Working from Home in a COVID World
The pandemic has led to many changes in our daily lives. For many office workers, it has meant switching from going into the office every day to working from home 100 percent of the time. This has eliminated a lot of social interaction with co-workers and having a distinct divide between the office and home life. This begs the question—Are these changes taking a toll on our mental health?
Pre-pandemic life for office workers looked a lot different. Get up, get ready, commute however many minutes (or dare we say hours for some), work in the office alongside co-workers, and commute home. Once you left the office, it felt like you were turning work off for the day. Of course, with constant access to email and technology, work may never have felt completely “off” for some, but at least there was somewhat more of a distinction between the two worlds.
Now, those who are full-time remote workers essentially wake up in their office. And that means a lot fewer work boundaries for some. This can cause longer working hours since you are always in your “office” — available to take a call from early in the morning, to late at night. After all, if you’re home, you feel like you can make yourself available for whatever comes along. It adds stress raises the risk of becoming overworked.
The struggle grows even deeper for parents with school-aged children who are learning virtually. In addition to juggling work obligations, they also must take charge of their children’s virtual school sessions. This can mean anything from ensuring that they are paying attention, to helping them log onto the technology for remote learning. Parents are now shouldering burdens they never had to when school was in-person.
This new normal of pandemic work-life-school eliminates a lot of social interaction that one gets from being in an office. The days of seeing co-workers in the break room and swapping weekend stories are no longer. The natural flow of communication that you get riding an elevator with someone, passing them in the hall, or arriving early to a meeting is just not there. While companies are using video conferencing such as Zoom to interact, the level of social interaction is just not the same. And isn’t building rapport an essential part of having a successful team at work? Also, what about for all those employees newly joining a company has gone remote full-time? It’s difficult for them to truly get to know any co-workers. All of this may be leading some people to feel more socially isolated and lonely.
With these different factors to consider, it’s important now more than ever to prioritize mental health. Here are some tips to help reduce stress and set healthy boundaries during this tough time.
Set a Time to Start and End Work
Just as if you were going into the office, it’s a good idea to assign designated work hours so you don’t end up getting caught answering emails instead of spending quality time with your family. Agree to not mentally check into work until maybe 8:30 a.m., take an hour lunch at noon, and log off for the day by 5:30 or 6 PM. Having these set times makes it easier to establish boundaries that promote mental wellness.
Take a Day Off
Even if you aren’t hopping aboard a plane to go on that vacation you had planned, it’s still important to take downtime. Some employees feel that there is no need to take off when they are already working from home and they have no travel plans for the foreseeable future. But a day off can allow you some time to yourself and let you unplug from some of the daily stresses of life. Use this time to do some self-care. Investing in yourself can help you show up better for work and your family.
Prioritize Social Interactions
Whether it’s meeting a friend for lunch or setting time in the morning to have virtual coffee with a coworker, implementing ways to interact socially during the day can help lessen feelings of isolation. While it may seem inconvenient at times to make that investment, you’re likely to leave feeling more socially connected.
If you don’t want to see people physically, there are tons of virtual events going on. From live-streamed cooking classes to virtual travel talks of different countries to virtual meetups, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
Do Something You Love
Even though you may be home more than ever before, that doesn’t mean you are necessarily taking time for yourself — especially for those with small children. Make time to do something that you enjoy or that relaxes you. This can mean anything from going for a walk, reading a book, or sitting in meditation.
Prioritizing physical health can, in turn, lead to mental health benefits. As you may not be walking as much due to a lack of commute and travel, it could be a good idea to set up a workout routine to keep moving. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to the gym. There are plenty of online and virtual options that involve little to no equipment. Find something that is sustainable and works for your lifestyle.
Many people are still working on getting adjusted to this new normal, the one that doesn’t involve going into the office. With work and home life blurred together and the lack of daily social interactions, stress levels can feel high. That’s why it’s so important to take some time to support your mental health within your everyday life.
Written by: Dr. John Tantillo
“John Tantillo, Ph.D. is a TV, Radio and Social Media Branding Expert with over 30 years experience in Behavioral Health Care Branding”