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Is working from home doing more harm than good?

Business talk with Steve Elsom, January 2021

Working from home was once considered a ‘perk’. For many, it is now a ‘chore’, with many workers feeling ‘trapped’ and dealing with challenges and consequences that seemingly around 4% of the workforce worked from home….since the pandemic that number has increased to 40%. The majority of the ‘newbies’ didn’t volunteer to work from home, they weren’t trained or coached and many didn’t even have a health and safety risk assessment done Neither were they asked to work from home by their employer – they were forced to work from home by virtue of by the Government on March 23rd. The majority of the newbies simply weren’t ready.

Working from home is a very different experience for many

and it was no suggest that 29% of the ‘working from home’ population were reported to ‘burned out’, compared to 18% pre -pandemic.An alarming increase in less than 6 months and one that is likely to see further movement as the ‘new normal’ of working from home, persists.

At the heart of the issue here, in my opinion, there are three key factors:

  • Social skills
  • Leadership
  • Self-discipline

Social skills – Let us take ‘communication’….7% relates to spoken words that we use, 38% is how we say them and 55% is our body language when we are saying those words.The over Zoom,Teams or Blue Jeans….you typically only see each other from the neck up….so reading and interpreting Loneliness is a key factor too. Many late millennials and early Generation Z workers, (by which I mean people born between 1990 and 2000) are being impressions’ of workday routines and practices.They can’t see a role model in the team, they can’t learn from a can’t exchange stories and experiences in the staff canteen or at the coffee machine…..because they are trapped at home.The impact on the mental health of these ‘young workers’ might be profound.

Leadership – Providing direction, clarity and purpose is a pre-requisite for any effective leader. Even more so during these unprecedented times. In my June 2020 article in The Flyer, I talked about how managers and leaders needed to ensure that their employees’ home working environment was both safe and secure, and that they took into account the mental health challenges that ‘working from home’ can pose. I recommended that businesses needed to plan properly, embrace the changes, practice with the camera and the kit and communicate to the team with energy and empathy. Leaders and Managers need to ‘check in’ NOT simply ‘check up’ on colleagues. Has this happened? Not consistently enough in my opinion, as levels will build, engagement levels will drop and tensions will rise, ultimately taking it’s toll on an individuals’ mental health.

Self -discipline. It’s about getting a balance and avoiding any drift towards ‘presenteeism’, where an individual feels compelled to remain logged in and ‘at work’ for longer than their contracted hours, because no-one is around to tell them to ‘switch off’ and ‘log off’.This can have an adverse impact on their health over time. The key is to create a structure and stick to it. Share it with your manager and colleagues, so they are aware of your working pattern. Some things to consider are to ‘Move Around’ – just like a breakout meeting room in home where you can take yourself off to and ‘re-charge / re-focus’ if only for 15 minutes at a time. ‘Get outside’ – fresh air is great for relaxation and relieving stress. ‘Keep Mobile’ – stand up, walk around and stretch every 40 minutes. ‘Take Notes’ – write down your thoughts, keep a log of what time of day you felt at your most effective, keep an active ‘to do’ list and include talking to colleagues Senses’ – change the room temperature, put some music on in the background, change the layout of your desk, try different soft drinks during the day and see how your ‘work mood’ can change.

Not an exhaustive list, but hopefully some pragmatic advice on how to ensure that the working from home culture become a mental health issue in the waiting.

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Steve is a regular contributor to B2B publications, see some of his recent articles for insights into current business news, leadership and much more...