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4 expert tips on how to stay positive and engaged while working from home

Whether you like it or not, working from home is now a reality and is likely to stick around for some time. A positive psychology expert shares how to thrive and be happy while working from home.

In theory, working from home seems like a great idea: No need to navigate blood pressure-raising traffic jams or rush-hour crowds in public places. And just think of all the time saved when you can simply roll out of bed and get to work.

But expectations do not always match up to reality. Uncertainty and disruptions to daily routines can be stressful.

Add on personal challenges around working from home, such as caring for children while juggling work commitments, and it is no wonder that some people are barely surviving the new normal.

In an email interview with CNA Luxury, psychologist Michelle McQuaid from The Wellbeing Lab, said, “Our brains generally like it when things are more stable and steady. Given the rapid rise and unpredictable changes COVID-19 has created for most workplaces, caring for people’s wellbeing has taken on a new level of complexity.”

A workplace wellbeing teacher currently based in Australia, Dr McQuaid uses research from positive psychology and neuroscience to develop strategies for happiness and business success.

Dr Michelle McQuaid. (Photo: Just Challenge)

She is the mental health expert who has partnered Just Challenge, a Singapore-based company, to launch a bespoke virtual employee wellness platform called Just Challenge Wellness last month.

Just Challenge has traditionally delivered physical challenges and programmes for corporates, centred around physical health, mental wellbeing and giving back to those less fortunate. Its client portfolio includes HSBC, Barclays, KPMG and Arsenal Football Club.  

Its new digital platform Just Challenge Wellness is created for companies looking to deliver mental and physical health education and engagement to employees amid the COVID-19 outbreak. It does this through video tutorials, podcasts, downloadable guides and a programme of live sessions that can be accessed from home.

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According to Dr McQuaid, pre-COVID-19 studies show that people who work from home generally report higher levels of stress than those who work in an organisation. Much of it has to do with missing out on social cues gleaned from face-to-face interactions.

“People working from home tend to worry more about workplace politics, conversations they have been left out of. It can also be hard to have our voices heard when we’re not in the room with others,” she said.

“Perhaps that’s why the dream of working from home has been a little more complicated than people realised, and why it adds to our mental load.”


While people have gotten better at handling the technical aspects of working from home (better desks, laptops, Internet connection, etc), Dr McQuaid said many are still wrestling with the changes to social relationships.

Whether you are a CEO or employee, prioritising your well-being while working from home matters.

In her blog on Psychology Today, Dr McQuaid said that research has consistently found that people thrive at work when they have opportunities to experience heartfelt positive emotions, to be engaged and accomplish goals that matter to them, and to feel connected to one another.

But how to do this in a time of safe distancing? Here, Dr McQuaid shares more insights into how positive psychology – the science of human flourishing – can be used to help people thrive while working from home amid uncertain times.

“People working from home tend to worry more about workplace politics, conversations they have been left out of.” – Dr Michelle McQuaid

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Feelings of struggle and stress are not signs that you are unwell or “broken”, Dr McQuaid said. Rather, they are signs that something important needs your attention.

“You can tell when someone is flatter, less engaged, less responsive, not taking part in conversations as much. Everything feels challenging or like a bit of a drag or hard work,” she said.

Dr McQuaid said leaders or managers can monitor staff energy and engagement, by using tools that measure wellbeing levels such as the free PERMAH Wellbeing Survey.


How to stay socially connected when you miss out on being around the watercooler? How can we ensure that the voices of everybody that needs to be heard in a conversation has a chance to speak, not just the loudest or the most proficient with Zoom or online meetings?

How do we make space for play and positive emotion, which is so important when it comes to building trust in our social connections?

All of these are important questions as working from home becomes a reality for some companies. Dr McQuaid encourages work teams to have conversations about how they can stay socially connected while maintaining physical distance.

“This may take some ongoing checking in. It might not be just one conversation and you figure it all out magically,” she said.


(Photo: Unsplash)

While your levels of wellbeing may ebb and flow based on what’s happening around you, Dr McQuaid said prioritising tiny wellbeing challenges throughout the workday can help during uncertain times.

According to her, the Just Challenge Wellness programme suggests the following:

  • Get moving early by stretching, strengthening or getting your heart rate up after you first get out of bed.
  • Start your workday with a jolt of joy to supercharge energy. This could be listening to a favourite song, watching a funny video, or doing anything that makes you smile.
  • Boost your levels of engagement by aligning your strengths – the things you’re good at and enjoy doing – to a task so you can turn a morning to-do into a tah-dah.
  • Improve your relationships by catching up virtually with someone over lunch so you can chew and connect at the same time.
  • Make a positive difference by doing a five-minute favour to help someone out for an afternoon treat that is better than sugar.
  • Savour what you have accomplished by taking a victory lap and reflecting on what went well, where you struggled and what you learned as you wind down for the day.


Certain habits can be counterproductive. Catastrophising and leaping to judgement fall into this category.

Explaining why people catastrophise, Dr McQuaid said, “When our brains are uncertain about what might happen next, there is a tendency to jump to the worst-case scenario to keep ourselves safe. While that can feel like it helps us be more in control because we’re prepared for what might go wrong, it actually wears down our energy.”

Have you also been seething or become resentful about something that you think someone has done or is not doing? Leaping to judgement is not uncommon particularly when you lose your social cues while working from home, she said.

But more often than not, those conclusions and assumptions made are rarely true.

To get a handle on always thinking about the worst, do what Dr McQuaid describes as a “catastrophisation check” before you sleep at night.

Ask yourself: “Am I jumping to conclusions about certain things right now, although I actually do not know if those things are going to be a problem?”

If you find it hard to let go of these feelings, Dr McQuaid advised, “Jot them down on a page so that it’s out of your head. Keep this somewhere and keep an eye on it. Know that it has been named and taken control of as much as possible. Be mindful of it and let it go.”

On avoiding judgement, Dr McQuaid suggested reaching out and saying to the person “Hey, I wanted to reach out and see what’s happening because I’m a little worried about it”.

“Then, let them respond and trust they are telling you the truth. If it really doesn’t feel right, nudge them a little further and let them know you are still worried,” she said.

“When our brains are uncertain about what might happen next, there is a tendency to jump to the worst-case scenario to keep ourselves safe." – Dr Michelle McQuaid

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Source: CNA/ds