How did you feel when you got the email that you would be moving to a full-time remote working position indefinitely?
Relief? Excitement? Fear?
All the talk about remote working made it seem like one of the best practices to achieve work-life balance, but prior to the pandemic, only 17% of U.S. employees worked from home 5 days or more each week. To say it was a commodity is an understatement.
But then came March of 2020.
Much of the world held its breath as cities large and small implemented unprecedented restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Businesses closed their doors, office workers began learning video conferencing software, and an air of uncertainty hung over society.
Despite the looming anxiety of the pandemic, the transition to work from home arrangements was met with much delight.
Companies who dragged their feet when it came to adopting more progressive business practices were forced to let go of their misconceptions, and let their employees seek safety from the health crisis in their homes.
The days of skirts and khaki pants would soon be in the rearview mirror, and attending Zoom meetings quickly became the norm. Work-life balance was finally going to be a reality.
And for a while it was. Productivity, engagement, and a refreshed sense of purpose rang throughout industries large and small.
But months into this new way of working, something changed.
Yes, working from home has undoubtedly improved the balance between work and home responsibilities for some, but it has also highlighted issues that this work arrangement can have if not executed correctly.
In fact, research from insurance firm Aviva found that 52% of UK employees believe that the lines between the workplace and home are becoming increasingly blurred.
If a worker has a large home with their own dedicated office, remote working arrangements can be a dream. They are able to create boundaries for themselves and build a professional environment separate from their living arrangements.
However, this doesn’t apply to a fresh-out-of-college professional who is still sharing a two bedroom apartment with roommates. The reality for these workers is much more stressful and grim.
The difference between forced remote working due to a health crisis and having the option to choose where you work are night and day. Because the pandemic has made remote workers have no other option but to work from home, this arrangement may not be accommodating to all backgrounds.
Beyond the lack of space, there are also huge mental and physical repercussions that can come from remote working practices.
The shiny new way of working has quickly lost its radiance, and it’s time to admit that total remote working requires more than just a computer on a desk.
The Downsides Of Remote Working
If you are new to remote working, it is exciting to think about the prospects of no commute, dress code, and virtual meetings. However, if there are no guidelines on how to transition to this arrangement, productivity can take a huge hit.
But let’s look deeper. What are the different ways work from home jobs can negatively impact workers?
- Lack of motivation and concentration
- Work from home policies often mean isolation, and isolation leads to a lack of self-motivation.
- A study from the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health indicates that job autonomy is crucial to an individual’s motivation and desire to connect with others.
- Lack of structure
- Unless you’re a seasoned remote worker, it’s likely that you did not create a schedule for your work from home environment.
- Creating a schedule, even at home, is essential to being productive. Otherwise, you risk hurting your quality of work and increase work-related stress.
- Lack of feeling accomplished
- Decreased feelings of accomplishment coincide with the lack of structure.
- If you are stretching out your work day across several hours with little to no breaks in between, it may feel like your work day never ends and that you are not accomplishing tasks.
- Lack of socialization
- This may be one of the biggest downfalls of remote working arrangements, particularly during a time when socializing outside of work has not been possible.
- While virtual happy hours and meetups have temporarily satisfied the need for human interaction, the little socialization we have had over the past year has been detrimental to mental health.
- Lack of work-life balance
- Although remote working once promised a healthy balance of work and personal life, many professionals have found that they are unable to switch off at the end of the day when their office is also their kitchen or bedroom.
- These blurred lines between professional and home settings have been found to lead to burnout, since workers cannot separate their environments.
Along with the clear negative influence that WFH arrangements can have on an employees’ quality of work, the health impact must also be addressed.
Without maintaining a healthy mind and body, not only does work suffer, but your personal life can suffer too. Working online has its own convenience, but successfully creating an environment that allows you to nurture both your personal life and professional life is essential.
If your remote work environment is constantly staring you in the face because you lack the space at home to separate it, you’re bound to feel “on” at all times, and this can easily lead to burnout.
Burnout means more than simply feeling tired and unmotivated at work — it can lead to major health repercussions.
