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Psychologist warns of dangers of continuous home working

With lockdown extensions across the globe, workers are forced to continue working from home. But how does this affect us?
working at home with child on lap
Creator: Tom Werner | Credit: Getty Images Copyright: Copyright by Tom Werner

As Germany extends its national lockdown for a further three weeks, a psychologist has warned that the pressures of home working may be having damaging effects on public mental health.

The workforce that lives in the office

Alexander Werkmann, Director of Banking at IBM Germany, has been working from home for the last twelve months. He has not seen the inside of his office in almost a year and is feeling the effects of having to work in the same rooms in which he lives with his family.

“Especially with the children at home and not at school working feels like an inconvenience. We lose our concentration after hours of staring at our screens, especially if there’s so much else happening in our homes,” Werkmann says.

Working from home – what is it doing to us?

COVID-19 is still omnipresent, even a year after the first lockdown in the UK. Across the globe, countries are dipping in and out of lockdowns, hoping to find the solution to this pandemic. This means that work, education, and socialising will continue to take place mainly over web meetings. This has taken a toll on the mental health of many individuals.

Dr. Naomi Murray, a Consultant Clinical &  Forensic Psychologist, says that this constant pressure to work and study from home is having a more serious effect on us than we may think.

“[Web meetings] reduce our ability to drop into multiple selves and identities during the course of the day – we are different at home to how we might be with our boss for example. It has been established that web meetings can be more stressful and tiring.”

Another thing Dr. Murray has stated is that web meetings have taken over because they are the closest thing to normal face-to-face communication. While we could just pick up the phone to discuss some work tasks, we are drawn to virtual meetings so that we can see people.

In terms of team moral, Dr. Murray says that, “those side conversations and water-cooler moments [we have at work] are important to keep teams together, they often remind us why we like each other whereas task-only interactions can bring us up against what we find frustrating about each other.”

Education behind a screen

Besides work, school has taken place mainly online over web meetings as well. A teacher, who preferred to remain anonymous, has seen the effects of the voluminous online learning in her students.

“Typically, the quality of work received from our disadvantaged kids is worse than what it would be in school. They don’t have a desk or a proper working space so their bedroom becomes the school.”

Teachers and many students have been plagued with migraines and severe headaches from the constant staring at the screens. Students have been allowed back to school in some areas, but the lasting effects of online learning seem to be very apparent.

“The children have been so quiet and it’s like they have forgotten how to socialise. I couldn’t get a word out of the older pupils, they just were so tired,” the teacher shares.

There is no doubt that working, learning, and living in the same rooms is a difficult side effect of this pandemic. Dr. Murray has a few tips on what can make the time working from home more bearable.

Tips for working and learning from home:

  1. Have a designated work space if possible rather than letting it bleed into the rest of your living space (if this isn’t possible, tidy work stuff away at the end of the working day)
  2. Ensure your work space is comfortable and supports your back, legs, and feet
  3. Try and maintain a routine with space built in for exercise
  4. Have periods of work time that doesn’t involve screens
  5. Use the telephone for some calls (especially one to one) – this also allows for walking around which is more likely to promote creative thinking
  6. Limit the number of meetings you hold per day
  7. A blank wall behind you might help others on virtual calls by cutting down on visual stimuli

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