The psychological effects of working from home during the pandemic
After eight months of a digital reset and working from home, how are employees actually feeling in their new work circumstances?
“Many people admit to struggling to find the motivation to get themselves going every day,” says Margareta Kucera, a psychologist at KTH’s company healthcare provider Avonova.
The spring semester was a high pressure period when everyone was working hard to enable a rapid digital reset.
Now, when this new way of working has become an everyday routine, employees are experiencing several different kinds of psychological stress.
“Certain individuals that struggled to adapt to the transformation, are only now getting a reaction to that crisis situation. They have not had time to fully recover as yet,” says Kucera.
For the majority of employees that have contacted her, working from home has led to them feeling unwell in one way or another. And she thinks these problems have fluctuated over time.
“Many people who felt ‘this is going well’ before the summer, have started to really miss the social side and face to face meetings during the autumn semester. Some of them feel a sense of hopelessness and ‘does it always have to be like this’.”
Margareta Kucera, psychologist at Avonova Company Healthcare
What is your best general advice when it comes to remote working?
“To make sure you establish new habits quickly. When we lose our normal routines, we often replace them by not doing anything at all. It takes a great deal for us to develop new habits by ourselves, and we often just sit and wait for emails and online meetings.”
Kucera’s advice is to switch between different activities away from the screen, such as phone calls, exercise sessions and walks between performing tasks and attending meetings, to avoid simply staring at the screen.
An inner unease that chips away at you
Many people also say they experience a kind of fatigue – a tiredness she maintains is absolutely natural, given the circumstances.
“We have all been in a raised state of anxiety since March. The pandemic is an ongoing crisis at society level, where we have difficulty orienting ourselves,” she says.
“We hear about the number of deaths on a daily basis, but the virus is not something we can see. It is a real threat that we cannot deal with using our normal coping strategies, such as fight or flight. This is an ongoing stress factor that you feel as some kind of inner unease, either for your own health or members of your family. This preys on us and saps our energy.”
Can you offer some general advice with regard to feeling tired during the day – would this be helped by resting or being more active?
“We need to recover in various ways. We can be surprised at the thought spending the whole day sitting down and still needing to rest, and this tiredness is psychological – emotional or mental. Our first instinctive reaction is often to lie down and rest, but that doesn’t give us the energy top-up we need.”
If you feel emotionally drained, such as feeling down, calling a friend or relative for a chat can help. If it is a case of mental fatigue or work-related stress, Kucera recommends doing some physical activity to gain new energy, such as pegging out the washing, going for a jog or clearing the leaves.
“We have this feeling that we should do the right thing, which means we sometimes hesitate to take enough breaks to recover during the day. But online meetings are often more effective than personal meetings, while when working from home, we risk not taking regular lunch breaks. Many people need to take several breaks during their working day at home to feel OK,” says Kucera.
Natural breaks and opportunities to stretch your legs disappear when you are no longer physically in the office, so it is good to plan regular breaks in your working day at home.
“Plus, we should remind ourselves that our switch to working from home is actually important for society right now.”
Photo: Unsplash Media, Avonova