can always set a video call with your best friends and family to enjoy an "e-launch" or "e-dinner".
4. Prepare your meals in advanced, or opt for a plan-B. Cook your daily lunch during the weekend or the day before, and if you can not do so, use a food delivery service. Adopting this habit will make sure that you eat the right things and that you spend your lunchtime eating and socialising or watching some entertainment rather than cooking. As well, this will help you to respect the working time planned on your schedule.
1. Keep the right posture. Adopt correct postural habits while working to avoid forced positions of the neck, arms or back that can lead to health problems. Keeping your shoulders relaxed, keeping your feet flat on the ground, leaning your back on the chair and your arms on the table forming a 90º at the elbows or avoiding straining the neck are some of the indications to be aware of while working.
2. Exercise during your breaks. Practice simple physical activities to maintain adequate muscle tone, to prevent musculoskeletal disorders, and at the same time to release the tension accumulated during the workday. Some of the exercises that you can do consist on turning your head left and right, turning your head left and right with some inclination, rising your arms like if you wanted to touch the ceiling, twisting your wrists, etc.
1. Avoid exposure to air pollutants. Tracking and eliminating indoor air pollutants like carbon monoxide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ozone can improve our breath and decrease the chances of experiencing health problems like headaches, dry throat, eye irritation or asthma attacks.
2. Ventilate your workspace frequently. Provide sufficient ventilation to keep fresh air within your workspace and to eliminate air pollutants. When opening the windows, make sure that the airspeed flowing into the room is not disturbing and make sure that the outside air quality level is within healthy ranges.
3. Maintain a proper humidity level. Keeping the humidity level of your workspace between the 30% and the 60% will reduce the growth of harmful mould, decreasing the risk of developing allergies, and provide the required moisture to experience proper breathing.
1. Adjust the contrast and brightness of your screen. The difference between the screen and the rest of the surrounding elements like the table and other items should be the minimum possible. If the contrast is high, the eye must continuously adapt when changing focus from one object to your screen, and this leads to rapid eye strain.
2. Set a proper illumination for your workspace. You can reach the appropriate level of lighting by locating your workspace where you have access to daylight or, if not possible, by using artificial light. For office work, it is recommended a lighting level of around 500 lux.
3. Consider the location of light sources. Lighting sources, both natural and artificial, must be parallel to the line of sight, or in other words, the screen should be perpendicular to them. This layout will avoid reflections and glare.
1. Reduce exposure to noise. Locating your workspace on a quiet and still area will help you to increase your concentration and decrease the stress created by noises. Closing the windows, asking for silence to your flatmates and family members and turning off your smartphone notifications are some of the actions you can take to reduce the exposure to distracting noises.
2. Isolate yourself from temporary noises. Creating your sound environment in the workspace can be sometimes beneficial, especially when you are distracted by external noise sources. Listening to music or background sounds like white noise is one of the actions that you can take to mask annoying noises and increase your focus and productivity.
1. Adapt the workspace temperature to your needs. Reaching individual thermal comfort has an impact on your health but also your productivity. It depends on several external factors like the air temperature and the humidity but also personal factors like the metabolic rate or the clothing insulation. However, in general terms, it is advised to keep the indoor temperature between 23ºC and 26ºC in summer and between 20ºC and 24ºC in winter.
1. Hydrate yourself properly. Drinking water frequently will help you to regulate the temperature of your body, to transport the nutrients and to support at the elimination of waste and toxins. The European Food Safety Authority (ESFA) recommends a water intake, from all beverages and foods, of 2 L/day for adult females and 2,5 L/day for adult males. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommends a water intake, from all beverages and foods, of 2,7 L/day for adult females and 3,7 L/day for adult males.
2. Keep your drinking water safe. Controlling the quality level of your drinking water at home will not just support the identification of harmful substances but also save you from buying bottled water.
1. Select a proper work surface. Use a table that is sufficiently high to allocate your legs, and wide and deep enough to fit all the necessary tools for the development of your work, allowing at the same time to reach all the tools without adopting forced positions. To determine the height of the table consider that, when you sit on the chair and rest the hand on the table, the forearm must lay in a horizontal position.
2. Select a proper chair. Use a suitable chair that keeps your back straight and relaxed, the neck in an unforced position and that allows good blood circulation in the lower extremities. A proper chair for work can swivel, is adjustable (in seat height and backrest inclination and height), includes five support points with wheels that allow natural movement, has lumbar support (with a concave and mobile shape that sustain the back), and has a seat that is slightly tilted backwards (3º - 5º) with dimensions of 40 x 40 cm. Padded seats, with a rounded front edge and made of porous fabrics are preferred to prevent circulation oppressions in the lower extremities and to allow perspiration. Armrests are just needed in those cases where they do not interfere with the required movements.
3. Consider using a footrest. Use it only when, after adjusting the chair to the height of the work surface, your legs do not rest sufficiently on the ground. It will help you to relax your legs and to release the weight on your hips when seated. Footrests must be mobile, adjustable in inclination (0º - 15º), with a minimum dimension of 45 x 35 cm deep and made of non-slippery materials both for the feet and the ground support area.
4. Take into account the position of the screen. Place the screen at a distance between 40 and 75 cm from your eyes, at a height so that the top edge of the screen is in line with the height of your eyes, and tilting it slightly (10º - 15º) so that the bottom edge points towards us.
5. Consider the position of the keyboard and the mouse. The keyboard and the mouse should be independent entities from the screen. They should be positioned at least 10 cm far from the table edge, in a way that your arms can rest on the table and bent at the elbow at 90º, your back remains straight, and your shoulders stay relaxed.
6. Consider using a palm rest. Placing a pad on the edge of the keyboard or the mouse will keep the wrist supported at a sufficient height to be able to work with the wrist straight.
7. Adopt solutions to be efficient and collaborative. High-speed internet connection, wi-fi extenders, real-time communication tools, project management tools and time management tools are just some of the solutions that you may need to make working from home more collaborative and efficient.
8. Make home working secure. Some of the measures to keep both your home and professional belongings secure are: using unique passwords, updating them recurrently, protecting your home network, setting an anti-virus and firewall on your devices and installing home security solutions.
9. Make home working safe. There are some essential measures that you can implement to make your home a safer place for working. For instance, you can keep your home clean, organised and free from objects and cables that you do not need, especially on the passage areas. As well, remember to keep water away from your computer and other electrical devices, make regular maintenance of home devices, fix your bookshelves and consider installing safety devices.