As Jon Snow remarked many times… Winter is indeed coming. And with it, the promise of drafty hallways, delayed buses, and totally unreasonable outside temperatures. Yes, winter can be a real downer for many who work from home. But all is not lost! There are a lot of small things you can do to make working from home in the winter a positive experience. We’ll focus on ways you can stay healthy, warm, and productive during the winter months.
Why is winter a drag for remote working
Productivity relies on us feeling energized and ready to face the world. Unfortunately, the winter months have something else planned… Vitamin D production goes way down because of a lack of exposure to sunlight, and this can really color our attitude toward winter. Our circadian rhythm gets completely out of whack because of changes in sunlight as well as that pesky daylight saving time. Cold temperatures can also limit what we are able to do outside, effectively cutting out things like walks which are major lifelines for maintaining our mental health. But you know what? There are actually quite a few advantages to working from home during the winter months.
Why working from home in the winter is pretty great
The commute is gone
First, we don’t have to hop into our car or get on public transportation during terrible weather if we work from home. Did you know that 1,235,000 vehicle crashes in the US per year are due to bad weather? The winter plays a large role in these accidents. But if your commute involves you staggering out of your bedroom and into your home office, then you are benefitting big time. You can also now arrive at “work” much sooner than usual. Winter commutes can be some of the more infuriating moments in the life of an office worker.
The 6AM snow shoveling can wait
Back when you needed to get out of the driveway early in the morning, a major source of anxiety was getting the snow cleared. In some northern US states and Canada, this can be an absolute nightmare. When you work from home you can easily wait until midday when it is warmer to casually shovel the driveway. Commercial snow removal services are also generally less busy during the day so you may be able to take advantage of this.
You’re not getting sick as often
Let’s face it, Susan in finance used to bring a serious amount of cooties to work with her in the winter. Well, now you don’t have to encounter Susan! You will certainly be less exposed to seasonal viruses that generally run rampant on public transportation and in workplaces. And on the flip side, if you do get sick, it is not a big deal. You can put in a little work if you are feeling up to it and you aren’t putting any colleagues at risk.
Snow days are no problem now
If you have kids, you’ll know that the dreaded snow day can be among the most chaotic days of the year. If you are working from home, it is much simpler to have your kids stay at home since you are already there to provide some supervision. And you know what? It is nice to actually be able to enjoy the morning with your kids after a huge snowfall.
When you work from home it is much easier to arrange healthy meals and have fresh nutritious snacks throughout the day. Your snacks don’t need to be pre-packaged anymore. Keeping a healthy diet can have a major impact on your mood, energy levels, and immune system during the winter months.
Master your winter work from home setup
The first thing you should consider as winter approaches is to dial in your work from home set up in your home office. In the next section, we’ll talk about some awesome accessories that will make the winter easier for you, but this section is more about setting up your home office.
Try to make your home office in a room that has natural light. And when there is a window, situate your desk so you can actually look outside and enjoy the natural daylight. This will help set your circadian rhythm which can be notoriously out of whack during the winter months.
Well insulated room
Make sure your home office is in a well-insulated room. There is nothing worse than having major drafts during your workday. If necessary, consult a professional contractor about ways to better insulate this area of your home, including looking at new windows.
Good air circulation
Air circulation can be just as big of a problem as insulation. If there is a heat register in the room make sure it is indeed open and receiving air from your furnace or HVAC system. Make sure your cold air returns are working correctly as well so you can have proper air movement. If you live in a newer home, make sure your HRV is set properly and your whole home humidifier is set to “Winter.”
Smart thermostats for the win
One of the best things you can invest in for your home when you work from home is a smart thermostat. I’m partial to the Nest thermostat as it links in nicely with my other Google-branded smart home gadgets. But Ecobee is another great option. What is important is to properly set your heating schedule to suit your liking. Since there will be less time when you are away from home (when a smart thermostat generally moves into Eco mode) you’ll want to be smart about what temperature you set and when. OSHA recommends work environments to be between 68-76 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity at around 20-60%. But this is just a recommendation. Many people want either cooler or warmer temperatures when working. Just know that your heating bill may go up if you set it too high. The beauty of working from home is that you have total control over the temperature in your home!
Accessories to make winter working more tolerable
Happy Lights have increased in popularity recently. Basically, these lights are there to stave off seasonal affective disorder (SAD). A drop in serotonin levels and vitamin D due to lack of sunlight exposure can lead to some nasty effects like oversleeping, less energy, and even depressive episodes. The change in the season also messes with your internal clock or circadian rhythm, further affecting your mood and energy levels. Happy Lights, like those made by Verilux combat SAD by simulating natural sunlight throughout the day. They can also “reset” your circadian rhythm when used correctly on a schedule. The result is a better mood and more predictable sleep.
