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Telework has become more common during the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately 71% of people whose work responsibilities could be completed remotely were teleworking, according to data from the Pew Research Center that was published near the end of 2020.
Of course, not all career paths allow for telework. For example, health care workers providing direct patient care may not have a telework option. Also, data indicate that lower income workers and people with less than a college education are less likely to telework.
Overall, however, the landscape of the workforce has been altered significantly during the pandemic, and many people are wondering how to best navigate the new normal of teleworking.
First, it's important to pay attention to the potential advantages and disadvantages of telework. This gives you the best chance to get full benefit from the positives of telework and cope with the challenges.
Some potential advantages of telework include flexibility in hours, greater ease in balancing work and family responsibilities, potential cost savings, and shorter or no commute time. These benefits may help explain why data indicate that over half of people whose work can be done remotely report that they would like to continue teleworking, even after the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the other hand, disadvantages of telework can include feeling less connected with co-workers, struggling with motivation, feeling isolated or lonely and having difficulty getting away from work at the end of the day. Also, telework may present specific challenges for certain groups. For example, parents of minor children are more likely to report interruptions while teleworking.
Although it's not known exactly how teleworking affects mental health, what is known is that changes in day-to-day routines and ongoing uncertainties of the pandemic could affect emotional well-being. Studies show that symptoms of depression, anxiety, trauma and insomnia have increased during the pandemic.
Here are 3 healthy ways to cope with some of the challenges of teleworking and maintain your well-being:
1. Keep track of how you are doing.
Pay attention to how you're feeling throughout the day. Sitting in front of a screen for hours on end can be draining. Be intentional about checking in with your body and mind, and ask yourself "What do I need right now?" Maybe it's a glass of water, a stretch or simply a deep breath. Try to allow yourself to refuel throughout the day, even in small ways. When the workday is over, try to create a purposeful shift away from your desk or computer to create a boundary for yourself between work and home. This may look like taking a brief walk at the end of your workday to unwind before transitioning to your evening activities.
2. Find creative ways to connect with others.
If you're feeling disconnected from co-workers, be intentional about making time to socialize throughout the workday. This could be scheduling a 15-minute break for each of you to take a walk around your own block while chatting on the phone. Consider using workplace chat services, such as Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business, to stay connected about projects or schedule a brief daily Zoom check-in. Outside of work, make time to schedule safe activities with friends and family. Different things will be helpful for different people to help enhance feelings of connection. Experiment with what may work for you.
3. Communicate regularly with your supervisor or manager.
The shift to telework is relatively new to most, leaders included. Talk with your supervisor or manager about things you each see as working well, areas for improvement, and opportunities for adjustment or advancement in the workplace. Be open and honest about your experience and ideas, and receptive to feedback and trying new things.
The shift to telework at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was sudden and swift. Even months later, people are adjusting to the changes of the telework world. Following these tips can help you continue to adapt and promote overall well-being.
Sometimes you may need additional help and support during times of stress. Talk to your primary care provider if you are struggling. Together, you can review potential treatment options. Most mental health providers and clinics offer in-person and teletherapy visits.
Visit the Anxiety & Depression Association of America or Association or Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies websites for information on evidence-based treatments for depression, anxiety, trauma and insomnia, and find a therapy location near you.
Anne Roche, Ph.D., and Sydney Kelpin, Ph.D., are clinical psychology fellows, and Craig Sawchuk, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Division of Integrated Behavioral Health at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.