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The psychological effects of working from home during the pandemic

A man in a sofa leaning his head against his hand
“Many people are starting to find it tough to be at home so much. It was OK in the spring, then came summer and the holidays, and we are now back in the same situation working from home. It is affecting us,” says Margareta Kucera, a psychologist at Avonova. Photo: Nik Shuliahin, Unsplash
Published Nov 26, 2020

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.

Margareta Kucera
Margareta Kucera, Avonova

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.”

Katarina Ahlfort
Photo: Unsplash Media, Avonova

Kucera's best advice when working from home

• Create new routines for your working day.
• Include frequent active breaks in your schedule, preferably away from the screen.
• If you find it difficult to get started on a larger task, divide it into smaller chunks so you feel your workload is more reasonable.
• Stick to a proper lunch procedure, it is worth planning lunch in advance or have a lunch box.
• Remind yourself of all the actual advantages of working from home, no commuting to and from work, more freedom to plan your time during the day.
• Agree your new working routines and times with your partner and maybe school age children who may also have to work from home.
• Tell yourself ‘I am now going to work’ by going for a walk round the block each morning.
• If possible, create a specific workplace at home that you can close the door on in the evening. End your working day as you would do in the office, by saying to yourself ‘I’m now going home’.

Kucera's best advice for managers during remote working

• When a manager is not able to meet employees in person, individual conversations are important, either via video meeting or by phone.
• It is a chance to pick up signals on how each individual is feeling by asking “are you feeling alright”, in an individual context. It is impossible for most people to answer this question truthfully and say they don’t feel that great during a group video meeting.
• Both managers and employees should make more effort to communicate clearly. I recommend frequent touch-base meetings with personnel, ideally one-to-one at least once a week, depending on how many employees the manager has.
• By all means, increase the frequency of meetings, even if these are shorter than usual. It is important for us as humans to feel we are part of a context, and this need becomes stronger when people work from home on their own.

Belongs to: Current
Last changed: Nov 26, 2020