Home working and psychological well-being: can these two elements co-exist?

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Remote working brings positive psychological impact
Remote working can negatively influence your mental health
November 25, 2020
Maria Chiara Venturelli

If the on-going global pandemic has not affected your daily routine on any level, there are two cases: either you have been living under a rock, or you are the rock. 

Covid-19 has deeply influenced several aspects of our everyday life to the point that we have to adjust our habits to “the new normal”. 

Our working life is not an exception.

Whether you are a student or a working professional, during the pandemic you have surely found yourself in the situation of setting up your desk to create your own personal home office.

We can all agree that...

Undoubtedly, working from home is an effective way to prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace, but this solution involves psychological consequences which should be addressed for the sake of our well-being. 

Is that all there is to it?

Of course not.

Some people enjoy the idea of reading work emails from their laptop, while sipping their fresh home-made coffee and petting their cat. Others regret not having enjoyed the invasive presence of their co-workers in the workplace when they had the chance to. 

Either way, the issue of the psychological consequences of home working presents more than one side.

1. The constant company of your laptop in your own domestic environment: a potential unhealthy combination

In the past, the commute to and from work gave us the feeling of setting a boundary between our working life and your personal one. Due to the advent of home working, the boundaries between our working hours and our non-work time are now blurrier and blurrier...

It sounds relatable, doesn’t it?

The physical presence of our work equipment in what we consider our own domestic private space can cause distress and lead us to working for longer hours than we should. 

Why does this happen?

Many of us might find it harder to concentrate while home working. This can be explained using the popular theory called Cognitive Load Theory. In short, our minds can either function in auto-pilot mode when we perform routine tasks, or depend on our limited ‘working memory’ for unfamiliar tasks. 

So…

Home working presents us a new set of challenges that we might not encounter in the workplace. For example, we might worry about our wifi disconnecting during a call or have conflicting domestic and work priorities. All these extra mental burdens constantly prevent our mind from switching to auto-pilot mode, therefore adding on to the cognitive load of our mind.


2. The lack of face-to-face interactions affects our productivity and self-esteem

Introverts might disagree, but we, as social beings, need social connections and interactions in the workplace. Social cues are integral for us to build connections. It is proven that making eye-contact improves connection between individuals by projecting self-confidence, increasing likability and establishing trust. 

This is difficult in remote working because ‘making eye-contact’ on video calls can only be done looking away from the person on your screen, and instead, staring directly at the camera. To make matters worse, it is virtually impossible (no pun intended) to make eye-contact in a group video call.

Is there more…?

Other non-verbal cues such as body posture and hand gestures allow us to comprehend information, and adapt our responses based on our interpretation of the message beyond just the words spoken. However, we are not able to discern these non-verbal cues during the virtual calls while home working. As a result, we either have to focus on trying to pick up these cues or risk missing out on these important information.

1. Remote working reduces the financial stress from office-based working

The presence of our work equipment as an integral part of our domestic space does not necessarily have to be perceived only as a threat to your mental health; working remotely allows us to obtain a considerable reduction of time-wasting and costs.

How much are we talking about?

According to a study, employees in the UK could save an equivalent of £4,168 per year on commuting cost. 

However, there is more to it...

Working remotely spares us money from eating out during lunch breaks, along with costs connected to child-care and work clothes. In the long run, the costs and time spared are a natural source of relief from stress connected to these issues.

2. Sticking to a disciplined routine while home working brings along mental health benefits

There is one more silver lining that should be addressed. 

Humanity is living through uncertain times: we have to “stay at home to flatten the curve” of Covid-19 infections at the expense of our ability to focus (especially during working hours).

However...

Researches show that positive distractions are among the most effective solutions we can adopt to deal with the pandemic-related sense of distress; in this regard, creative activities are specifically beneficial. Baking, painting, learning how to play an instrument: your neighbours might not be too overjoyed about the last point, but there is no doubt your Instagram timeline speaks for itself. 

How do I allow these distractions to be beneficial without them affecting my work?

While the pandemic challenges our temperament and focus, we need to push back distractions through self-discipline. Sticking to a disciplined routine allows you to create a time balance between the hours you spend being productive in your home office and the ones you dedicate to said creative activities. In the long-run, your self-discipline will help you to build the ability to engage or refrain from particular behaviours. 

In conclusion…

On one hand, while working remotely, an individual can experience distress and anxiety due to the blurry line between work and personal life and the lack of face-to-face interaction.

However, working from home can relieve the employee from potential stress caused by time-wasting and costs. Additionally, the creation of a regular daily routine and the engagement with creative activities while working from home brings along mental health benefits.

A question for you: When the pandemic is over, would you continue working from home?

Disclaimer: We are by no means supporting one side of the argument over the other. We collate different views and expand on them to give you a better understanding of the motivation behind these views.
Image credit: Anastasia Shuraeva (Pexels)
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