Speaking of lights… It can sometimes be a little harder to wake up in the morning during the winter due to changes in sunlight. An excellent way to more naturally wake up is to get your hands on a wake light or wake lamp. These can be programmed to slowly turn on with a glowing sun-like yellow light. This simulates what is like to wake up to natural sunlight and can be a much more pleasant experience than a blaring alarm clock. The Philips SmartSleep wake light is an excellent example of this kind of light therapy which is quite helpful in the winter.
Smart thermostat and remote sensors
As mentioned above, a smart thermostat like Nest is a great investment for remote employees. But I also recommend buying some remote sensors to place in your home office. These sensors track the temperature in that room specifically and then tell the thermostat when it is too cold or warm. This way, you aren’t relying on a thermostat on a completely different floor to tell when it is too cool in your office.
Sometimes the simplest solutions are best. What’s the point in heating a whole home when all you really need to do is heat up your home office? That’s where a good space heater comes in. Look for one with tip detection which automatically shuts off the unit if it tips over. Our favorite space heater also swivels to more evenly heat the room and can even be used as a fan in the summer months.
Work from home winter clothing
Obviously dressing the part during the winter can greatly help with controlling your body temperature and just general comfort. Consider buying a pair of nice-looking pants that are also super comfortable when you are working from home. Our favorite are the “No Sweat” pants from DUER which, honest to God, feel like wearing sweatpants but look like a nice pair of work pants.
The other area that is often overlooked is a good pair of socks. When sitting for hours on an office chair, your feet can sometimes lose a little bit of circulation. Couple that with a bad pair of socks and you will be plagued by “cold feet syndrome.” Consider buying a few pairs of high-quality merino wool socks which will more effectively keep your feet warm but also not sweaty. Our favorite merino wool socks are from Darn Tough, an awesome American company that has about the best customer service in the game. They come with a lifetime warranty!
Staying healthy while working from home in the winter
So you’ve set up your office and bought you winter office gear… What next? Well, there are quite a few activities that can be done to make your winter work from home experience that much better.
Swap some daylight hours
The biggest issue during the winter, other than the temperature, is the lack of sunlight exposure. Because the sun goes down much earlier in the day, you will have less chance to enjoy natural sunlight after work. Instead, consider allocating a couple hours during the day to free time outside in the sunlight. Then move your work hours from this time to after dark. If your work can offer flexible hours like this, you will be much less likely to experience mood and energy level changes due to lack of sunlight and vitamin D.
Vitamin D supplements
Consider taking oral vitamin D supplements. Since our bodies make less vitamin D in the wintertime, a supplement is a real help.
Don’t discount the benefits of meditation in your work life. Take some time throughout the day to be present and practice mindfulness can be a major boost to your mood and level of anxiety. Since wintertime can sometimes affect your mood, meditation is a great tool to have at your disposal.
You need to make time to get outside and enjoy the outdoors during the workday. Many completely cut out activities outside due to temperature, but this is about the worst thing you can do. Time outside can help fix your circadian rhythm and give you much-needed physical exercise during the winter months. So get a nice pair of boots and a parka and embrace the snow!
Sometimes it’s nice to build physical activity into something you have to do anyway. Use snow shoveling as a time to get some physical exercise in the middle of your workday. Because your car isn’t going anywhere, you can be a little more flexible about when you clear the snow.
Having some weight training equipment in your home can be a very good thing. We recommend picking up a pair of Power Blocks, which are adjustable dumbbells that can easily be stored in even an apartment. You can essentially get a full-body workout with a set of these.
Keeping moving can be hard during the winter. Having some kind of cardio machine at your home is an excellent idea. My personal favorite is an Airdyne since you can squeeze your cardio in 10 minutes anytime in the day.
A good fitness tracker is a godsend for working from home. Our favorite, the Fitbit Charge 4 can tell you when to take a break from work and move around. And it can even track water intake. I personally find that using a fitness tracker helps me stay motivated to move during the winter months since I can see and track my progress.
Mental health considerations
One of the major downsides of working from home is its potential effect on your mental health. Studies have shown that working from home can amplify feelings of social isolation, stress, anxiety, and depression. But there are some simple things you can do to ensure that you are doing everything to put your mental health first.
Connect with humans regularly
Working from home can often be a very isolating experience. Make sure you make time to purely social web conferences with friends and colleagues. Scheduling “coffee dates” either physically or virtually can be a great way to get that social connection that humans desperately need to stay healthy. Another trick is to always show up to meetings 10 minutes early. When someone joins a little early as well, you can use this time to socialize and simulate the idea of a “water cooler moment.”
Keep a sleep routine
One thing that winter really affects is people’s sleep schedules. Offset this by keeping a very predictable sleep schedule. Turn off all screens at least an hour before going to bed. And most importantly, set up your office outside of your bedroom. Having your work environment in your bedroom is about the worst thing you can do for mental health when working from home.