Miriam Bridegroom, company and organizational therapist and HR strategist, specializes in coaching and advising employees. In this interview, she shares her advice on overcoming the most common pitfalls and challenges of working remotely.
What are the most common psychological or emotional pitfalls when transitioning from a traditional office job to a remote worker?
Each individual will experience this transition a little differently. It really has to do with their personality type. The way people organize their time autonomously and the limits they set for themselves are two of the main issues that can cause a lot of stress. “For example, someone with a perceptive personality type—one that prefers relaxed, spontaneous schedules, as described by MyersBriggs—may struggle with the lack of formal boundaries to control them. These people may end up feeling overwhelmed by being too a lot of unstructured free time. However, someone who relates more to the judgmental personality type, characterized by a task-oriented and “Type A” personality, may work overtime and weekends because they cannot separate work and life. Both types can, only however, you can work remotely with the right tools and by learning new behaviors.
How can one deal with the stress of having to separate their personal and professional lives once they start working from home?
Those who work overtime and weekends may want to consider scheduling breaks for activities such as eating lunch, doing 15-minute meditation sessions, or simply shutting down their computer for a few minutes. It sounds obvious, but making personal time a formalized ‘to-do’ item can certainly help people feel more balanced. It’s one thing to tell yourself it’s time to stop working, but it’s quite another to include it in your schedule as a real activity.
What strategies can you share to stay focused and motivated as a remote worker without supervision from superiors or colleagues?
Again, the strategy depends on the individual and their personality. Someone with perceptive traits will have a harder time staying motivated because they tend to procrastinate and want to do things that are fun instead of following rules and checking things off their list. For these individuals, asking for routine check-ins with their team can help them stay on track. Ultimately, it comes down to understanding your work style and personality so you can identify approaches that make sense for you. There are many tools to discover your working style, such as psychometric tests and other assessments.
When someone starts working remotely, they often feel isolated from their colleagues and are no longer part of their organization’s culture. What needs to be done to prevent this
A sense of belonging is important for all employees, whether extroverted or introverted. Replicating an in-person environment isn’t always possible, but people should still try to bond. This could be a 15 minute “virtual coffee break” each day or making plans to meet in person if the situation allows. Companies should encourage informal chats and virtual hangouts if they don’t disrupt workflow or take up too much time.
What are some signs that someone is not adjusting emotionally or psychologically to working remotely? What should they do about this?
It can be difficult to recognize signs if you can’t see someone’s face. However, non-verbal cues can communicate a lot, so I recommend holding meetings with the camera on so you can gauge people’s facial expressions and body language. “Some signs of isolation can include answering fewer emails and appearing less involved and less involved in meetings and other virtual activities. People who are sad and depressed are, of course, some of the most obvious signs that they need help when adapting to remote working.
If someone is having trouble focusing on their work as a remote worker, what are some strategies for regaining and maintaining their focus?
There are different solutions to this problem, depending on the psychological profile of the person in question. Someone with a judiciary personality type may feel overwhelmed without the structure they were once accustomed to. Helping them create a roadmap and then sort activities so they know where to prioritize their time will help them focus and stay on track. A person with an observant personality may eventually lack the discipline needed to complete uninteresting tasks, so helping them identify low-hanging fruit and taking baby steps when tackling big projects can help them feel more focused and productive.
If someone takes breaks from work during their working day as a telecommuter, what are some things they should do to stay healthy from an emotional/psychological point of view?
Meditation, breathing exercises and exercise are all very important. While many of us generally lead sedentary lifestyles, going to a physical workplace usually requires more exercise compared to waking up and flipping open a laptop. People who work from home should be urged to get up and move around throughout the day. Planned exercise can be a company-wide policy if these breaks are kept short so people don’t miss them.
How can someone overcome anxiety related to working remotely and having to adopt and learn new skills to meet their work commitments?
When it comes to anxiety, identifying your stress triggers and working from there is critical. Different people get anxious for different reasons, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. Working with a career counselor can help someone figure out why they feel so anxious and how to deal with it. Some work-related remote anxiety can stem from having to learn different project management software, time tracking tools, and so on. For example, a creative with an observant personality type may find tracking his hours and creating productivity reports for his outside manager incredibly daunting. They may consider talking to their supervisor to see if there is a solution, or ask a colleague to take over these tasks if appropriate. Finally, honesty is the best policy, and explicitly telling a manager, “These new administrative duties are making me anxious” may be the best way to resolve the issue.
Are there specific scheduling techniques you would recommend when it comes to balancing work and professional life as a remote worker?
Yes! Schedule downtime in your calendar the same way you would schedule a meeting. These breaks can be your lunch break, a short break to run an errand, or even just 15 minutes to stretch and re-center yourself. “Since people can sometimes spend all day in virtual meetings, it’s also important to set aside meeting time for your individual work. Finally, consider scheduling 15-minute meetings as a standard, as 30 to 60-minute meetings are common not necessary.”
How can anyone overcome the overwhelming urge to constantly check their work emails, voicemails, and text messages during their free time?
People become addicted to checking work emails in the same way they become addicted to social media and other online distractions. Understand that screens are addictive and consider turning off notifications at night and on weekends. It’s important to take our lives and health as seriously as we take our work.
From a psychological point of view, what are some of the biggest mistakes you see remote workers making for the first time?
The list is long. Working late into the night, not leaving the house, not having any sort of routine (including hygiene routines), not taking breaks, and not employing time management techniques are among the most common. Working in a physical environment typically forces us to follow strict routines, which include commuting to work every day, taking lunch breaks, and following many outside cues and directions. We can recreate these ourselves in a remote environment, but it takes self-awareness, deliberate effort, and some relearning.
If someone needs to share their home office with a spouse, partner, roommate, or even their children, what tips can you give to maintain their sanity and privacy and avoid too much close contact during their workday and after-hours?
As in most situations, communication is key. It’s important to kindly tell the people you live with that you need a certain amount of space and quiet to work. When it comes to small children, I recommend using color-coded signs (think red light, green light) instead of a written sign so they can see when you’re available. I sound repetitive, but scheduling time to take short walks can really help you re-center, and relieve some of the stress that can come from sharing a workspace. Finally, noise canceling headphones are always a good investment.
What strategies can someone use to avoid burnout when spending too much time in virtual meetings?
Virtual meetings can be exhausting. Employees can sometimes explore alternatives to video conferencing, such as a simple phone call, or agree on an email template that allows for a brief exchange of ideas without the need for a virtual meeting. Sometimes meetings are not necessary or they are booked for 30 minutes when they should only be 15 minutes. My recommendation is to be strategic with video calls so people aren’t talking to their screens for hours every day.