I’ve worked remotely for nearly a decade: Either self-employed or at a job, it was always completely or partially remote. I can count myself as blessed during the current situation; I have a full-time job in an industry that hasn’t taken much of a hit. My job, knock on wood, is safe. I know others haven’t been so lucky. People are moving to remote work unprepared and without a choice. That is, if they still have work at all. If you’re someone who has been working remote for a while or if its new to you, your problems may not be as big as others but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real.
Working from home, even in the best conditions, comes with trade offs. Without systems in place at a personal and organizational level, during a global pandemic, it stinks. People are stressed, burned out, and finding it difficult to get work done right now. It isn’t remote work itself, and isn’t you. As someone with nearly a decade’s experience working from home, I can tell you with confidence that this is different, even though my day-to-day job hasn’t changed at all. I’ve been feeling more stressed, burned out, and struggling to be as productive as I did before. And I know I’m not alone.
Why does working from home during a shelter-in-place policy hit so different than working from home normally?
We’re all dealing with external stress
Every news cycle greets us with a fresh hell: More people are dying, more industries are struggling; Everyday it’s clear we are still in act one of the horror movie, where the leaders are ignoring the scientists. The news permeates every channel, social media platform, and discussion. Its inescapable, and something thats going to weigh on your mind when you’re trying to get work done.
There’s no escape
Working remote is not the same as working from home. Working remotely means you can work from anywhere. Its often at home, it’s not on the beach like an Instagram influencer (I’m not about getting sand in my Macbook), but it is about being able to work from a co-working space or a coffee shop once in a while. Before, when working from home I made it a point to go to a coffee shop at least once a week, because I knew how important is was to be around people. That’s no longer an option. And when work was done, there were place to go to blow off steam: the gym in the morning, the brewery at night. Also gone. The biggest difference between quarantine work from home and business as usual is choice.
Now workouts are limited to runs and what few weights we have; Happy hours happen exclusively on Zoom.
Everyone is home all the time.
I couldn’t imagine having children right now. I don’t know how parents are getting anything done these days. Everyone having a lack of choice means we are all trying to cram our life together in new ways. For example, my wife would play roller derby three time a week, which gave me personal time and space to work on personal projects. But if I’m being honest, usually just playing with the dogs or the Playstation. We don’t have those spaces any more. One more way to blow off steam gone.
It adds up in ways you don’t see or expect
If you are like me, you are not making the healthiest life choices lately. Being unable to go to the gym and to the store as frequently as I would like make exercise and eating well more difficult. The stress makes it harder to sleep. You might be having an extra drink or three during the week. You find yourself drifting at work and you aren’t sure why, you never had problems concentrating before. When the entire world is facing a problems, resolving bug tickets doesn’t feel so important anymore.
But it won’t stay this way forever
I’m someone who has worked remote in some fashion for almost seven years, and I’ve been struggling these past few weeks. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you are new to working from home, and don’t be hard on the idea of remote work based on this experience. Under normal conditions, with company structures that support it, remote work can be great. It gives workers time back by not commuting, more freedom to handle the minutia of life, and the flexibility to find working conditions that work best for them. Working from home right now doesn’t give workers the same luxury, and comes with its own set of problems.
Keep going, it gets better, I promise.