As COVID-19 sweeps across the globe, the landscape of work as we know it has evolved. Cities and downtown areas that once buzzed with commuters heading to or from crowded workplaces are now desolate.
With the announcement that COVID-19 reached pandemic status back in March, companies throughout the world doing work that could be facilitated remotely, have made the call to do so. While many businesses in this day and age have allowed flexibility and opportunities to work from home or hired candidates remotely in the past, this new stage of ‘forced’ remote work in the time of self-isolation and quarantine has caused a shift the way we go about our day-to-day life — especially when it comes to work.
Having trouble adjusting to remote work? You aren’t alone. As employees navigate this new, often uncharted territory, mental health issues are very likely to come to the forefront of the struggle. By keeping a pulse of your own mental health challenges, having open communication with those around you (virtually or in your household) and self-advocating what you need, this phase of remote work can be managed effectively.
Your check-in strategy
An adjustment, like changing the environment in which you work, is a massive change. The first thing to do when considering how to manage your own mental health in this type of situation, is to be aware of your state of mind. By turning inward to identify how you’re feeling (nervous, panicked, stressed, unmotivated, etc.), you’ll have a baseline to advocate for what you need from employers. You may be feeling many things at once, so make it a point to ‘schedule’ regular check-ins with yourself and adjust your habits as needed.
Not everyone enjoys working from home. If you fall into the bucket of ‘would-prefer-to-be-in-office-with-free-snacks,’ this chapter of mandatory remote work could seem less than ideal. Advantages to working at home range from cutting out commuting time to a no-stress dress code. And while further flexibility with scheduling, breaks, sign-on and log-off time vary from company to company and manager to manager, it’s worth having a conversation with your workplace to convey what would make this situation work for you, and what’s available.
While a global crisis like COVID-19 is unprecedented, if your workplace is mandating work from home, they’ve likely already put together a guide or playbook which includes employee resources. This could range from a budget to set up your remote space (ergonomic chairs, standing desks, wrist-supporting keypads, etc.) to online therapy sessions to help you work through how you’re feeling. Talk with your employers about what you need — as they likely already have resources in place to manage work stress. If you’re feeling pressure or uncertainty about your new working environment, reach out to your manager or HR team to learn what resources are at your disposal.
When adjusting to remote work from having worked only in an office or traditional workplace environment, it’s essential to set boundaries to protect some semblance of work-life balance.
Your home is now your office, and especially for those of us without a dedicated room for work, waking up and seeing your computer or files can become a stressor. In addition to the physical presence of work at your home, the other mental and emotional demands of both this crisis and of substantial change require creating healthy boundaries to tune out work when needed. Ideas for clear boundaries to set when working remotely include:
- Some kind of dedicated space for work (i.e. a desk, a corner) that is separate from your ‘living’ space, or that can be moved out of sight during off hours.
- Setting designated start and stop times for work with your employer and team, to protect your personal time. Be sure to speak with your workplace about what this looks like, and try to stick to a consistent schedule in order to set expectations within your team.
- Commiting to at least one full break from work during the work day where you remove yourself from the office you’ve created.
Working remotely within a household
If you’re diving into remote work among others who dwell in the same space, there are considerations and resources to keep in mind. Housemates, extended family, partners or children can all become colleagues when the workplace is brought home.
- Childcare: With most schools and daycares closed, ensure you have a conversation with other members of the household — as well as your workplace — to set expectations. This could mean creating a ‘tag-team’ schedule with your partner to split time for work and watching the kids, or prefacing each conference call with a reminder that workmates could hear or see kids in the background.
- Space: Carving out space to work remotely when there are others around can be a challenge. Try approaching the conversion with compromise and negotiation in mind. This could look like splitting work-time hours, avoiding scheduling meetings at the same times, etc.
- Noise control: Where possible be considerate of meetings, videos, musics, etc. while working from home — and ask for the same thoughtfulness from those around you.
Working remotely alone
Settling into remote work life at home when you live alone can also present unique challenges. While it may seem easier, as you’re less likely to run into space, noise or interruptions, the issue of isolation is more prevalent.
- Socialization: Social distancing doesn’t mean that other forms of socializing need to stop — especially at work. Get active on workplace messaging platforms (like Google chat, Slack, etc.). If it’s appropriate or available, join or create channels and conversations about your interests to bring familiar the water cooler chat online.
- Breaks: If you don’t have forced interruptions by those around you, like children or housemates, you may become ultra-absorbed in your work. Don’t forget that breaks are necessary. Stretch your legs, listen to a podcast, even switch contexts and read an article not related to work — and do so regularly.
Working from home, particularly when it’s not welcome or familiar, can bring up new or exacerbate existing mental health issues. As with all times of change or stress, self-care is paramount. Self-care can look different to everyone. While working remote, you may have more flexibility to explore self-care practices. Examples of essential self care include:
- Movement: Exercise is key for all — and especially when working in a more sedentary environment. There are numerous resources and libraries of fitness/stretching content online to learn how to best take care of your body when sitting for prolonged periods. Any type of fitness, from a HIIT session to a walk around the block, can serve as self-care.
- Mindfulness: Now more than ever, thoughts can spiral or you may find it hard to ‘switch off’ when you need to. Amp up any mindfulness practices you’re familiar with, or explore new ones — meditation, breathing exercises and mindful movement can all help de-stress and encourage relaxation.
- Hobbies: If your home becomes your office, don’t allow work to take over your day. Identify something you’re passionate about and can practice at home — separate from any work tasks or learning. For example, puzzles, drawing, cooking or gardening can all serve as passion projects.
Mental health toolkit
If you haven’t already explored therapy, now is a good time to start. A qualified, experienced therapist can help you understand and work through anxiety, fear or stress. And while you don’t have to wait for a global pandemic like COVID-19 to explore mental health resources, your employers are likely surfacing these tools more frequently in times of turmoil.
If the area where you live is under a ‘Shelter in Place’ order, there are still many options for seeking mental health help. Two Chairs offer teletherapy sessions which allow you to speak with a licensed professional and conduct therapy sessions over video chat with the option of later transitioning to in-person care. Learn more and book your matching appointment here, today.
If you or someone you know is seeking mental health care, you can reach out to our Care Coordination team at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (415) 202-5159.
If you or someone you know is experiencing an emergency or crisis and needs immediate help, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Additional resources can be found here.