I often state that psychologists sometimes “discover the obvious.” Since I am a member of that prestigious group, let me make the self-evident conclusion clear: Working from home is here to stay. Working with (and leading) remote employees is a fact of life we need to accept and learn to manage.
Two Key Perspectives
To effectively deal with and successfully adjust to working from home, we need to acknowledge that there are (at least) two quite different perspectives on the issue: the employees’ experience and the organizational leaders’ viewpoints. Many articles and podcasts focus on one or the other, but not both – which can lead to an “us vs. them” tension since each group has unique needs and goals.
The Employees’ Experience
As I have shared in the virtual presentations I am giving, a key aspect for understanding the employees’ experience of working from home is that it is not the only challenge we are having to cope with in our lives. Other significant issues are present as well, including:
- concerns about our (and our family’s) health,
- the unpredictability of daily life (i.e., school and college schedules),
- managing childcare and school issues,
- financial difficulties,
- the inability to plan future events (birthday celebrations, vacations, weddings),
- disruption of our social lives (seeing friends, extended family, community events) and
- societal and political upheaval.
Add to these the issues of significantly less interaction with your supervisor and colleagues, having to figure out technology tools to use from home, Zoom fatigue, the inability to easily “check in” with a team member, and the new communication patterns needed since people aren’t in the office together.
The result? Emotional exhaustion.
The Organizational Leader’s Viewpoint
Meanwhile, the organization (whether a business, government agency, nonprofit, school or medical facility) still has to figure out how to serve its clientele – and do so in a financially responsible way. Organizational leaders still have to determine their goals and objectives, how they are going to reach them, understand the new dynamics in the marketplace, how to coordinate efforts among distant employees, how to monitor progress and quality control, and perform the “normal” daily tasks of running an organization.
The result? Stressed staff and leaders.
So for fun, let’s combine the two. What do you get when you combine team members who are emotionally exhausted and leaders who are stressed? Impatience, poor communication, less than stellar performance and (drum roll, please) conflict — often over “little things”. Sound familiar? If not yet, it will.
What to Do
It is relatively easy to identify a problem. And it isn’t that much harder to trace the problem back to the underlying sources. The trick is to determine how to resolve the issues, especially when there are multiple causes. As a psychologist, much of my professional life has been focused on understanding and resolving complex problems. I have learned a few principles along the way.
- Virtually every complex problem is a combination of numerous issues (and multiple layers laid down over time). So it is a waste of time to look for one singular cause and one singular solution. Quit looking for the “magic bullet” that will resolve all of the challenges. Doing so is a waste of time!
- Begin with the obvious steps first. While starting with the simple, easy-to-take steps won’t solve the whole problem, two results will follow. First, you start to build some positive momentum. Second, taking the first initial steps often clears away some of the “fog” and makes clearer what the next more important actions are.
- Start with yourself. What can you do to make your current daily life better? Review your work schedule over the past weeks. It may have grown to take up more and more of your life. See where you want to redefine some boundaries, such as not looking at your email until 8:30 a.m., to quit looking at email after 8 p.m. or setting times where you won’t take calls. What else can you do to reduce the stress in your life?
- Put activities you enjoy into your life. Many of us are emotionally worn down – both from the overall chaos in our environment and all of the changes we have had to adapt to. We need recharging. Do something fun – maybe something you used to do “in the old days” (Do some baking, take a bike ride, go see a drive-in movie).
- Consider those with whom you work. You are not the only one worn out. Think about a small something you could do for your supervisor or one of your colleagues to encourage them. For example, leave them an encouraging voicemail, send them a funny video or meme or email them a $5 gift card to go get some ice cream.
None of these actions will resolve all of the challenges we are facing, but they will help us endure them more successfully – and give us the energy to do some creative thinking and problem-solving on the deeper issues. Don’t wait for the problems to go away. Enjoy (at least part of) your life now!