Research from the American Psychological Association has found that workplace-related stress costs the U.S. economy up to $500 billion in healthcare costs each year. Even more, employees experiencing burnout are 2.6 times more likely to look for a new job, 63% more likely to take a sick day, and 23% more likely to visit the emergency room.
Although there are steps that employees can take to prevent suffering from burnout, the responsibility should fall on the employer.
This part is crucial, because many discussions about burnout typically place the blame on employees rather than business practices themselves.
A Gallup survey of 7,500 employees found that the top five causes of burnout are:
- Unfair treatment at work
- Unmanageable workload
- Unclear definition of role
- Poor communication and support from their manager
- Unnecessary time pressure
Business leaders and workplace policies play a significant role in employee burnout, and it’s time that they make swift decisions to prevent any more suffering for their workforce.
Until they do, there are measures employees can take in order to protect their health and mitigate the risk of burnout.
Improving The Work From Home Experience
Advocating for yourself in the workplace will be crucial to making your work from home experience optimal. This will require looking within and knowing what resources and tools can make your home office environment better equipped.
This could include ergonomic furniture such as a desk, an office chair, or a laptop that can improve the quality of work atmosphere. Ask your employer if they are willing to purchase or provide a stipend to go towards improving your home office.
If they can’t or are not willing to, it would be wise to save up our own money to go towards these resources.
Another way to improve your remote working atmosphere is to set a schedule that keeps you on track. Providing structure to your work day has always been important, but the lack of regulation with a work from home arrangement can make it difficult to keep up with a daily schedule.
Here are a few tips to create a dedicated schedule that can help you navigate your workday:
- Wake up and get dressed they way you would if you were commuting to the office
- Set specific stop and start times
- Incorporate breaks throughout the day and spend that time nurturing your health
- Do not work past your set hours
Don’t only set these boundaries for yourself — ensure that your colleagues and managers are also aware of your schedule so they know when is the appropriate time to contact you if necessary. This is particularly important for distributed teams who are working on asynchronous schedules.
Once you’ve established a schedule, you should work on creating a dedicated space that is made specifically for work. Even if you’re limited in the space you have at home, you can create an area that has your basic needs and keep it separated from the rest of your living area.
If you want to work outside of your home, you can also find a reliable coffee shop or even coworking space that can serve as your dedicated space.
“What if I can’t afford a monthly coworking membership?”
Fortunately, some companies will pay for a coworking space. Even if there is nothing in your company’s policy that says they can pay for an alternative workplace, approach managers to explain why this type of arrangement is not only beneficial to you, but is also beneficial to the company’s bottom line.
If you’re able to find an environment that best suits your needs, you’re guaranteed to have a successful and accomplished work day.
Communication With A Distributed Workforce
When part of a distributed or remote workforce, proper communication can be difficult to achieve. That’s why you should make sure to take time out of your day to connect with colleagues either over Zoom, email, or instant messaging in order to nurture community within the workplace.
According to talent management software firm Cornerstone’s The State of the Workplace Productivity Report, 26% of people feel pressured to respond to work communication outside of work hours. So emphasizing your boundaries and work hours to all team members and managers will also be crucial when it comes to daily work-related communication.
Additionally, if your company is using videoconferencing tools like Zoom to keep teams engaged and connected, it’s important to note that back-to-back meetings can actually lead to Zoom fatigue.
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Although largely unheard of prior to the past year, Zoom fatigue has become a symptom of burnout and can leave workers stressed, depressed, and unable to accomplish tasks the way they need to.
Many business leaders have used this tool to keep track of their employees during lockdown, but this micromanagement has had an adverse effect on workers.
Symptoms of Zoom fatigue include:
- Lack of energy
- Irritability towards colleagues and clients
- Job cynicism
- Difficulty concentrating
- Using alcohol or drugs to numb work-related stress
- Decreased job satisfaction
- Health issues such as headaches, high blood pressure, etc.
- Poor sleep habits
If any of these symptoms sound familiar, you could be going down the dangerous path of Zoom fatigue, which is a one-way ticket to burnout.
