Working From Home: The Mental Health Impact
As we’re all very aware, the current coronavirus crisis has led to a massive increase in home working. However, while this is essential to ensure adherence to vital social distancing, it brings with it the psychological toll of isolation.
Add in the fact that this very different workspace had a direct impact on the ability of workers to continue their usual drumbeat, and therefore company productivity, and the different world we’re in right now brings with it a unique set of issues many worker are unused to coping with.
Isolation – the Challenges
According to the World Health Organisation, 25% of Europe’s population suffer from depression or anxiety each year. This is in a normal situation, so the added stresses of enforced isolation and the worry of a pandemic will further intensify this.
Managers and workers are in a position that, for many, is unprecedented. Crisis management is imperative to ensure that companies are able to continue to function during the coming weeks and months. The response businesses make today will determine their ability to thrive tomorrow. When it comes to workers carrying out their duties in isolation, being aware of the challenges they’re facing is critical to future success.
The most pressing of these are:
- Feeling isolated and disconnected
- Separating work life from home life
- Exacerbation of pre-existing mental health issues
- Other personal situations that managers are not aware of
Tools and Methods to Combat Home-Worker Solitude
By far the biggest issue of the profound shift working from home brings is that of disconnection. This applies both geographically and informationally, with workers not only feeling cut off, but also that they don’t have access to the resources necessary to successfully complete their tasks.
Let’s look at each of these individually and discuss tools that are available to help.
Thankfully, today’s technology provides multiple methods to connect workers. The huge rise of remote workers in recent years has seen an explosion of apps and services to facilitate this. Some of the best include:
- Slack: Perhaps one of the best know,, Slack is free to use (with paid-for upgrades) and provides a calling option as well as direct messaging, file sharing and the ability to set up various channels and work rooms..
- Skype: One of the oldest and best known video calling platforms, the standard version allows for one-to-one and group video chats, regular calls and the ability to send and share files. For smaller businesses this might be enough, but for larger concerns Skype for Business increases call levels and integrates with Office 365.
- Zoom: Not a complete new kid on the block, but probably the app that’s experienced the largest surge in recognition since the coronavirus outbreak, Zoom offers free group video calling for huge numbers of people (capped at 40 minutes per meeting). Paid options remove this cap.
- Google Hangouts: Free to use, this integrates with the whole G-suite world and for businesses that use this then Hangouts could be a good choice. It allows users to chat, video chat, group chat and send images and videos.
- Microsoft Teams: Microsoft Teams allows workers to video chat, create conference rooms, record meetings and more. The app offers a 6-month free trial period.
- Workplace by Facebook: The free version allows video chat and the ability to exchange files and images. There’s also a paid option that integrates various other business tools. One advantage of Facebook Workplace is the familiarity, as most people are comfortable using the Facebook interface.
Feeling removed from being able to access the information necessary to carry out their role can have a hugely detrimental effect on a worker’s state of mind. A couple of really good tools that businesses can use to combat this are:
- Trello: By far one of the best options for organising and sharing projects and information, Trello allows you to fully personalise a workspace and compile tasks in a single location. It’s also completely free to use.
- Google Drive: Another part of the G-suite range, Google Drive allows for collaboration on documents, sheets and more. Multiple people can work on the same task at the same time, and the ability to track changes means bosses have a full overview of what’s going on. It’s also an excellent options for sharing large files.
Maintaining a Work-Life Balance
Separating work from home life is a challenge even for those who’ve worked from home for many years. Being thrown into such a situation without time for preparation, which is the case for so many right now, has led to a steep learning curve and the related worry of exacerbation of mental health issues.
The following are important steps for everyone to take during this enforced period of working from home.
- Define the boundaries: This means creating a workspace where you carry out your tasks. That way you mentally prepare for ‘going to work’ rather than blurring this with locations where you relax. While this might be difficult for some, habits such as working from bed or the sofa should be discouraged.
- Get dressed for work: While you might relax your dress code a little when working from home, the very act of getting ready puts you in the right frame of mind to be productive.
- Set time constraints: Much as it might be tempting to have that longed-for lie in, it’s vital to stick to work routines. Being strict over the time you start and finish work, even when not in the office, helps with mental wellbeing. You should also ensure your work day doesn’t extend beyond your normal working hours, tempting as it might be to log on later in the evening or stay working way past your normal finish time.
- Educate others in the household: Impress on your family/housemates etc that when working you’re not to be disturbed. Admittedly, this might be challenging, especially for those with children now off school, but finding workarounds is important for your mental wellbeing and productivity.
- Ask for help if necessary: Workers need to be able to reach out to their managers to when needed, even whilst working from home. Managers should ensure this information is freely available and workers should ask what the company protocol is for assistance when things aren’t going quite to plan.
In addition, there are many online- tools specifically designed for workers to use to help with their emotional wellbeing. These include:
- Headspace for Work: This mediation app is opened up their memberships to non-paying customers to combat coronavirus anxiety
- Simple Habit: an audio wellness app that counts 4.5 million members, has also introduced a collection of plans dedicated to the stress caused by COVID-19
- Aura: Free for short meditations of 3 minutes per day
- Breethe: A free app that leads you through 10-minute mediation sessions
- Calm: Another free offering with a variety of benefits all dedicated to increasing your mindfulness
- Omvana: More of a personal growth tool, Omvana offers 25 initial tracks for free.
The World Health Organisation stresses how important it is to continue with regularity in these unprecedented times. This means continuing to exercise, sticking to sleep routines, eat healthily and to pay attention to your own needs and feelings.