In the last year, many individuals shifted to work from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As our community re-opens, several employers found it cost-effective and productive without the expense of office space and overhead using the work from home model. Bosses have reported that productivity increased since employees can complete their duties independently. However, how does this mentally impact employees? Through my research and experience with my clients, there are pros and cons. Neither outweighs the other; it’s more of a preference and how they emotionally balance their well-being and home and work lives.
Let’s start with the profound benefits it has on your overall state of mind.
- Time Management: Working from home eliminates that loathsome rush hour commute and provides more time at home in the morning and evening. You can use the extra time for sleep, self-care – whether it’s the gym, yoga, or meditation. You can take a long walk with your dog, additional family time, running errands at a reasonable time of the day, and have a significant amount of your time not rushing and planning your day accordingly without the stress of “beating the clock.” Having the ability to slow down and enjoy the simple things you don’t usually get to appreciate is soothing and relaxing. Ultimately a healthier life balance. Having extra time may be very unfamiliar to some. If you need some guidance on prioritizing your time, check out our Senior Associate Therapist, LMSW, Madeline Weinfeld’s blog: https://www.gatewaytosolutions.org/taking-inventory-of-your-life/.
- Reduced Stress: Having the ability to time manage reduces your stress levels, making your commitments more straightforward to manage and less social anxiety. It will increase your level of concentration and heighten your productivity because of limited distractions from the office surroundings like a telephone ringing, co-workers passing by, mingling with colleagues, long-drawn-out lunch breaks, and other interruptions. The burden to get up, get ready, and beat the traffic or catch public transportation is an overwhelming and anxiety-driven feeling. Working from home eliminates those triggers and reduces the pressure of having a productive day.
- Healthy Eating: We all that dreadful time of day – Lunch. The infamous questions – What are we eating? Where are we ordering? How much is it? Anything healthy? Eating a well-balanced diet is vital to mental health. We tend to over-eat at lunch, as it sits in our stomachs when we are least active. A large lunch causes fatigue, grogginess, lack of motivation, and unable to concentrate. Remotely working makes it easier to prepare a healthy lunch of your choice and probably much more cost-effective. Think of the money you will save. No more fast food, pre-packaged items, quick snacks, which all contain high calories, extra fat, sugar, and sodium – your grocery shopping will include whole foods and healthier snacks that are energizing. The proper foods increase your mental well-being and keep you on track for the day.
- Improved Physical Health: With the extra time on your hands, use it for physical activity like going to the gym, walking, jogging, yoga, swimming, or any vigorous activity you love. Exercise can sharpen your memory and cognitive state. Increasing your heart rate pumps the blood flow and oxygen to your brain. Exercise is a stimulus in producing hormones that enhance brain cells. The brain releases endorphins that help you concentrate and make you feel alive and rejuvenated. Exercise decreases depression symptoms, anxiety, and stress levels, reduces inflammation, and promotes an overall healthy mental well-being. Not only does it promote healthy brain functioning, but it also supports a better night’s sleep. Sleep is vital to your well-being. Without adequate sleep, the evidence shows poor health, weight gain, heart disease, depression, strokes, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Now, like anything else, there are always some negative impacts. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), I am looking at this through the therapeutic lens. Your personality characteristics can play a role in the adverse effects of working from home. Are you an introvert, extrovert, or maybe an ambivert (a bit of both)? It turns out your personality can make a big difference in the impact of working from home. Introversion and extroversion are all about energy, not about being social. I want to explain an introvert and an extrovert and the correlation with side effects from working from home.
An introvert is someone who limits social interactions and prefers calm environments. Introverts’ power is given outward and quickly dissipates. They do not verbally express themselves with fluidity; they try to find answers to these intrusive thoughts for hours and even days. They are thinkers and emotional. An introvert often prefers to be alone than the smaller groups they like. It can lead to what he calls an “introvert hangover”—intense fatigue generally lasting 48 hours. Introverts can deplete their energy by finding themselves in more extensive settings. Introverts have reported signs of relief working from home. The comfort of their home, a calming environment limit the risk of the “introvert hangover” and produce more highly effective workloads.
