When Home Becomes Work:Challenges of Working Remotely
When Home Becomes Work: Challenges of Working Remotely
Captain Obvious says that while coronavirus is responsible for thrusting us (with IT people kicking and screaming) into working remotely as a necessity, it was already a fairly common practice BR (before ‘rona). In fact, a statistic I read indicated an overall global trend toward remote work long BR, with a global increase of 159% between 2005 and 2017. As far as US stats on remote work go, 17% of US employees report that they worked from home five days or more per week BR, but that jumped to 44% DR (during ‘rona). As for the future, polls indicate that totally AR (after ‘rona) a minimum of 16% of American people who had previously worked outside the home BR will switch to working remotely from home at least two days per week AR. In addition, more than one-third of US firms that had employees switch to remote work DR believe that it will remain more common at their company AR. Globally, polls now predict that 25% to 30% of the earth’s workforce will work remotely multiple days per week by the end of 2021. In short, the genie is out of the bottle, and it’s not likely to go back in.
Many employers and business leaders think that going remote is as simple as sending an employee away from the office with a laptop and a to-do list, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple. In truth, there are real life consequences associated with working remotely. It may sound like a dream come true, but from where I’m sitting, it’s become more like a nightmare. A lot of people have gone back to their outside offices now, but many are still working from home. This is either because they- or their employers- are still too reluctant to make the switch and return, or have found it beneficial enough that it behooves them to continue remote operations. Regardless of why you may find yourself doing so, working remotely does present its own set of challenges, not the least of which is that companies were essentially forced into it overnight, without benefit of true preparedness and system checks.
But in any event, if you are still working remotely at this point, you may find yourself continuing to do so indefinitely. I find that most of my patients enjoy lounging in their pajamas all day as they work from home, never leaving their house because it’s such an effort to get dressed; though they fail to understand why they’re so anxious, irritable, and depressed. The good news is that there is a way to do this work from home deal effectivelyand happily, and even excel at it, while still having a personal life and functioning appropriately. The bad news is there are some not-so-nice ramifications and consequences associated with the routine, and a lot of people are starting to recognize this after far too long being “trapped” at home. Spoiler alert: most people actually are not. The bottom line is that your whole world doesn’t have to change just because you’ve eliminated a commute. Out of necessity DR, it did change for a time, but at this point, it’s time to get out and reclaim some normalcy. Some of the issues that come up with working remotely are more rooted in the personal realm, and deal with basic self care and psychological health, while others center more on professional matters. But don’t kid yourself, there’s a lot of overlap and cross reactivity betwixt and between them. So this blog marks the beginning of a series dedicated to identifying the issues surrounding working remotely, and discussion on how to address them appropriately, with some tips and tricks and coping methods thrown in for good measure.
Today’s blog will deal with some problems that I’ve noted in video calls and appointments with my patients. I sometimes call them “duh!!” issues, because a lot of you are going to be like, “Duh, Dr. Agresti, we all know that!” Well, what some people know and what they do are two very different things. If you’re depressed, and you haven’t brushed your hair or gotten dressed for a week straight, then you might hear me say, “Duh, go brush your hair and get dressed, you’ll feel better.” I suppose you could also call them “helll-ooo!!” issues, as in, “Helll-ooo… you really need to take a shower!!” That’s a real thing, people. Not all of the things I’ll discuss are quite that extreme, but my list of remote work must-do’s includes some personal care requirements that must become- and remain- second nature to you; they must be part of a regular routine, regardless of the fact that you may be all alone, with nobody even there to see (or smell) you. So that’s where we’re starting; with just some very basic, very simple recommendations for a better life and more success in a remote work situation. Most of these you probably already know, but you may not be doing them. Allow this to be your kick in the can if that’s the case.
-Sleep in your bed, but then get out of said bed when you get up in the morning. Don’t just wake up and roll over to reach for your laptop to start your day. I cannot tell you how many patients I talk to while they’re working in bed; they’re literally in bed 24/7. Get out of bed!
-Create a dedicated office, preferably with a door you can close to keep things quiet and help you avoid distractions. If you don’t have a spare room, then at least create a dedicated work space. Even a corner of a room will do if that’s all you can spare. You really just need room for a table or desk large enough to hold a computer and whatever supplies you need, and a chair. Try to make it as comfortable- and functional- as possible.
-Make a schedule and stick to it. And be sure to keep an accurate account of the hours you work. I’ll be discussing supervisory micromanaging in the next blog, but if you keep a regular schedule and good records of your hours, you’ll have all the info you need if you are questioned by a micromanaging supervisor.
-Now that you aren’t commuting to and from the office, you’re going to be physically moving a lot less. So you must make time each day for exercise. So many of my patients that have switched to working remotely have gained a fair bit of weight and almost all of them have lost serious muscle tone. When you’re working from home, it’s easy to get comfortable and complacent, and turn into a flabby flaccid couch potato. Do something to move your muscles every day.