So how can you avoid falling victim to lengthy, uninspiring virtual meetings?
Suggesting Zoom-free days to your employer is a great place to start. Companies have already introduced this concept of banning any Zoom meetings on a certain day of the week in order to keep workers happy and engaged.
Another way to avoid the work from home blues and by proxy Zoom fatigue is to encourage your workplace to embrace hybrid arrangements.
Hybrid working has become the talk of the town over the past year, as it combines the benefits of remote working with the perks of in-person attendance.
Breaking the monotony of both work arrangements can help employees feel rejuvenated each day and help enhance the work experience for all.
Setting And Accomplishing Daily Work Goals
As you work towards your path of creating a healthier work from home experience for yourself, it’s easy to forget one of the simplest methods of boosting motivation: setting goals.
It’s easy for a remote work experience to feel like a convoluted trap where nothing gets accomplished, but if you and your team members set specific goals, it’s easier to measure progress.
Preferably the night before, choose around three goals you want to accomplish for yourself the next day at work. Keeping these goals simple is ideal, but they can be more specific and complex if you’d like.
Here’s an example of what a daily goal checklist could look like:
- Catch up and respond to all emails
- Prepare numbers for upcoming sales meeting
- Begin outline for next presentation
Although these goals are relatively small and broad, writing them down can help you build more structure to your day and allow you to see your progress as it happens.
The idea of writing and typing our daily goals may seem juvenile, but a survey from RescueTime found that people who set their goals in advance met them 11% more often than those who wrote them in the morning.
Having a concrete process not only allows you to keep track of all of your projects and tasks, but accomplishing even small wins can help build momentum and increase your workplace engagement.
But don’t fret if you don’t meet every single goal!
This method should be used as an outline for what you want to get done each day. Even if there is one task you were unable to accomplish, take pride in the fact that you tried and allow yourself to focus on it the next day.
Self-Care For Work From Home
The past year has been a trying time for all, and the parallel between the workplace and mental health has finally gotten the attention it has long needed.
Poor mental health burdens nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults, but the role that the workplace plays in contributing to these issues has been largely ignored. However, business leaders are finally coming to terms with the fact that they need to take action in supporting their employees.
But what can you do in the meantime to nurture your own mental health?
Start by taking the schedule concept that you use for work, and apply it to your mental health routine. Although it may seem inconvenient, having a distinct morning and evening ritual is the best way to ensure that your mental health never goes by the wayside.
Your morning ritual could go like this:
- Wake up early and eat a well-balanced breakfast
- Take a short walk or incorporate some sort of exercise
- Exercise can be included either in your morning or evening routine
- Practice some form of meditation
- Shower and get fully dressed
- Getting dressed psychologically signals that you are in work mode
- Review your list of goals you created the night before
And you’re evening routine could include:
- Shutting down and signing off of work-related devices
- Keeping those devices out of sight
- If you have a designated home office, always keep your work tools away from the rest of your living space
- Changing out of work clothes
- Eat a balanced dinner
- Spend time with loved ones
- Get ample rest
Creating this distinction between “at work” and “at home” mode can help build a true work-life balance for remote workers. Doing so makes the transition to and from work much easier, and can help eliminate any risk of burnout.
If you still find that your mental health is struggling outside of establishing routines, don’t be afraid of allowing yourself a mental health day.
One of the biggest issues with taking a mental health day is the guilt that is often associated with it. Since burnout comes from job-related stress and overworking, taking time off often leaves workers feeling ashamed.
“But what do I tell my boss if I take the day off?”
Many organizations have yet to implement mental health days as part of their company-wide policy, so taking a day off to nurture your wellbeing may mean creating an excuse.
However, if your boss truly cares about your wellness, you should be able to tell them you are taking time to care for your mental health. This also presents the opportunity to discuss with your manager why incorporating a mental health day into your company’s holiday policy is essential for both you and the business.
