How to overcome the psychological challenges of remote working

By Sarah Lewis, C.Psychol., Appreciating Change

Many of us have had to adapt to remote working and while some find this relatively easy it has proved challenging for many.

Whether we are business owners, supervisors or team member who can we help ourselves and our colleagues make remote working a successful experience?  Successful for individuals as well as for the business overall?

Let’s review three psychological challenges of remote working and suggestions to help you overcome them.

Firstly: Lack of boundaries between work-life and home-life

For people new to working from home one of the challenges can be the sudden dissolutions of role boundaries. One moment the division between work and home is clear, the next it’s all happening in the same place.

For the first time for many people, the domains of at-work and not-at-work are happening in the same physical space without a transition zone (commute) between them. While trying to be ‘at work’, people are surrounded by cues that nudge towards not being at work: doorbells, hungry cats, laundry waiting to be hung etc. It’s easy to feel that you are neither working as conscientiously as you would like, nor are you keep your home as you like it.

Dealing with this

There are different ways of dealing with this. You can pretend there is still a boundary: put on the suit, enter the office with your lunchbox, and emerge when you’ve ‘finished work’. For a minority the structure and routine are essential.

A better strategy for most of us is to go for balance rather than boundaries. Take a break from your computer every 40 minutes or so. This is both on mental effectiveness grounds, it’s hard to concentrate fully for much longer, and on physical health grounds, it’s not good to stay sitting still for long stretches. Take breaks and do something active for 10 minutes, such as watering the plants or playing with the dog.

Whatever strategy you choose, it’s a good idea to have a clear marker between predominantly work time, and predominantly home time. Take a run, have a shower, walk the dog, or mix a cocktail to mark the transition for yourself and those around you.

Secondly: The challenge of motivation

For some people the challenge becomes one of motivation. Without the regular blips of pleasure they experience joshing with colleagues or chatting inconsequentially about nothing much, the day begins to seem all work and no pleasure. In this situation mood can quickly drop and then it can be hard to motivate ourselves to get on with things, especially things we aren’t looking forward to, don’t enjoy, or find hard to do.

Getting yourself motivated

There are several ways of managing this. Some are general techniques from regular work management advice. Break big projects down into small tasks. Set clear targets for the next hour, day, week. Make a list, prioritise it, and tick things off as you achieve them. Take breaks. Decide at the end of the day what the first task is for tomorrow.

Then there are more psychological tips. Use a task that you are looking forward to as a reward for doing the less pleasant one first. Do hard tasks in small bursts, followed by a reward such as having a sweet treat with your cup of tea, or taking five minutes exercise.

You can also focus on how you can use your strengths. Strengths are the things we can do naturally, easily. Using our strengths tends to be motivating and confidence building and enjoyable. Think about how you can recraft your job so that you spend more time using your strengths while you are working. If you want to know more about strengths you can take a free strengths test here, or you can purchase a pack of strengths cards to use at home, for a good selection look here.

Proactively manage your mood. Notice when you are starting to flag, becoming lethargic, or cutting corners you wouldn’t normally. Many people are astonished at how much more productive they are away from the distractions of an office. This means you are likely to be working harder or concentrating for longer periods, both of which are tiring. Think about the mental energy you are expending. Pay attention to the signs that you are becoming fatigued and take a break.

You can boost your mood by doing something physical. Think about what gives you a little blip of pleasure and be sure to include many of them in your day.

Thirdly: The effect of working from home on relationships

Finally I want to think about the effect of working from home on relationships. For many people their main relationship network is their work colleagues. Quite often the people they work with are also the people they socialise with. Working from home, especially under C-19 conditions, can cause a real change in the pattern of the relationships. When the daily opportunities for lots of micro-moments of connection are suddenly lost, the friendship, which seemed so solid, can whither on the vine.

Steps you can take

The most important thing is to notice what is happening. Those of an extrovert nature are most likely to quickly miss the camaraderie of work and to start picking up the phone to call colleagues or to set up a zoom meeting the moment they are bored or need a distraction. The less naturally social need to make a much more conscious effort to stay in touch and may prefer to do it through texts and emails, sending things they think will interest their colleagues. Even so, it’s a good idea to make sure you speak to someone in a social downtime way, rather than a purposeful work-oriented way at least once a day. Easy if you are living with others, harder if you live on your own, but very important to your health and wellbeing.

I hope that these tips will support you in handling the psychological challenges that remote working can give us.   Look after yourself and your colleagues and make remote working a successful experience for the business and all of the team.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Sarah Lewis C.Psychol., is the principal psychologist at Appreciating Change, a strengths-based psychological consultancy that is committed to applying well-researched positive psychology ideas and interventions to workplace challenges and opportunities at an individual, team or whole organization level.

Sarah is an associated fellow of the British Psychological Society, a principal member of the Association of Business Psychologists, and a member of the International Positive Psychology Association.

Sarah is an acknowledged Appreciative Inquiry and Positive Psychology expert, a regular conference presenter and author of ‘Positive Psychology at Work’ (Wiley), Positive Psychology and Change (Wiley), ‘Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management’ (KoganPage) and Positive Psychology in Business (Pavilion).

She also collects great positive psychology resources to support consultants, trainers and coaches in their work which are sold through the Positive Psychology online shop. https://www.thepositivepsychologyshop.com/

Web: https://acukltd.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sarahlewis1

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarahlewis1

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