The silent disadvantage of working from home

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Sabrina Almeida

The pandemic has upset work-life balance more critically than one may be aware of. It robbed us of human interaction. We can’t afford to make it a permanent way of life.

Although the stress of blurring the lines between professional and personal while working remotely has been discussed at length, the emotional implications of working alone tend to be tucked under the blanket. It is time we acknowledge it.

Telecommuting, previously the privilege of a few, had a bad reputation prior to the pandemic. But the past two years have made a solid case in favour of working remotely. After all productivity went up not down as employers used to fear. However, the increased output came at a high price – burnout and loneliness!!!

Several studies showed that working more during the lockdowns was detrimental to our well-being because there was no switch-off. But few seemed to mind then. Probably because there was nowhere to go, and work offered a convenient way to fill the gap! Especially for those who lived alone.

However, we’re not in lockdown anymore and the attempted return to normalcy means going back into the workplace at least a few days a week. But as more offices open up, workers’ resistance to going in is also increasing. Many employees would prefer to continue working from home… and the truth is their choice is not influenced by the fear of contracting COVID-19.

An Angus Reid study conducted on behalf of Amazon Business in March revealed 50 per cent of Canadians would prefer to work mostly or entirely from home. Around 43 per cent said they would look for a new job if they were asked to come in full-time. The  report concluded that changing employees’ minds could prove to be costly for employers in terms of higher compensation, more time-off and better benefits.

On one hand remote work seems to make sense – less time on the road, money saved on travel and a professional wardrobe… and hopefully a greener environment!

But the downsides are also too big to be ignored – isolation, a breakdown in social connections with co-workers, lack of routine (for some) and an increased risk of becoming unhealthy (because we’re snacking more and moving less).

While one could argue that most of the ‘cons’ are person dependent, there is no doubt that social isolation has mental-health implications for all. No one is immune to it. In fact, workplace surveys indicate that loneliness is one of the biggest struggles employees face when they are working from home. Younger workers – Millennials and Gen Z – are particularly vulnerable.

If you’ve previously tried to get your kids away from  electronic devices and being constantly shut in their rooms, the pandemic has probably been a huge concern. Virtual school and work has most likely set them socially adrift.

Humans are essentially social by nature which means we are not meant to be by ourselves for long periods. The absence of daily interactions can create stress and unhappiness as well as shave years off our lives, according to Dan Buettner. The best-selling author wrote an eye-opening book about five places in the world where people live the longest based on their lifestyle and sense of community.

Yes, community matters in the workplace too. It gives workers a sense of purpose and belonging as well as fulfillment both in their professional and personal lives.

If we think about what we missed most during the pandemic lockdown, it was face-to-face human interaction. Video calls couldn’t make up for the in-person meetings with our extended family and friends. We missed the hugs and handshakes.

It’s not that different in our work lives. Physical meetings bring more focus, foster collaboration and help resolve conflicts more easily. Being able to shake hands with a person is said to have a profound effect on cultivating trust and forging positive relationships. 

So let’s not discount the social and emotional advantages of going back to the office, at least some of the time if not all of it! 

And if that doesn’t inspire you to go into the office, then higher chances of climbing up the professional ladder faster through in-person interactions probably will!!

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