Remote working is now becoming a trend amidst COVID-19 outbreak which has sparked a mass retreat of white-collar workers from office spaces to their own private comfort space at home. While some might have found the recent paradigm shift of mass gathering to some time with oneself and the relief to give up daily commute pleasant, for many it might be stressful in the status quo, especially when mass laying-off is underway.
While the immediate health benefits of working from home are quite evident, it is also important to consider the long-term impact of remote working on the mental health of a person.
Disrupted sleep, mood swings, and dysphoria are some of the common problem identified by psychologists around the globe that comes with the remote working or what is also being called as isolation working. Many employees might experience an unexpected change in the mental condition due to the current mandated work from home trend going on the global scale to contain the spread of COVID-19 while keeping economic activities going.
Isolation and Burnout- the dual-edged Gizmo Hampering Mental Health
While many experts anticipate that keeping people restricted inside the four walls with no social escape could have a severe impact on the mental health of an individual, two of the major concerns are isolation and burnout.
Various studies back up the fact that the daily interactions reinforce our sense of wellbeing and belonging to a group or community, and while remote working might not cut an individual from social gathering and human interaction, the current status quo and mandating work from home along with the social barring or isolation could become a problem for a healthy brain.
Burnout is the concept which is better understood with the concept of marginal productivity and law of marginal productivity, which suggests that every additional unit added to the existing resource increase the productivity till a certain extent, then the law of diminishing marginal productivity kicks in. Likewise, while working from home could give a lot of flexibility an off-schedule and unplanned working hour and absence of comfortable space are found by many researchers to be associated with diminishing productivity and ultimately burnout, which usually results in long working hours.
The prolonged working hours or burnout usually results in lower productivity and less free time, and both contribute to the shaping the psychology of a brain. While prolonged working hours with less productivity could result in poor performance, leading to lower self-esteem and confidence level, less free time could be associated with irrational behaviour as remote working for few people might be a way to be available around the family, but not physically.
A Survey By The Institute of Employment Studies
In the status quo, this pandemic has forced many thousands of employees to work remotely, which in turn, has raised various concern about the impact of the isolation working on their physical & emotional wellbeing, self-esteem, and motivation.
As per the recent survey conducted by the Institute of Employment Studies about 71 per cent of the sample population (with the sample size of 500) is currently stationed for remote working due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Also, on the counter of physical health, 64 per cent of the sample population had reported a loss of sleep due to worry, while 60 per cent had responded fatigue, while many responses suggested that other physical health issues such as eye strain, headaches/migraines, shoulder and back pain are common and prevalent.
On the emotional health counter, 32 per cent of the sample population suggested that they are not in good spirits and cheerful mood, while 23 per cent are worried about family finance. Out for the overall sample size, 60 per cent responded that they are not active and vigorous, while 40 per cent suggested that there are not waking up fresh & rested.
Apart from that, other psychological impacts, such as loneliness, overthinking, sleep deprivation, are also common.
Also, the mandate house arrest across the globe has impacted the active lifestyle as well amid social barring with 60 per cent of the sample population suggesting a decline in exercise, while 20 per cent suggesting increased alcohol consumption.
The 33 per cent of the sample population suggested that they are eating less healthy while 36 per cent feel too much work pressure.
It could be concluded from the survey conducted by the Institute of Employment Studies that there has been a significant decline in musculoskeletal health, and poor sleep, increased fatigue, increased alcohol consumption, decreased physical activities, emotional concerns related to finance, isolation, reduced work-life balance, are evident physical and psychological signs, indicating towards the challenges of remote working with social barring.
So, does that mean remote working is bad and flexible working hours work only in theories or assumptions?
There have been a lot of research related to productivity, better work-life balance, which support flexible working hours and remote working, but what seems to be the problem in the status quo, is the social barring or no mean to escape all the physical and psychological trauma faced by an individual, especially the ones living alone are staying away from their families.
In 2019, the International Workplace Group (or IWG) conducted a survey related to flexible working hours, which included a population of 15,000 businesspeople across 80 nations.
Out of the total population, 85 per cent responded that their productivity surged as a result of greater flexibility in working hours (before COVID-19 outbreak), while 45 per cent of respondents suggested that if they get similar offers, they will choose the one with flexible working hours.
On the business counter, 65 per cent of businesses suggested that offering flexible working hours assisted them in reducing the capital and operational expenditure while managing the risk and consolidating their portfolio.
The most common example of places which offers the greatest working hours is Scandinavian countries, which are among the top-most place with greater work-life balance and happiness index. COVID-19 has brought in a major change on a global level like no other event in the history. Only time will tell if these changes are permeant or man being the creature of habit go back to old means of working.