When you’re working from home, it’s all too easy to develop some bad habits. Maybe you’re staring at the screen for too long without interruption, or hunching over your laptop with little regard for posture. Or perhaps you’re just working too much in the first place.
A new website called Working Den wants to help with all that, offering a free suite of tools that promote a healthier remote work routine. While there are lots of apps and websites that offer some similar resources, Working Den helpfully puts them all in one place. It’s got playlists of soothing sounds and background music, a list of physical exercises and stretches, a dozen relaxing nature videos, a basic pomodoro timer, a couple of mental health assessment quizzes, and more. The site can even help prevent eye strain, reminding you every 20 minutes to spend at least 20 seconds looking at something other than your screen.
Working Den was spearheaded by Daniel Hall, a London-based freelancer who helps businesses manage their internet ad campaigns, and who’s written a book on freelancing. In an interview, he says the idea for the site came from his own experience of burning out while working from home.
When Hall started freelancing in 2012, he moved out of London to a house in Essex that his mother owned. At the time, it seemed like a good way to save money while he built up his business, but giving up his old social life and working in relative isolation led to an unhealthy work-life balance—something many young professionals who’ve moved home to their parents can likely relate to. He’d wake up at dawn to be available for clients in Australia, and he’d keep working well into the night for clients in the United States. He seldom took breaks and would frequently skip meals.
“Those sort of things led to burnout,” Hall says. “I was just never, ever doing anything but working.”
I was just never, ever doing anything but working.”
Hall says he fell into a cycle of depression that lasted for about a year, and he started having suicidal thoughts. The endless hours of staring at his computer screen took a physical toll as well. He used to have 20-20 vision; now he wears glasses.
All of that made him realize he needed to make changes. He started taking walks and lunch breaks, and he adheres to the “20-20-20” rule: Every 20 minutes, spend 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away. Hall also took on fewer international clients, and he has a strict rule of doing absolutely no work on Saturdays, including no emails. In 2016, he moved back to London, and on his 31st birthday last year, he took his first proper vacation in nearly a decade.
“I was in a very bad place, and unless I made changes, I don’t know what would have happened,” he says.
When London entered a state of lockdown in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hall decided to start developing Working Den. He worked with Bertie van Wyk, a London-based workplace consultant, to advise him on building the site, and he used Upwork—the same place he gets much of his freelance work—to hire psychologists, physiologists, and occupational therapists for further input.
The site still has some rough edges. Its tools are spread across two separate menus, with one at the top of the screen and one towards the middle, and the loop function for its relaxing sounds doesn’t seem to work properly. It’s also easy to accidentally dismiss site’s notification approval prompt, which Working Den uses for its eye strain reminders; the only way to get those notifications back is to dig into your web browser’s settings. Overall, though, it’s a neat resource for anyone who spends the bulk of their time working on a computer screen. The page on stretching exercises alone is worth reviewing to fend off repetitive stress injuries.
Originally, Hall was going to charge a subscription fee for Working Den, and wanted to line up businesses to subscribe on behalf of their employees. That plan only lasted a few days into the site’s initial launch in early August. Hall says he wanted to help people without charging them, so he redesigned Working Den as an ad-supported free service, which launched last week. In the future he’d like to offer extra subscription-based features. One idea he’s batting around: An “anti-loneliness” feature in which you get paired with another user and answer various questions together.
“With millions of people thrown in to the deep end of working from home, I thought there was a real need for someone who was experienced in this to help them,” Hall says.