Extroverts are complete opposites. Extroverts need to release their energy to alleviate their stress. They are energized in social settings, engage in group projects and team-building exercises, verbalize to process their feelings, and are action-oriented. They are the ones who prefer to arrive early and stay late. They become restless and anxious, spending too much time alone. Extroverts can suffer from FOMO or fear of missing out. They contemplate what could be, what I am missing, what I can do, and begin to fester, keeping them distracted and unclear. They often subconsciously gravitate to energy sources outside of themselves whereas an introvert does not.
Once you know your personality style, you can recognize the negative impacts of working from home. The benefits I stated above may be great for an introvert; however, it might not necessarily be conducive for an extrovert. But these disadvantages can affect both.
- Loneliness: Working alone from home, with zero face-to-face contact, increases social isolation and loneliness. It becomes depressing. As much as an introvert prefers a quiet setting and an extrovert needs more action – complete isolation from your colleagues increases the risk or exasperates the symptoms of depression. An organization must implement the proper virtual support network and adopt virtual team building and connectedness; otherwise, the risk of seclusion increases.
- Discipline: The word some of us dread. If you are not an already disciplined, goal-oriented person, it can be cumbersome to create a regimented daily schedule without having supervision over your head and the clock ticking. While it is easier to take multi breaks at home, attend to domestic distractions like children, laundry, personal calls, or texts, it makes it difficult to disconnect from your personal life. These distractions are a loss of time and may cause you to work more hours in the day and less efficiently. It is very challenging to disconnect work and personal life.
- Anxiety and Stress: Uncertainty triggers anxiety. Especially during these times, I have seen increased anxiety levels and debilitating panic attacks my clients have been suffering. We all tend to “plan” our life out, whether we plan for the day, our work plan, social plans. The absence of familiarity feels insecure. Then the thought of working alone for an unspecified amount of time is baffling to making any plans for the future. Questions arise about job security, juggling home and personal life, finances. All these concerns have ambiguous answers generating anxiety and stress. The best indicator of how well individuals cope with remote work is their anxiety and stress levels. Those who worked from home prior will not find this transition and uncertainties alarming. However, for those who immediately transition to a new work environment, all aspects of their life have been disrupted.
- Distractions: Even though there aren’t any office distractions, you will be exposed to household disturbances. The question is, which one is easier to tune out and manage? If you are a working parent and your child is remote learning, you must establish strict parent and child boundaries for a productive workday. It is effortless for a child to interrupt you while working or needs lunch, a snack, or just the regular parent-child interaction. In their eyes, you are ready and available to them. Pets! As cute as they can be, they are just as needy as children. Pets need love and attention too. It Isn’t professional to be on a conference call or a Zoom meeting, and your dog is barking in the background. Other household noises are sounds from the washing machine, dishwashers, televisions, land-line telephone calls, and air conditioners.
- Ergonomic Problems: Individuals have set up their makeshift workstations. It is not uncommon for office personnel not to have an official designated office in their home. As a result, employees need to duplicate an office space somewhere in their homes. Many individuals do not have the space for a spare room or a basement. Some individuals need to use their kitchen, bedroom, dining room, or other previously occupied areas. The use of folding chairs, folding tables, kitchen tables, and regular chairs is not conducive to your body’s physical health. The lack of proper office furniture increases the risk and damage to your neck, back, and shoulders, like bulging discs, pinched nerves, improper posture, and pulled muscles. After some time, employees will begin to suffer and need to visit a chiropractor or a physiotherapist. They are concluding poor performance of their work performance.
We must not forget, we as humans are outstandingly resilient and nimble to the most difficult challenges. You can take the pros and cons here and evaluate them with your personality trait to see what works best for you.
As being a licensed cognitive behavioral therapist, LCSW, and a CEAP (Certified Employee Assistance Provider), with my expertise, I can guide you to find your balance in your work environment, performance, and your mental health.