How to create a workplace where mental health can thrive
The success of an organisation begins and ends with its people. So how can we foster a culture in which employees feel safe, supported and valued?
“It’s only temporary…”
If you’ve been working from home for most of last year, you’ve no doubt been telling yourself this repeatedly, but it’s time to admit that working from home is likely to be at least a part of our lives for the foreseeable future. And why not? The statistics around the benefits of ‘hybrid’ working are all very positive indeed. So, perhaps it’s time to turn that makeshift corner into a more permanent fixture. Or find new ways to make the most of your space? And in doing so, you could be giving some well-deserved attention to your physical and mental health.
“We’re now realising our offices aren’t so temporary after all,” says interior stylist and founder of the Secret Styling Club, Laurie Davidson. She’s designed interiors for some of the biggest names in the business and, being a freelancer herself, knows a thing or two about making a home office work. New Year is traditionally the time for making changes, but it’s also a good place for some serious self-care – and Laurie offers some advice that combines the two.
Scope out your space with fresh eyes
Just because your current workspace is the most obvious choice, is it really the best? Is there a spot that can offer you a bit more natural light or give you a view? If you are lucky enough to have a guest room, perhaps it’s time to buy a sofa bed and make a new office. In smaller spaces, where you need to be truly multifunctional, then there are some great solutions that will let you ‘pack up’ your work and physically switch off at the end of the day. “Wall-hung desks are like mini offices that can open and close. You can also use a trolley on casters as a little filing cabinet and tuck it away when your working day is finished.”
Does your décor make you happy and healthy?
“Think of your office as an extension of your home. You’re there a lot – give it a new lick of paint! Think about pictures and fill it with bits of nature. So, when you’re stuck there on a gloomy day, you can see things that make you happy.” It’s also proven that the décor around you can affect your performance and wellbeing, so choose colours that make you feel calm and productive, and furniture that is attractive as well as practical. From a physical point of view, if you haven’t yet thought about how you sit when you’re working, then why not? Back pain, neck stress and even tension headaches and fatigue can be caused by poor seated posture and hunching over a laptop. There are plenty of attractive and affordable seating options on the market that have adjustable arms and backs, and really good lumbar support – essential for tailoring the seat to your body. Finally, make sure your computer is at the right height and you’ll soon be in the most comfortable and healthy position.
Think about what’s behind you
Is your workspace ‘Zoom Friendly’? Do the walls behind you need a little TLC? So many of us are on video calls these days and few well-placed shelves, books, plants or beautiful storage boxes can make a world of difference. “Of course, in open-plan homes, not everyone has the ability to do that, so you might want to invest in a lovely cane screen,” suggests Laurie. “They pull behind you when you’re having a meeting (hiding the washing up you haven’t done!) then just fold away.”
Seek and tweak your light
The wrong light can be as bad as no light at all. Natural light is ideal, but on dark days or in spaces where light is limited, this can be achieved artificially. Overhead lights can be quite harsh, so Laurie recommends ‘layering’– that is, having more than one source and making them adjustable. “A task light can offer you enough for the evening. And a dimmer lets you adjust your light so it’s just enough.” Hanging a mirror is also a smart trick that can bounce some light around your workspace. “Not directly in front of you but nearby, and even better still if it can reflect a window.” You may also have read about the benefits of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) lamps, which are a kind of light therapy that can lift the low mood that many people feel during the darker months. “There’s so much evidence that they work,” says Laurie. “And anything we can do to support our mental health is obviously a good thing.”
Stimulate your space
Your senses play a huge part in your wellbeing and we routinely add candles and air fresheners to our homes, but less so in offices. “Scent can often be overlooked but it’s actually really important,” says Laurie. “In an office you could use scents to boost your energy or make you feel calm.” She recommends peppermint for energy and cinnamon for improving focus, but if you’re feeling stressed, having a lavender candle or oil burner can be really soothing. Plants are another proven wellbeing booster and the perfect way to breathe life into your working environment. As well as being totally on-trend, they can improve the air around you and even increase your productivity by up to 15%, If plants in pots are just too much clutter, you can even hang them, which is perfect when you need to keep all your surfaces free to work on.
Find joy in the little things…
We all have gloomy mornings, when we’re lacking energy or having an off day. This is when your home workspace can really make a difference “You can add little touches that make you feel more positive and inspired.” Laurie keeps photos and mementoes around her desk to keep her cheered when the going is tough, and she frequently personalises elements of her office using her Canon PIXMA printer – such as decorative pots for stationery and motifs for cushions. Soft furnishings also add a bit of comfort and make your space feel more homely. “A rug underneath your desk, blinds or curtains at the window, cushions on chairs. Maybe a throw in a basket in case you get a bit chilly.”
She is also a big fan of ‘vision boards’. “Look at your accomplishments – it doesn’t matter how small – then create a board of things you’d like to see in your future.” These can be quotes, pictures, photos or anything that you would like to see in your life. “You can print them out put them on the wall or a mini notice board, but the aim is to feel positive, look ahead and feel inspired rather than January dread.”
“Even if this year we see a bit more normality, I think working from home will still be important,” says Laurie. “In the meantime, make your office your own.” There are certainly worse ways to start your January than with a little spot of decorating – and this is a project that will improve the way you live, work and feel all year round.
Laurie’s website, Instagram, Blog and Facebook are full of inspiring ideas for your home and office. You can also find her e-design service at Secret Styling Club.