4 reasons why remote working isn’t all that great (and what you can do about it)
As I sit at my (home) office desk, writing this article between bouts of work, I consider myself, strangely enough, grateful for this pandemic. Without this opportunity, I wouldn’t have come to know of the absolute freedom that working remotely comes with, and with it, the rush and crush of feelings that come with it.
Some time back, I wrote an article about how the pandemic has brought people to appreciate the upsides of remote work. But as many of us are beginning to realise, this great freedom is not entirely free of its own pitfalls and dangers. Working at home is great, but not really: it comes at more cost, more responsibilities.
Clickbaity title aside: Remote work is still great, but let’s face it; we all made and are still making sacrifices to make it happen. Sacrifices that can affect our long-term wellbeing. So let’s take a short look at those sacrifices, and ask ourselves what we can hopefully do about them.
1: You can’t leave the office when it’s always just a few feet away.
For some of us, this is a relatively small price to pay in comparison to not having to commute. Many of us have spent hours every day just on the morning and evening commute, and having that time back in our grasp is freaking awesome.
But having your office constantly nearby can take a toll on your mental health if you’re not careful. For most of us (I like to think so at least), making home a place of solace away from the bustle of our work lives gives us room to breathe and rest. The home is a place for us to recharge our batteries before going back out there, refreshed, to do it all over again. With an office at home, that separation becomes all that much harder. It gets worse if you have micromanaging employers who call for time-wasting meetings, or ask you to make spreadsheets of your work done every day.
There are plenty of articles out there already emphasising the importance of maintaining a separation between work and life, even more so now that the physical separation between the two get blurred. Building up the boundaries between your work and life could be as simple as assigning one room in your house to be your work-only space. This brings me to my next point, which is:
2: One of the rooms in your house is probably your office space now.
Unless you live alone or at least somehow get the house all to yourself during the day, you probably have had to carve out a space for yourself to focus on work. For most of us, that means having to set up a permanent workspace in one of your rooms, ideally a quiet place that work can be confined to.
This can be harder than it sounds. For starters, if you live in an apartment, you don’t have all that much space to work with. You may have a spouse that works from home as well, and that probably means two workstations in your already cramped house. Good luck if you both need quiet space to make calls!
On top of that, having children makes it even harder. Sure, you have childcare, but they tend to get quite touchy over your child getting ill, lest they spread whatever they have to the other kids, especially during these sensitive times. They may send your child home over so much as a hot flush or a sniffle, and then for the next week or so, you’ll have to figure out how to juggle work and taking care of your kid. And because your home is now your office, there is no separation.
Of course, these sorts of problems are usually solvable one way or another. But they don’t come for free, and they certainly aren’t easy on the mind. Which brings me to my third point…
3: Don’t forget your mental health!
Yeah, this is kinda vague, and there are plenty of articles out there already going into more detail than what I can hope to cover. I’ll just give a couple of factors and take it off from there.
Work is stressful (I don’t think anyone’s gonna argue with that). One of the ways we deal with it is by talking with our colleagues about it. Complaining, whining, you get the idea. Worked just fine when we were all in the office together. We would go out for lunch, grab drinks after work, that kind of thing. And the most important thing was that we could relate to the problems.
With work-from-home, you don’t get that. Well, maybe your spouse gets it instead, but that only makes it worse, doesn’t it? Sure, listening ear and all, but when it comes to actually solving the problems, your colleagues would probably be better suited for giving advice. Now combine that with all your stresses from home in one small place.
On top of that, the lines separating home and work have been blurred for many telecommuters. There are many errands that we no longer have to take a day off to do, such as going to the bank or post office, making taking leave for those things not so necessary anymore. However, without having that explicit disengagement from work, we won’t have that downtime to slow down and enjoy ourselves a little.
During this pandemic, staying safe at home is very important, but so is maintaining your mental health. As for how to deal with it, there are plenty of things you can do. Learning to put mental barriers between work and home is a good practice, as is making sure you keep in touch with friends. There are also many, many articles and resources out there that elaborate on the sorts of things you can do to establish a mentally healthy routine while working from home.
4: The experience is rather uneven for us.
Your mileage may vary.
Okay, let me explain that.
Despite what we might think of working from home, your company may not be entirely ready for it, and I’m not just talking about your bosses’ incessant refusal to change their backward ways of thinking.
I’m talking about the workflow and software services that enable you to continue working despite having no physical presence amongst your colleagues. You may work closely or even in tandem with your colleagues on various things, and need them to follow-up almost immediately, which would have been much easier had they been just sitting one cubicle over. Or your company might have an intranet for security reasons, and the Software Support team hasn’t come around to give you VPN access. In the meantime, you can’t get your work done at all without being physically in office.
You can brush it off by saying that these are temporary problems, and you’d be right, partially at least. The reality is that some problems are quite… complicated. The lockdowns caught many companies unprepared. And for many positions, it’s not as simple as bringing your laptop home and resuming work like everything’s normal. So while software developers and call centre workers may have a better time adapting to the role, other folks might not be so lucky. Still, as the pandemic continues to affect companies, we might see a deeper shift in the nature of work, as companies begin to accept telecommuting as a norm rather than an exception in the years to come. Again, there are many great benefits to telecommuting.
To wrap up…
Working from home has been a great improvement for many of us. We don’t have to waste time driving to work, or taking public transport, giving us more time to ourselves. We also become more efficient, and I like to think it’s because we’re working to actually get the job done as opposed to merely clocking in. But let’s be honest with ourselves; there are sacrifices that we have to make to do this. I won’t do a tl;dr, but what’s clear is that if we know what the pitfalls of working from home are, we can do something about them.