-Eat three square meals each day, and no more 24/7 snack attacks. Just because your refrigerator is mere steps away doesn’t mean you should make the trip every 30 minutes. A small midmorning, midafternoon, or late night snack is okay, but that’s it. Note my word choice: or not and. Three decent meals and one small snack each day is acceptable- just try not to go too crazy- and try to make it reasonably healthy, maybe a yogurt, cottage cheese, or piece of fruit. Like, a box of girl scout cookies is not a snack, people.
-Because you aren’t commuting to and from the office, you’re also rarely going to be required to go outside. So you must make a special point to go outside every day, even if it’s just for 15 minutes after lunch. Human bodies require vitamin D, and nothing’s a better source than sunlight. Try taking a walk around your neighborhood after you have lunch, just something where you’re exposed to the sun.
-A lot of my patients are complaining of decreased intimacy and a lack of sexual energy since they started working remotely. So my next suggestion is to do whatever you can to be close to your partner. Emotional and physical intimacy are important, so have sex, but maybe don’t combine this suggestion with the one above it, unless you have an excellent privacy fence.
-When work is over, stop working. It can be tempting to work more hours when you’re at home. This may sound counterintuitive, but it’s true. To avoid this trap, work the same schedule and number of hours each day at home as you would if you were commuting to an office. Don’t try to cram jam in four16 hour days days a week in order to take a 3 day weekend, unless it’s an unavoidable situation, and/ or you receive permission or clearance from a supervisor if applicable.
-Make sure to get adequate sleep. Go to bed at a reasonable time, get up at a reasonable time, and try to stick to a sleep schedule. And remember to avoid blue light exposure for at least two to three hours before you go to bed, otherwise you’ll have a hard time falling asleep.
-Keep your regular grooming routine- you’ll feel better about yourself. If you didn’t get the hint, shower every day. Brush your hair, and your teeth. Shave and put on makeup if you’re about that life. Work is not a pajama party, so get dressed in appropriate clothing. You don’t have to wear a suit or heels, but make an effort to be presentable, even if there’s no one to present yourself to.
This isn’t rocket science, people. Basically, you should follow the same routine you always have, and do everything you would do if you were going to an actual outside office or workplace: go to bed at a reasonable and regular time on work nights, get up at a reasonable and regular time each morning, and resist the urge to hit snooze 97 times. Shower, shave, get dressed in decent clothing, and eat breakfast. Then go to work in your in-house office space, just as you would if you were going to commute to an office. Avoid distractions and get your work done. Take a one hour lunch break maximum, and make sure to actually eat something reasonable, but avoid eating at your desk. Think about taking lunch outside for some fresh air, vitamin D, and a change of scenery, and you can kill multiple birds with a single stone. After lunch time is not nap time- and it hasn’t been since kindergarten- so after lunch, go back to work until it’s time to stop at the end of the day. Make sure to put in a full day’s work, while also being careful not to overwork. Behave as if you owned the company and were paying employee salaries. Supervisors will be less likely to micromanage you to death if you give them no reason to mistrust you or doubt your motivations.
No Nearly Naked Zooming
Captain Obvious says that videoconferencing has become a big part of our lives DR, and will continue to be long AR. Here’s a fun fact for you, Zoom saw phenomenal growth in 2020, and ended the third quarter of 2020 with an astounding report of 367% year-over-year revenue growth. If you had stock in Zoom Video Communications BR, which I did not, that’s a very fun fact for you. And get this… Zoom hosted an average of 300 million meeting participants per day throughout 2020. That’s 300 million people that don’t need to see you in your underwear, people. Same goes for gnarly, used-to-be-white, ripped t-shirts with yellow pit stains. Get it? If you didn’t, here’s the simple concept: put on a shirt. One with at least two buttons at the top.
Drinks, not Zinks
Even if you dress appropriately for video conferencing calls, there’s really no replacement for real deal interaction, because shockingly, humans are hardwired for human connection. Even Captain Obvious wouldn’t bother with that one. It’s just not possible to simply erase our evolutionary zeitgeist and replace millions of years of in-the-flesh interactions with technologically mediated virtual communications. While Zoom and its brethren have helped us in our attempts to recreate a certain degree of face-to-face experiences, that’s really as much thanks to the power of human imagination as it is to technology; and nothing stifles human creativity and imagination like isolation and loneliness. As a society, we spend a lot of time creating tech to replicate real-life experiences, but it’s a cheap substitute. In most situations, we’re better off spending a larger portion of that time experiencing real-life personal experiences. If you live alone and work from home, you could literally spend days without any human contact. You should make an effort to socialize, but remember to do so responsibly and wear your mask, people. Call a friend and suggest you meet for dinner, coffee, or lunch, or go on a date night. Drinks are hands down better than Zinks, so arrange to meet a friend IRL.
Loneliness or isolation is one of the most commonly reported issues that remote workers and digital nomads face, along with anxiety, stress, and depression. Next week, in part deux of this remote work blog, I’ll talk more about those, as well as some professional issues that can come into play when working remotely, and I’ll make some suggestions on how to deal with them. Then in part three, I’ll talk about some specific anxiety and stress busting techniques you can incorporate into your routine during the day, as you need them, and they won’t complicate or derail your work schedule, or negatively affect your productivity. In fact, they’ll do just the opposite.
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