Working from Home during the COVID-19 Pandemic
by Mr Ko Teik Yen
As we enter the second phase of the CMCO, many of us may be dreading the switch back to working from home. In our Work From Home series, our mindfulness expert Mr Ko talks to us about the effect that working from home has on our mental health.
The Effect of the Pandemic on Working from Home
It’s 9 a.m. You sit down at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, switch on your computer notebook and attempt to start your workday. Ping! Everyone is talking about the latest cases of COVID-19. Ping! There it goes again. A text from a friend. Then, just as you are about to settle down… “Mom!” “Dad!” "Sweetie, I need help with the laundry!"
You pick up your phone to look at the news notification and answer your email, only to check a Facebook post. You get sidetracked with the latest online shopping promotion and fall down a Youtube rabbit hole. Before you know it, an hour or two has passed, and you haven’t accomplished a single work-related task.
The challenge at work, of course, has always been to avoid the things that distract us. But today’s distractions feel different. The amount of information, and the ease and speed at which it can be disseminated makes it difficult to shut off. Especially at home when our phones are so easily in reach.
When we work from home, the lines between our personal and professional lives get blurred. It can make it hard to ‘turn it off. You may find yourself logging in more hours, which can eat into your family time or affect your normal sleep and work routine. You may find it tempting to get some household chores done or clear out some errands in the midst of the workday, such as laundry or helping your child find their homework. But this affects your ability to focus on your job, leading to even longer working time.
While the idea of sending emails from your kitchen table might sound appealing, working from home may not be the ideal setup for everyone. There are significant advantages and disadvantages from keeping your work out of your home, particularly when it comes to your mental health.
The Benefits and Challenges of Working from Home
If managed properly, working from home can offer a better work-life balance. You significantly reduce the pressures that associated with going into an office every day such as commuting during rush hours, working under a manager’s supervision or attending meetings. In addition, not only do you have fewer rules to follow, you also have more control and flexibility over your time. You can schedule your hardest tasks during your peak productivity hours, take a two-hour lunch to recharge or to have a much needed afternoon nap. This may sound attractive as to reduce stress and adds more quality time and joy to your life.
This isn’t a blanket rule, though. For some people, working from home can put their mental health at risk: it can cause feelings of isolation, disconnection and in some case, worsen relationships with family members. When you don’t have an office to show up to, you miss out on opportunities for regular social interaction and connection with co-workers. For some people, the feedback, the sense of belonging and the encouragement loop of the work environment is critical to their jobs.
Some might also experience increased anxiety or stress, since working remotely creates unique pressure to appear busy and productive. Because you’re not present in an office, you may feel pressured to be online every hour and be constantly available for virtual meetings. You may find yourself answering messages to prove that you are spending your time in a productive way to the company.
People who work from home might feel a sense of guilt about their work arrangement, coupled with the anxiety that comes from needing to prove our self. To complicate things further, they may face the sudden and unpredictable demand for attention from the loved ones. Conequently, their remote working arrangement can put them at a higher risks of mental stress and emotional problems.
As such, individual need to ask themselves, “What do I need to be a functioning, fulfilled human and worker?”, "Do I crave independence and space to work, or do I prefer to engage with people on a regular basis?"
This can help inform your decision about working from home. If one is struggling with depression, for example, working from home has the potential to exacerbate feelings of isolation and perpetuate inactivity. This might be detrimental to their health.
Nevertheless, there may be situations where commuting to work becomes a trigger for anxiety or depression. If the work environment is toxic – e.g., you face peer conflict or harassment – working from home can be a relief and comfort.
Hence, there’s no perfect formula for figuring out whether this working from home is the right choice for you and your mental health. How you’ll respond to a remote work environment is completely dependent on your individual needs and triggers. If you feel unhappy, anxious or a lack of motivation in your current work situation, consider seeking help from mental health professional.
Stay tuned for the next installation of our Working from Home Series: Managing Your Mental Health. If you need to reach out for help, we are offering online and face to face therapy sessions during the CMCO.
Ko Teik Yen is a Mindfulness Practitioner with The Mind Faculty. He is an accredited Mindfulness Teacher to teach the UK Breathworks Mindfulness for Health and Mindfulness for Stress courses. He is also trained in the teaching of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as well as certified to teach Mindfulness.b (Mindfulness in School Project, MiSP). TY Ko has been conducting mindfulness training for individuals and groups since 2014, ranging from coaches, psychologists, counsellors, executives to senior corporate managers, teachers; not less than 1000 individuals since then.