Working from home can breed loneliness and paranoia

With the upcoming anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdown approaching, and with no end in sight for working from home, we looked into what is actually happening on the ground. There’s an emerging opinion that remote working may not be the panacea that it first appeared to be.

When the lockdown hit, major companies like Google ordered all staff to work from home and startups started cancelling their office contracts. A brave new world beckoned but where do we stand now? Has the novelty worn off?

A few managers we have spoken to have highlighted such issues as loneliness, paranoia, lack of social interaction and lack of boundaries.

Firstly, people are feeling lonely and isolated. Being with your family at home is different to social interaction with work colleagues and that camaraderie is starting to be sorely missed.

At the start, there was positivity about the possible end of commuting to work and a break from office politics with around 49% of people working from home. There were those who did not live in spaces conducive to working but generally it was seen as a good thing.

Who amongst us didn’t initially celebrate being freed of the time-and-energy drain of travelling to work? We were able to get out of bed, go to work and not even have to get properly dressed. It was a positive during the overwhelming negatives of life under Covid-19.

A Jefferies survey has found that, in the UK, 61% of respondents would return to work right now if they could. Mark Zuckerberg has stated that only 1 in 5 of all Facebook workers, who are set to be permanently working from home by 2030, are happy to do so. ‘Feelings of loneliness’ was one of the top reasons given by respondents to a Bradburn survey as being the driving force behind the desire to return to the office. For younger workers with no dependents it is even worse, according to Totaljobs, with 74% admitting that they have struggled with loneliness in lockdown.

The blowback from mass homeworking was definitely unexpected as there was no real impetus to really research it before. An important study was undertaken by Nick Bloom, a homeworking expert, for the Ctrip travel agency. It showed that while productivity rose by 13%, 50% of the workers in the study wished to return to the office citing loneliness as the reason.

Workers experiencing paranoia over their status within the business is another reason for the unhappiness. Imagine you are working on a project and you send messages to your manager via Whatsapp. You see that they have read the messages but they do not give any feedback. In fact, you don’t hear back from them for a long time. If this pattern repeats often, it can breed paranoia. In an office, you can visit the manager or they will be back in the office the day after. You are assured of your position because you can see your colleagues working and they can see you working. But working from home, in isolation, read but unanswered Whatsapp messages can become harbingers.

Another factor is that everyone is accessible pretty much all of the time because they are at home. People don’t think twice about calling colleagues late into the evening to discuss work issues because they know where you are and assume you have nothing better to do. There is always the assumption that if you are working from home, you are working flexi hours. If people were working in the office, then there would be more of an understanding that when someone walks out of that front door, that is really them logging off work until tomorrow.

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