When Home Becomes The Workplace: Mental Health And Remote Work – Forbes

Posted: March 22, 2020 at 3:45 pm

This post was added by Alex Diaz-Granados

This week, and certainly in coming weeks, most major companies including Apple, Google and Amazon required employees to work from home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While the immediate health benefits of avoiding common workspaces are obvious in the face of a frightening pandemic, it is important to consider the mental health consequences that can come with working remotely.

The mental health risks of remote work

Many employees in the coming weeks may experience unanticipated mental health consequences from mandated remote work, and it is important to be cognizant of this reality. Two causes for concern are isolation and burnout. Remote work is a common trend in many industries today, especially tech and business services; many are already familiar with how the solitude of working remotely can impact mental health. For those who are accustomed to and appreciative of conventional office life and a steady rate of social interactions at the office, the shift to remote work as a result of social distancing procedure during the COVID-19 pandemic might cause a surprising, even if relatively mild, deterioration of mental health.

Isolation

Our daily interactions are shown to reinforce our sense of well-being and belonging in a community; and with cities like Los Angeles on lockdown, millions are being forced to not only work from home, but stay at home, as bars, restaurants, and events are closed through March 31. Even in normal times, the impact of loneliness and isolation should not be understated; research has shown that it can be twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity. One study found that for those who normally work remotely, 19% report loneliness. Loneliness is most risky when it is chronic, which, for many who live alone, could become a temporary reality as more and more people are encouraged to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic.

A top priority, especially for those who are energized by it, is the need to maintain relationships with co-workers and managers. This is critical not only to work performance, but to emotional and mental wellness. Technology can serve as a boost to aid in this communication and there are plenty of existing examples to prove it since, as previously mentioned, many sectors already maintain a sizable remote workforce even when not enforcing social distancing. To alleviate feelings of isolation, some companies such as GitLab encourage setting virtual coffee breaks' during work hours for its remote-only team to foster collaboration and create a more comfortable work environment. Revelry have also dedicated a specific watercooler channel to encourage break-time chatter. Many methods to encourage interaction are low-lifts on behalf of the employer but should be thoughtfully implemented until employees are able to safely return to the office.

Burnout

A 2019 survey by cloud infrastructure company Digital Ocean found that 82% of remote tech workers in the U.S. felt burnt out, with 52% reporting that they work longer hours than those in the office, and 40% feeling as though they needed to contribute more than their in-office colleagues. Employees that are new to remote work should keep this in mind, as they may feel compelled to work longer hours and prove that they can be productive from home especially with less extracurricular post-work options. Furthermore, during the COVID-19 pandemic, lines between personal and work life will blur even for professionals that are used to working from home as an increasing number of schools close, meaning children will be home and working parents might struggle to separate responsibilities.

To support your mental health while protecting your and your familys physical health during this pandemic, take initiative in maintaining wellbeing within a home workspace. This includes creating a comfortable and private place in your home to work, if possible and incorporating exercise breaks and social interaction into your routine. Finally, simple steps like turning off email notifications before and after working hours and maintaining a normal sleep schedule will help maintain a feeling of normalcy.

Adapting to the new normal

Remote work has been a rising trend for several years, and the COVID-19 pandemic will reveal the opportunities and challenges of working from home for many companies that may not have considered it an option. Many populations, especially neurodivergent individuals, can benefit professionally and mentally from working remotely. For example, employees on the autism spectrum or people with mental conditions like OCD, benefit from more time working from home as loud noises, distractions, and pressure to appear neurotypical in front of colleagues takes an emotional toll and impacts performance. One silver lining of the COVID-19 situation may be that it demonstrates the unexpected ability of many organizations to adapt quickly to the physical and mental health needs of its workforce.One thing for sure is that in this time of uncertainty an anxiety, workplace mental health, now at home or the office, must be a priority for employers.

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When Home Becomes The Workplace: Mental Health And Remote Work - Forbes

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