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DOES FLEXIBLE WORKING MAKE US HAPPIER?

If we’ve learned anything from the challenges of 2020, it’s that many of us enjoy flexible work arrangements and the independence and autonomy it brings. But how does this impact our health?

Health Agenda magazine
Updated September 2020

The benefits of working from home and wide appeal of flexible hours of work, a shorter commute and greater independence means more and more employees are breaking free from full-time work in an office space.

And while 3.5 million people employed by a company regularly work from home, only 13% do so because of a flexible work arrangement. 

Australians are so keen to see their office 9 to 5 routine change that 50% of employees say they’d be willing to take a pay cut to get it, according to a McCrindle Research survey.

Working remotely: Taking charge of your workday

Why are some of us willing to sacrifice our salary for flexibility? Psychologist Sue Langley, an expert in positive psychology in the workplace, says this is due to having more autonomy.

Job satisfaction is also experienced by those who still have a boss but have the freedom to work from home. In a report created in March 2020 by IT company Citrix, in collaboration with research institute OnePoll, 78% of Australian office workers reported that remote working is likely to become a new normal once the country emerges from the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The survey featured 1,000 office-working Australians, as well as participants in France, Germany, Italy and the UK, and found that Australian workers see the greatest advantage of working remotely in the fact that they can make use of the time they would otherwise spend commuting. 

Almost half (49%) said they use this time to be more productive while another 38% claimed they use it to spend more time with their family or on leisure activities. And 36% of office workers also said not having to do the daily office commute resulted in less stress during the working day, with the lack of traffic jams and not being on overcrowded or delayed trains.

Connecting with others when you work from home

As great as the benefits are, there are downsides to this new way of working – most stem from working alone or not feeling completely part of a team.

Entrepreneur and business coach Jane Copeland, who’s been running a digital marketing business from home for 7 years, says it’s important to know upfront how lonely it can be.

“Working from home brings isolation. We can connect with people online but there’s not a lot of human interaction – that’s a big downside.”

To feel part of a team, Jane suggests starting a group to connect with like-minded people. 

It’s a common cycle, says business coach Jane. “Think about it as a sprint where you’re working hard for a certain period. You put all your energy into it, but then you do really need to recharge.”

Nutritionist and psychologist Jayta Szpitalak agrees: “Binging on work, like binging on food, can be highly stressful for your body and mind. The need for regular exercise and healthy food is highly important for your body to re-energise, and taking time out for your mind to relax will allow you to concentrate better.”

Here’s how to master work–life balance when you’re working from home:

  • Schedule mini-holidays or local weekend getaways throughout the year (if COVID-19 restrictions allow it).
  • If you work from home, create your own workday structure and stick to it. Create a routine and rituals for your day – coffee breaks at a certain time and scheduled lunchtime exercise for example, so that wherever you are it feels familiar.
  • Factor in regular exercise; add it to your diary as you would any other meeting.

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