How to Stay Sane While Working Remotely
Remote work from home sounds like a dream come true for many. But without the right mindset and management skills, it can turn into a nightmare.
It's potentially a growing problem, too. More companies are turning to hiring remote workers as they look to find talented employees regardless of where they're physically located. According to Upwork, 42% of the American workforce continues to work remotely, and 36.2 million Americans (22% of the workforce) will be working remotely by 2025. That's an 87% increase in the number of remote workers since before the pandemic.
While remote work does have perks for both employers and employees, it has its drawbacks, too. The isolation can affect the mental health of both workers and managers. Why is remote work such a drag on people's mental health and what can companies do to help workers stay sane and productive while working remotely? Here are some tips.
Why Is Remote Working So Draining?
One of the main reasons remote work is a challenge is the lack of physical closeness that workers expect from a co-located working space. Many workers long for that human interaction and someone with whom they can share their thoughts in the moment.
"To me, the worst part is definitely the lack of interactions and casual conversations during the day, which are so much easier when you are co-located," said Nicklas Gellner, chief operating officer and co-founder at Copenhagen, Denmark-based Medusa Commerce, an e-commerce platform.
Besides the lack of human interaction, not having to go to the office can also mean staying all day at home. The lack of an active lifestyle or activities to take workers' minds off the job can affect work-life balance and mental health. A slight change of environment can serve to refresh workers and boost their mental and physical well-being. Moving around within the same four walls and sitting in the same spot all day won't.
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Tips to Stay Sane When Working Remotely
One of the challenges of remote work is setting boundaries. During the pandemic, many people struggled to adapt to remote work, which led to people working and communicating outside working hours, leading to less rest and higher stress levels.
It's important to build routines and stick to them, said Patrick Kelley, CEO and founder at Canton, Ga.-based cybersecurity firm Critical Path. "Define what hours are for work and which are for personal and make it a point to keep those hours," he said. "It's very easy to blend the two worlds into one, leading to burnout."
Don't Make Every Meeting Transactional
Remote meetings are often very transactional, but they don't have to be. "People do not joke around too much, and there is generally a bit more uptight atmosphere when doing a Zoom call instead of being in a room together," Gellner said.
To prevent that, Gellner recommended scheduling "real-life conversations" during the day via Zoom to catch up with what matters to colleagues. Jesus Manuel Olivas, co-founder at Octahedroid, an El Centro, Calif.-based software development agency, said a mix of ways to interact with people is key.
"For example at work, you can plan team-building activities over video conference that will allow your team to have a different perspective of their team members," he said. "In your personal life, you can also decide to interact with people over technology or in person, a mix of this should be taken into consideration."
Use Tools to Avoid Information Overload
When employees can't find the information they need when they need it, they get bogged down digging out documents, asking colleagues for information or, worse, re-creating it from scratch. Antti Nivala, founder and CEO at Plano, Texas-based document management firm M-Files, said the right tools can help remote workers reclaim their mental health.
"By managing documents effectively with an information management solution, remote employees get time back in their day that was usually dedicated to manual, repetitive tasks," he said. "This creates a more structured, stress-free working environment that enables employees to function more effectively and productively in today's work-from-anywhere world."
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Working from home is too comfortable, said James Mikrut, founder at Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Payload CMS, an enterprise content management system.
“Never leaving the house conditions us for an extremely relaxed lifestyle, but character is built through challenges and exposure to things that we do not understand," he said. "Personally, I love talking to people, learning new things and having new experiences."
It’s a good thing to be surrounded by things that are outside of your comfort zone, Mikrut said. Just do so in a way that doesn’t derail productive routines.
How to Recharge When You Need It
Even with some boundaries in place and a few routines to keep things fresh, workers will still need to reset and recharge from time to time. Gellner recommended either being socially or physically active. "Even better if these two are combined," he said. "But in general, I need something new to happen, which is not just a movie or more time in front of the computer, or to hit the gym to get energized."
Magda Klimkiewicz, a Warsaw, Poland-based HR business partner at career services company BOLD, recommended unplugging to reboot performance and get a fresh perspective. "One of the best ways to recharge your batteries in the workplace is to go off the grid," she said.
The key is for remote workers to take ownership of their work life by creating an environment that eliminates distractions so they can focus on getting more done, she said. "I think that it's a shared responsibility of an employer and employees to find ways to make work meaningful again," Klimkiewicz said.
Ensure colleagues know workers' office hours, and consider adding those hours to email signatures, and setting out-of-office reminders for times when they're not working.
"That way, everyone knows when you're off the clock," Klimkiewicz said. "Oh, and always take a lunch break. You need that downtime and screen-free time in the middle of each day to rest and reset."