5 Downsides of Working From Home (and What to Do About Them)
Michela Pau
Michela Pau Friday, 19 November 2021

5 Downsides of Working From Home (and What to Do About Them)

With Covid, many of us have struggled to create boundaries between work and life boundaries. Working from home, we have struggled to concentrate. In some cases we have felt like human islands; left out of what counts. 

But why is this happening? We’re in the 21st century, never before have we been more connected or had everything just at our fingertips; why does having more options make our lives more difficult? What is stopping us from enjoying the advantages of remote working?

#1 / Everything at home suddenly seems more interesting than your next task on your to-do list

During the more intense lockdown periods, we experienced a disruptive change in our daily routines. Kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms have become our new workspaces. Our flatmates and pets have been unwantedly involved in our weekly meetings. 

Today, in an environment that is not just a home, but neither just an office, distraction is around every corner: from the Playstation that's just a step away from our desk, from our cat that is constantly purring, to our dirty laundry begging to be washed. 

Maintaining a high level of concentration can feel like a challenge.

So, what can you do?

The option to completely isolate yourself may not be possible, but you can organize your workspace in a more functional way.

Start from the assumption that there are no neutral areas. What is around us affects us. Always.  

Nobel Prize-winning economist Richard Thaler and Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein explain it brilliantly. Nudge Theory, made famous in 2008 with the publication of the bestseller Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness, showcases how important of a role our environment has on our decisions - whether these decisions relate to health, financial management or productivity at work. 

Simply put, the nudge is a stimulus in our environment that makes decisions accessible, clear and effortless without precluding others. 

I invite you then to think about your workspace: which objects are most within reach? If you look beyond your computer screen, what do you see? 

Keep things that encourage focus close, and place objects of distraction and temptation out of sight, in areas that are less accessible. 

#2 / Work-Life boundaries are invisible

Office life is punctuated by a series of signals that unconsciously help us keep up with the pace of the day. Have you ever been so absorbed in your work that you only realized how late it was because your colleagues were leaving the office?

Working remotely, we are excluded from contextual “spies” that remind us of the importance of taking a break, or declaring a day over. This is also why many remote workers struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance, experiencing the paradox of 24/7 hyper-connectivity.

It's no wonder then that a survey recently carried out by Indeed shows us that 52% of workers will experience burnout in 2021 - up from 43% the year before. It is remote workers who are most affected, precisely because they find it difficult to (more or less literally) switch off.  

So, what can you do?

Burnout is a depletion of physical and emotional energy due to chronic stress. It occurs when a person becomes totally identified with their job role and with the results they succeed (or fail) to achieve.

When you experience burnout, we lose sight of the boundaries between thoughts and ourselves, between an emotion and who we are. So how can we regain this precious space?

With a technique called 365. 3 times a day, 6 breaths per minute for 5 minutes, 365 days a year.

This action has the effect of resetting our system. This action has the effect of resetting our system. With the equal duration of inhalation and exhalation - 5 seconds each - we train our cardiac coherence, i.e. our ability to optimally manage stress and emotions.

Not convinced? Try it, the practice has immediate benefits: 

  • reduces cortisol, the stress hormone
  • strengthens the immune system
  • increases the secretion of oxytocin, the hormone of social bonding
  • stimulates alpha waves, which promote memory, learning and concentration.

#3 / Social isolation hurts (more than you think)

Recent discoveries in neuroscience tell us that our brain perceives social isolation as if it were physical pain. In fact, some of the brain areas that are activated are exactly the same.

With remote work, especially if it is not alternated with face-to-face work, you can be afraid that you will be forgotten. The office, in fact, is not only a professional space: it is a community.

So, what can you do?

Ever heard of FOMO? It stands for Fear of Missing Out, and it's holding more and more people in check.

Here's an example of how it works: have you ever missed an invitation to a meeting where you had something to say? Or missed an impromptu birthday party during your lunch break?

If your organization is still failing to promote the inclusion and connection of remote workers, speak up! Organize virtual café meet-ups and more informal opportunities to chat and share.  

For example, at Mia Burton we are very keen on Retrospectives, monthly meetings where all team members, regardless of where they work, take a moment to reflect, share and improve. 

#4 / You get lost in translation

We talk a lot about the advantages of working in a multicultural environment, much less about the embarrassment of expressing yourself in another language or dealing with different communication styles. Yet the subject is by no means trivial. 

Did you know that there is even a term for the fear of foreign languages? It is called xenoglossophobia and describes the deep discomfort we can feel when we do not know how to express ourselves as we would like, or grasp exactly what is being communicated to us.

This discomfort can create problems in hybrid and geographically distributed workspaces, where the likelihood of having colleagues who speak other languages is very high.

So, what can you do?

It might be tempting to avoid at all costs exposing yourself to languages you do not master, especially if you tend towards perfectionism.

The alternative I propose to you, however, is to play it by ear: if at your next meeting you know you will have to speak in a language that is not your own, start by telling your colleagues openly how you feel and what you fear. In one fell swoop you will calm your mind and the little voice that inhabits it, and at the same time, bring your audience closer to you. 

#5 / You can’t keep up

Who hasn't missed out on important work due to distance?

Working away from your team makes collaboration sometimes feel like climbing Everest,  even if it is in the same city but in different locations. 

You feel distant from the beating heart of the company, where everything is thought out, decided, organized. Working remotely can sometimes feel like information is second-hand. Communication can be fragmented, partial, difficult to reconstruct. 

So, what can you do?

Your first instinct might be to lash out at the higher-ups or your peers, but trust me: that's only a temporary stopgap.

Instead of focusing on emotion, it is more effective and forward-looking to focus on project management platforms that help people monitor the progress of their work and access all relevant information in real time.

Is there anything like this in your company yet? Discuss this with the person in charge: together, identify a first micro-step that will increase transparency and improve information accessibility.

Sharing is caring.

In most cases, it all starts with sharing an idea. Want to tell me about yours?

If you have experienced interesting and effective solutions to remote work dilemmas, write to people@miaburton.com. I will be happy to integrate new insights into this article. 

Here’s to a better workday!