Working from home during this pandemic is completely different from working remotely in normal times. I’ve given a few talks on the subject to private groups and been a guest on a television show and some podcasts.
I want to share some of what I’ve observed about the challenges of working from home during a pandemic without jumping into solutions. Sometimes it’s helpful to simply acknowledge challenges by naming them, and take a moment to appreciate why a situation is tough. Doing so might help you process your current work situation, as well as build empathy for others. I’ll share productivity tips for working from home in another post.
1. Less Agency
Many people who are working from home now didn’t choose to. They didn’t opt in. They’re forced into a situation, which depletes their agency. We are most productive when we have a high level of agency.
2. Heightened Stress
Living through a global pandemic is stressful. We’re worried for our health and safety, as well as the health and safety of everyone we know, the people in our community, health care workers—everyone. When we don’t get a break from stressors, we don’t recover from previous stress. This means it’s difficult to recuperate from work time when your personal time is just as stressful. Having constant stress in this way can lead to being less able to focus and quicker burnout.
3. Compounded Care Responsibilities
During the covid-19 crisis, schools have closed, and children are unexpectedly home. People with care responsibilities, and they’re disproportionately women, have their responsibilities compounded by having to work often in the same location as the children, pets, seniors, and people with special needs who rely on them.
4. Lack of Familiarity With Remote Work Norms
If your colleagues and manager have not worked remotely at length before, they’re probably unfamiliar with all the norms and best practices that make working from home easier and better. They may not be experienced with the etiquette of tools such as Slack (team messaging app) and Zoom (video conferencing app). As a result, managers don’t know how to model the behavior they want to see, colleagues feel lost, and team cohesion can break down.
5. Inadequate Equipment and Space
Not having the right computer, chair, keyboard, and other equipment makes working less comfortable and more aggravating. None of this is conducive to a positive working experience.
6. New Distractions
The home has different distractions than an office. Experienced workers expect in-office distractions and have developed ways to manage them. Not everyone has experience dealing with home distractions, and some home distractions can’t be ignored or put off, in the case of care responsibilities. Many of these distractions are unpaid work (e.g., doing laundry, feeding kids) or invisible work (e.g., the emotional labor of giving children what they need or making sure family relationships remain strong). Unpaid and invisible work tends to affect women more in the home.
7. Loneliness or Not Enough Alone Time
People who live alone may find that working from home feels lonely, especially during a time when they can’t go really anywhere else for human contact. Conversely, people who share a living space and are used to having a lot of time alone might now find that everyone is home 24/7, and their alone time has disappeared.
8. Disruption of Routines
Personal productivity depends on routines and habits. Shifting to working from home completely disrupts all of them. It doesn’t help that when the covid-19 pandemic sent knowledge workers home to work, no one had any idea of how long it would last. When we operate with a sense that the situation is temporary, we don’t develop new routines and habits. Without those signals throughout the day to work with focus, take a break, wrap up our day, etc., we don’t establish positive work patterns. When we don’t have a reliable framework for how and when to do work, it makes it hard to jump into certain kinds of tasks.
Image by Ameyo Fang, CC.