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Why a home commute is better for workplace wellbeing

The coronavirus pandemic may have ended the daily commute for millions of us. It’s freed us from one stress but caused another, with many of us struggling to work on kitchen tables, in armchairs or on laps. 

Psychologists and scientists have established that having a dedicated workspace is critical to mental health and wellbeing. “Commuting” to a designated workspace, such as a garden room or workroom, provides the psychological and physical distance needed to establish a healthier work/life balance.

Read why a home commute to a workroom or garden room is better for your mental health and wellbeing.

Why commuting is bad for your health

Scientists have proven that driving to work is unhealthy. When you’re in a car, you’re exposed to higher levels of pollutants, with long commutes (over an hour) linked to serious adverse health impacts.

As well as being bad for your physical health, a lengthy commute can cause stress. Research has established that commuters have “higher psychological stress scores, more health complaints, essentially of psychosomatic nature, and greater absenteeism from work due to sickness”.

 It’s clear that the traditional car commute is damaging to our health and wellbeing, but it does establish a clear separation between working life and your home life, say academics at University College London. They found that “the commute delineates boundaries between home and work life and can be used to switch one-off and transition to the other,” says UCL’s Professor Joseph Devlin.

The lines can quickly become blurred when we’re working at home, caution the authors.

Importance of work/life balance

 “The pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture is one of the biggest challenges to society’s mental health,” says the Mental Health Foundation.

 In a paper published in the Harvard Business Review, the authors describe the results of almost 200 interviews with professionals at a London law firm. While many describe a worrying lack of a work/life balance, some have developed effective strategies to establish a work/life balance.

 They identified five critical elements of a successful work/life balance.

  1. Pause and denormalise – Take a step back from the day-to-day grind and think about what’s causing you stress. Is it a lack of separation between your work self and home self?
  2. Pay attention to your emotions – Learn to recognise and respect how you are feeling.
  3. Repriotise – Determine your core priorities and adjust your life toward them. Ensure you give equal weight to personal and professional targets.
  4. Consider alternatives – What can you change about your current situation? How could your life, priorities and professional life change to be better?
  5. Implement changes – Once you’ve identified what’s affecting your work/life balance, take steps to tackle them. Set out a plan of action and stick to it.

The importance of separation

 Working at home experts all agree that creating a purpose-built space for home working is essential at creating a distance between your home life and work life.

 The CIPD recommends that you create a “separate space for yourself to work in, somewhere you can focus on tasks without being distracted and set up with everything you need for a normal working day – computer, phone, stationery, papers…etc.”

 It’s great in principle, but it’s often a challenge to find a separate space in your home in practice. It’s tough if you and a partner are expected to work at home. Add children to the mix, and it’s almost impossible.

 The physical space we work in has a significant impact on our productivity and performance and our mental health and wellbeing. The shift to home- or hybrid-working appears permanent, so many employees are making the wise investment in a dedicated workroom.

 We’ve already written about the importance of having a separate space for work when working at home. Put simply, if you’re serious about working at home for long periods, then you should invest in a dedicated workspace or workroom.

The virtual commute

 A garden workroom or separate workspace may physically be a few metres from your main property. However, it provides an essential mental separation between work and home life.

 As you move from one area to the next, you change. The transition from your personal space to a professional workroom is what we call a virtual commute.

 The research at UCL shows a commute creates distance, but who says you need to spend hours in your car or miles in the saddle to achieve this? A short walk from the house to a garden room can provide all the separation you need without the cost, disruption, or damage to the environment.

 Once in your workroom, you’re shielded from distractions and safe to focus on your work. You can lock up and leave when your working day is done, completing the work-from-home commute in a few seconds.

Learn more about workrooms’ range of sustainable and affordable garden rooms here.