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Enter 2020. Plenty of people are realizing that remote work is not the career utopia they’d imagined. Psychologist Susan Albers PsyD, explains why it’s so hard — and how to make it easier.
Remote work in the time of COVID-19
First, a little self-compassion. The pandemic has made everything harder. Lots of people going to jobs outside the home are struggling, too. So are people who have always worked from home but are adapting to a new normal (which may include more family members underfoot all day).
So go easy on yourself if remote work is getting you down. “It’s a stressful time,” Dr. Albers says. “It’s hard to keep going and shut off the rest of the outer world and just do your job.”
But you can make some tweaks to your work-from-home routine. Dr. Albers suggests some ways to deal with seven common complaints.
1. I can’t get into work mode
“When you go to work elsewhere, you can turn off your home brain. It’s easier to leave behind all the everyday worries. And at the end of the day, you can leave work behind,” says Dr. Albers. “Working at home, you have both work and home responsibilities swirling together.”
To un-swirl them, try to find a dedicated space to work in. If you have the room, set up a table in the corner and use it just for work. Working from the bed or couch is cozy, but it’s easy to forget you’re supposed to be working if you’re parked in front of the TV.
Dr. Albers also suggests building in time to transition from work to home. No matter how short your commute was, that time was important for shifting gears. “The transition is more difficult when you’re home all day, so give yourself 5 or 10 minutes to transition out of work mode,” she says. Listen to the radio or a podcast or go for a walk around the block. “Anything that gives you a mental break.”
2. I’m exhausted
Zoom fatigue is real. “Staring at a screen is mentally taxing. And if you’re meeting with coworkers via video, your brain has to work a lot harder to decipher nonverbal communication over a screen,” Dr. Albers explains. Take regular breaks to get up, stretch and rest your eyes (and brain).
3. I’m feeling disconnected from coworkers
Lots of people are finding that water cooler chitchat is a bigger part of their day than they realized. And they miss it. Those breaks provide important social interactions and can help you get a read on the office mood.
Since you can’t walk down the hall to connect, schedule a call or text chat to catch up with your work buddies. “You might have to make an extra effort to reach out,” she says.
4. I can’t stop snacking
You’re bored. You’re stressed. And the kitchen is right there. It’s a recipe for stress eating. Unfortunately, unhealthy snacks and possible weight gain can leave you feeling worse, not better.
“Try packing a lunch and snacks as though you’re going to work,” Dr. Albers suggests. “Take an official lunch break instead of munching between meetings.”
5. I keep procrastinating
Some people do better if they stick to a 9-to-5 schedule, so work doesn’t bleed into nights and weekends. Night owls might find they’re more productive if they work in the evening and take the opportunity to sleep in.
If your work allows such flexibility, embrace it. But whatever you choose, map out a schedule to stay on track. “Include work time and play time so you have that balance,” says Dr. Albers says.
6. I’m easily distracted
Laundry. Watering the flowers. Dealing with bored kids. The distractions in your house are endless. Turn to technology to help. “Put on noise-canceling headphones. Try using timers and time-tracking apps to stay on track,” she says. You can even use programs to block access to social media during work hours.
7. My boss (or coworker) doesn’t get it
When you’re working remotely, it can be harder for coworkers to read between the lines. You might have to get more vocal about setting boundaries. And you may need to make more of an effort to communicate your thoughts and feelings. “At a distance, coworkers can’t read how you’re feeling, so you have to take extra steps to communicate.”
It’s not always easy to initiate those tough conversations. But at least you can do it in sweatpants.