Working from home – adjusting mentally to your new normal
Going from working in an office to working from home has been an abrupt transition and may leave some struggling to adapt. Finola Colgan of Mental Health Ireland offers some advice to make it work

COVID-19 is a very unsettling and serious health concern that has displaced many norms and activities.

Mental Health Ireland’s CEO Martin Rogan said: “For most of us, this is our first experience of a situation of this kind, and it is a real concern.”

There is a significant amount of disruption to home life at many different levels, including children home from school and college. Understandably, the disruption is causing a significant amount of worry, concern and anxiety. It can be helpful to acknowledge these feelings and explore how best to manage the unpredictability and its impact on daily living.

Many employees are now working from home. Working from home is a new challenge for many, especially within a farm household, and will necessitate some new house rules.

What are the challenges?

Working from home is possible with technology. However, this new way of working is a radical change for many, generating new demands for employees in the way they work.

Its introduction for many has been an abrupt transition from an office to a home environment and may leave some struggling to become accustomed to the change.

With coronavirus, it’s not clear how long people will be at home, posing new challenges of adaptation. There is much uncertainty, so it is necessary to explore ways of adjusting to the new normal.

For employees, working from home for the first time requires a new discipline. The following are some suggestions to support this new way of working.

Creating a daily routine

Strive to put structure into the day, as a person’s mental health may be compromised when removed from the regular office camaraderie and banter that can take place over the coffee break.

This can lead to feelings of isolation and, in turn, lead to possible anxiety and depression.

Heading out to a place of work as part of a normal routine is good for our mental health. Yes, it can be a challenge on a regular day, getting trains and dropping at childminders, but it provides a sense of belonging and connection.

The key starting point is to put yourself into the right frame of mind. When working, avoid doing any household tasks that would normally be left until you get home from work, such as putting out the washing and filling the dishwasher.

Start off by maintaining your regular wake-up and getting-ready-for-work routines. Get dressed in comfortable everyday work clothes and leave the PJs under the pillow.

Reducing the maintenance of this pattern may lead to you feeling out of place and reduce your sense of normality.

Where there are school-going children involved, it is important to stick to a routine. They may perceive this as time off and not want to get on with the schoolwork that has been set for them.

Out of sight, out of mind

Person-to-person contact is always very important, as it allows us to pick up and read social cues. When we work from home, our in-person contact with co-workers disappears, therefore it is important that employees can use video calling platforms such as Zoom or Skype.

Even if we feel uncomfortable in front of a camera, the benefit of contact outweighs a dislike. Talking and having a conversation will support feelings of being connected.

It is also important to maintain contact through regular email, WhatsApp and phone calls. It is not beyond the possibility to have a group video call with a cup of coffee in hand.

Create a workspace

It is important to create a space that is dedicated for work. This sends out a clear message to those you live with that you are at your work.

By creating these boundaries, there is less of a chance of being called upon to provide assistance that can be left on hold within the family. This may be difficult to maintain in the farm family home situation, but it is necessary to establish a happy balance.

Having a dedicated space and routine will minimise interruptions and ensure your fidelity to your work.

Create time boundaries

It is not unusual for people when they work from home to work more. This is a mistake and needs to be avoided.

Schedule time for a morning coffee, midday lunch and have an end to your work day. Avoid working through the time that was normally allocated to getting to work and which may well have been used to listen to an audio book, podcast and so on.

Managing isolation

Remote working can contribute to isolation and perhaps impact on morale and work productivity. If you work as a team member, make efforts to sustain the camaraderie and bond through virtual contact.

We are all in the same boat and have the common need to stay in touch. Make time for casual conversations and water cooler chat.

Clearly, the more effort put into establishing and maintaining communications with colleagues, the better chance of avoiding those feeling of isolation. Collectively we must all support each other.

Finola Colgan, Mental Health Ireland development officer.

Finola Colgan is a development officer with Mental Health Ireland for the midlands, Longford and Meath. Email her at finola@mentalhealthireland.ie.

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