Updated: Nov 22, 2021
These are unprecedented and testing times. With a global pandemic, no cure and limited ability healthcare response and a ton of uncertainty it's completely understandable we experience a wide range of feelings - stress, fear, anxiety, anger, panic. Survival instincts kick in, ones that are built into our human make-up after millions of years of biological evolution. It's a normal response for our thoughts, feelings and behaviours to change in the face of high threat and uncertainty.
It's a normal response for our thoughts, feelings and behaviours to change in the face of high threat and uncertainty
What's it like working from home?
Many UK workers are now working from home as social distancing measures have been ramped up. This might go on for weeks or months. Face it, we are living in a different world. Never before have so many workers been separated and forced to work apart.
Never before have so many workers been separated and forced to work apart.
Here are some of the things people have told us they've experienced in the first few weeks of mass office working from home:
Being back-to-back on the phone or video calls all day
When we are in the office we commute in and back, walk between meetings, we can pick up a cup of tea or coffee on the way and we get a change of scenery. When we work from home all day we could literally wake up, get ready and sit at a desk staring at the same screen all day, talking into the phone or switching between tasks and video calls. There might be no room for breaks or decompression time between each meeting and communication. We can get physically, mentally and emotionally tense.
There might be no room for breaks or decompression time between each meeting and communication.
With face to face communication people we get an immediate response. Phone and video calls can fill part of that gap but it's not the same as being with a person, particularly when it comes to those informal water cooler chats.
We might feel overloaded with the sheer amount of information we now have to process on our own
As people try to adjust to this new world, we might get bombarded with digital messages such as WhatsApp, Slack, Teams or other types of chat messages. We might start to see our email inboxes getting flooded about issues that we wouldn't normally see. There might be more work and personal issues that rise to the surface because people can't speak to each other as easily. We might feel overloaded with the sheer amount of information we now have to process on our own.
Uncertainty about my job
Working remotely might go on for weeks or months, and we might be naturally worried about what it means for our job and their income.
...we might be naturally worried about what it means for our job and their income.
Will my company have to lay off people?
Will I have a job at the end of this?
How am I going to pay my rent/mortgage/shopping?
Will the company survive?
What will I do then?
Will I be able to do my job from home?
How long can I do this for?
Being socially isolated
This isn't just about losing regular face to face contact with our colleagues and customers, but also going to bars, cinema, restaurants and social or family events. This is a huge change in the way we live. Social isolation has been associated with both negative mental health AND physical health consequences such as inflammation and heart disease. It goes without saying - unhappy, unwell and disconnected workers are not particularly productive ones.
...unhappy, unwell and disconnected workers are not particularly productive ones
Staying focused with life uncertainty
In times like these, we still naturally
worry about having enough food and supplies, staying connected with loved ones, working from home with a family or flatmates.
The kids might be home because schools are closed and they need to be educated, entertained, fed and feel noticed.
We might have very little space to focus. If we are not used to living like this we might feel like we are on top of each other, and this can create tension and irritation.
....we might feel like we are on top of each other, and this can create tension and irritation.
Finally, we are still worried about our health and those of our loved ones and that can make it very difficult to focus on work.
What can help?
Just Google it and you'll find lots of tips for surviving in this new way of working. Here are some gems we've found.
Set-up your homeworking environment
The right room
To stay productive find a place in the house that boosts your mood, minimises distractions and has good natural light if possible. Avoid working in your own bedroom or you will associate the room with being busy and working and not sleeping and resting.
The right tech
Check you have the right equipment and software to work from home. Good screen height, good sound and mic for meetings, the right video calling solution and good and reliable WiFi speed and connection. You might be able to manage in the short term if you don't have the right tech but you won't over weeks or months.
Get ready for work
Like you would for the office, make sure you wash, tidy yourself and get suitably dressed. This forms part of a good routine and daily structure.
Re-think how to structure your day
Working in the office gives us a structure, not just when we are there but the commute gives us bookmarks in our day. We need to build in a different structure when at home:
Schedule short breaks
Schedule connection (non-task or work related) time with colleagues. Think of these as water cooler or breaktime chats.
Don't bombard people with digital messages and expect an immediate response. Expect that communication will be asynchronous because everyone is now working at their own pace. Some will be night owls and some will prefer earlier working.
Make your usual 1 hour meetings only 45 mins so you are not back to back on phone or video calls. You might discover Parkinson's Law applies (that work expands or contracts to the time you allot for it).
If you are worried about the value of the work you do at home, ask your manager (and team colleagues if appropriate): what tangible results will demonstrate you are actually working productively? You might feel you are working hard, but working remotely makes seeing this harder for you, your team and your manager compared to working in the office.
what tangible results will demonstrate you are actually working productively?
Look after yourself
Continue to attend to your basic wellbeing needs - eat healthily, rest, engage in physical activity, avoid unhealthy habits like alcohol, try and keep a routine and get adequate sleep. Although self-isolation may be necessary if you or your loved ones do become unwell, do stay connected; for example through digital methods and the phone.
We've put together a handout called How you can be a mental health problem S.O.L.V.E.R
throughout the Covid-19 response.
Stay socially connected
Limit your Covid-19 news intake
be Value driven rather than activity driven
Guy Winch Tips
In times of anxious uncertainty, Guy Winch also has helpful tips which include:
Focus on what you know rather than don't know
Focus on what you can control rather than on what isn't - also see the visual below from TheCounselingTeacher.com
Focus on what you can do rather than what you can't
Help others (to feel empowered)
Don't intoxicate yourself in the news
Keep your perspective
Focusing on what I can control
A useful reminder of what kinds of things we can control and can't. It's easier said than done, but try to focus your attention and effort on what you can control rather than on what you cannot.
focus your attention and effort on what you can control rather than on what you cannot
Here is a short animation from one of the originators of ACT (a psychological therapy) Russ Harris. This is useful if you are already familiar with ACT or other acceptance based approaches like mindfulness practice or mindfulness based therapies.
Focus on what is in your control
Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings
Come back into your body
Engage in what your're doing
Distance and disinfect
For leaders, lead in a different way
For managers and leaders, check in with staff daily on a 1:1 and expect this to take 2 hours of your day, at least in the beginning while your staff adjust. This investment will reap rewards over time.
You role is to set the vision and direction, and in times of uncertainty this can bring people together. With mass working from home this vision setting will need to be more intentional and explicit than when people are in the office.
Your staff might need to juggle home and work life. Expect they will need to attend to other things during the day with lots of the households potentially isolating in the same place and competing demands of a new home life. As much as possible allow them to work to a schedule that works for them and they will be more productive. Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Celebrate small wins
Whether Slack, MS Teams or other channels like team video calls, promote positive news and celebrate small wins. Examples include giving shout outs to people who did an amazing job. Enjoying each other’s success is always our priority, but more so now.
Reduce the stress of caring about how you manage mental health
After a 3-months long open dialogue with over 20 HR directors and senior managers, Amplify recently launched the HR and Manager Consultation programme, a pioneering service that specifically helps HR teams and managers reduce the stress of caring about how they manage mental health at work.