Work from Home = Live at Work
Is combining your personal space with your work space making you feel like you are always at the office?

Many organisations have been forced to shift their policies, tools and systems to accommodate remote teams due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For employees and employers alike, this is a major adjustment.

When South Africa went into an initial lockdown period of 21 days on 26 March, some people may have welcomed the shift to working from Home (WFH) – thinking that the forced change in environment would present an opportunity to recharge, spend more time with their families, and form a few positive new habits. However, 4 months later the novelty has worn off for those employees still working from Home, and the downsides of WFH have become blatantly obvious.

Back in April, a U.S. employee survey administered by Eagle Hill Consulting found that just a month into the pandemic, 45% of workers said they were burned out after working from Home. Simply put, burnout is feelings of energy depletion on the job, increased mental distance from your job or reduced effectiveness performing work-related tasks, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Last year the WHO recognised burnout as an official illness.

With the suddenness and degree of the shift to remote work, the loss of childcare, as well as the stresses and strains that accompany the pandemic and its economic fallout, all of the things that typically cause burnout are intensified, which means the risk of burnout also increases.

So what are some of the other contributing factors leading to WFH burnout, and the downsides to essentially living at work?

Work-life balance

Many employees struggle to disconnect when working from Home, with up to a third of employees saying they struggle to balance work and home life when working remotely. It’s easy to shut down your computer when you see fellow office workers start to pack up for the day, but when you’re at Home, these cues don’t exist.

Finding a work-life balance is key because when your work and home life are melded together, your brain cannot shut off and rest. While people might think working from Home means doing less, the opposite may be true for diligent employees. When you don’t have that separation of going to and from the office, your workday can start to blur together with your home life. Feeling like you’re always “at work” is one of the main causes of WFH burnout.

Distractions and personal discipline

For some people, the discipline of working from Home comes naturally. However, for many workers it requires careful behaviour monitoring and adjusting, especially when there are additional distractions at Home such as children requiring attention or the neighbour’s dogs barking. Everything from staying motivated to knowing when to stop work can become a challenge. And anything that affects an employee’s health – physical or mental – will end up affecting their work.

Lack of respect for boundaries

When does the day start and when does it end? As much as employers establish company policies and guidelines about respecting their staff’s working hours, there will always be exceptions. Sometimes, the exceptions become the rule. Oftentimes, burnt out workers feel they have a lack of control over their schedules, interactions and time management and this sentiment can be exacerbated by company policy being ignored. Given the current pandemic, this feeling is all the more common.

Missing social connections

People tend to overestimate how happy they’ll be alone, and underestimate the positive effect of even unplanned social interactions like the ones they may experience at the office. Humans are social creatures, and maintaining relationships are important.

Even if you’re with your family or loved ones at Home, missing social connections is a real factor in the WFH life. There are many benefits to having colleagues to talk to at work, but with many employees now working remotely, people don’t have that added social aspect. Furthermore, there’s a lot of casual collaboration that happens in an office environment. Whether it’s picking up on the best practices of your colleagues or having an impromptu brainstorming session over lunch, it’s hard to replicate that from Home.

Technological limitations

Various work activities that require bandwidth-intensive collaboration and communication are harder when working from Home, while certain aspects of team and company building are also much more difficult to achieve with a workforce using their home internet connection and often suboptimal hardware.

Employees may not have full access to the technology platforms to perform their work tasks at the highest level. While cloud technology has made it easier than ever for remote workers to work from anywhere, there are still situations in which data security or consumer protection concerns might prevent WFH employees from having full access.

COVID-19 burnout brought on by the various downsides of working from Home will ensure that many employees will be looking forward to returning to an office environment when the pandemic loosens its grip on our nation.

Businesses can begin preparing for the inevitable return of their workforce by making certain that the necessary infrastructure is in place to facilitate the accelerated collaboration that will be required when the country’s economy becomes fully operational once more.

By Stuart Pringle
Managing Director, Omega Digital