Insufficient mental health practices within an organization can cause employees to suffer from:
- Poor communication skills
- Limited participation and engagement
- Having unclear work goals
- Disinterest in their tasks
- Low levels of productivity
So while yes, it’s important for employees to do their part in supporting their own mental health, companies also need to put forth the effort. An unhealthy workforce means an unhealthy business.
Companies can play their part by adjusting their policies to offer more resources and tools to employees who may be struggling.
This could be in the form of providing access to mental health professionals, hosting yoga classes or guided meditation, offering discounts to local fitness facilities, increased flexible hours, and more.
However, maybe most importantly, mental health support needs to be normalized in the workplace.
For years, there has been a stigma surrounding mental health, particularly when it comes to work environments. Finally, the tides are changing thanks to outspoken mental health activists.
But true progress starts from the top.
To instill concrete change in the workplace, managers should be open about their own experiences with mental health challenges. Humanizing discussions about wellness can make a huge difference in employee sentiment, and this means greater chances of retaining top talent.
Once employees feel that they can be open and honest with their higher ups, they are more likely to feel secure, safe, and respected in their position.
And what does this all equate to? Higher job satisfaction.
The last year or so has been an experiment for all workers at various hierarchies.
Although the initial shift to remote working was exciting, and for some it still is, business leaders are doing a disservice to their employees if they don’t reconcile with the fact that not everyone is happy.
In some cases, this unhappiness means more than feeling bummed out — it is falling down the rabbit hole of depression and anxiety.
The reality is that working from home has its downsides. Of course, there are numerous perks to enjoy with this arrangement, but the truth is that it is not the ideal solution for all work styles.
A hybrid approach has become the frontrunner for many companies looking to accommodate all workers with various backgrounds.
And the data supports this: a survey of over 800 corporate executives worldwide found that 38% of respondents anticipate remote employees to work at least two or three day away from the office post-pandemic.
However, work-from-home fatigue can still plague professionals who may have limited options in their work environment, so taking the necessary steps towards self-care is essential in this transition.
But more importantly, it is essential to communicate your feelings.
Mental health issues are difficult enough to handle as is, but suffering on your own adds another set of challenges. So talk to your manager and see if they are willing to offer more support to you while you combat these issues.
Not only is this obviously beneficial for your health, it makes working a more pleasant experience and allows you to fully succeed in your daily tasks.
Once you’ve been open about your struggles, prioritize your wellbeing at home by creating a self-care regimen. Scheduling in self-care seems frivolous, but finding downtime can be hard.
Creating a block of time just for your own health is crucial in today’s always-on environment.
Overall, the work from home blues is nothing to be ashamed about.
Remote work fatigue is real and has plagued workers around the world. Recognizing that you may be struggling is an important first step in improving your work and personal life.
Speak out, reach out, and take time to yourself. Nothing, not even the workplace, is worth sacrificing your own mental health.
- Is working from home less productive?
- It depends. Working from home can come with its fair share of distractions, connectivity issues and lack of motivation, especially if you live in a less-than-ideal environment
- Is it better to work from home or from an office?
- Again, it depends. Working from home can sometimes be great for parents who are trying to balance work and childcare responsibilities, or those who want to focus on individual work. However, the office is ideal for collaboration and socialization with colleagues, which can combat the monotony of working from home alone.
- What are the biggest challenges of working from home?
- If you do not have a dedicated workspace, working from home may be nearly impossible due to sharing your home with roommates and other distractions. Plus, unless your employer offers a stipend to improve your space, your connectivity and office amenities may not be up to par compared to what is included in an office. Additionally, working day-in and day-out by yourself is isolating and can lead to mental health issues.
- What’s your biggest struggle with working remotely?
- Lack of dedicated space is a struggle. Working from a kitchen counter can get uncomfortable, and trying to keep the pets quiet during Zoom meetings can sometimes become a nuisance.
- What are the best days to work from home?
- This varies for all, but the general rule of thumb should be based on your workload. If you have a lot of head-down work to do, that time should probably be spent working from home. However, if there is a big team project coming up, try to make your way into the office if possible to boost your collaborative opportunities.
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