The ability to work from home is a privilege for many, but it also comes with unique stressors. While working remotely decreases your exposure to the coronavirus, it can also lead to feelings of loneliness and a difficult juggle for working parents. CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks about work-from-home burnout and strategies for coping with it.
You can listen on your favorite podcast app or read the transcript below.
Emerald Currie, event manager: I think the thing I miss the most being at home is the ease of collaboration that happens. Like, we all learn things from each other in the sales part of event management. And it should be exactly the same at home. Like, you still have a phone and you can still call them. But for some reason, it’s like — it feels like so much more work.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: I think Emerald Currie, who’s an event manager, speaks for so many of us who’ve been working from home for months now. I’ve been recording this podcast from a closet in my basement, and I’ve got to admit I miss my team. I miss the chance encounters in a hallway, where some of our greatest plans have been hatched.
But I also acknowledge that remote working has been a privilege, and also comes with some benefits.
Imad Jbara, relationship coach: The best thing about working from home is basically all the freedom that it has provided me to kind of live my life on my own terms.
Gupta: Imad Jbara is a relationship coach.
Jbara: I don’t see myself going back to an office ever again.
Gupta: Even if, like him, you feel you’ve adapted to your new work reality, you might still be missing face-to-face interactions with coworkers. And burnout is a real risk, especially if you have kids at home.
So today I’m going to be talking about what might be contributing to feelings of stress for those working remotely, and also provide some strategies for coping with it.
I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent. And this is “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction.”
Kathryn Vasel, senior writer, CNN Business: So our bodies are equipped to handle stress in short bursts. So then burnout can happen when we experience stress over a long period of time. But actually, it can happen when you’re working from home, too.
Gupta: That’s Kathryn Vasel, senior writer for CNN Business. She writes CNN’s “Work Transformed” newsletter and has been covering the impact of this pandemic on how we work.
What started out as tips for setting up a home office quickly shifted into a remote-work survival kit for employees who may never return to their cubicles.
Vasel: In reality, how we work is going to be forever changed from this, right? Some, some companies have said if you want to work from home permanently, you can.
Gupta: Like tech companies Twitter and Facebook. They’ve both announced that they will allow some employees to continue working from home if they want to.
No doubt, working from home has lasted longer than many of us ever anticipated, and the line between work and home has gone from blurry to practically invisible. But Vasel says establishing boundaries is still the key to maintaining your sanity and your productivity.
Vasel: Some of the biggest contributors to burnout is a lack of control. So that means like you just — you don’t know when a project is going to come through or you might not know how you should prioritize all the tasks that you’re given.
So if you kind of set very clear boundaries on “this is when I plan to be working” and you share that with your boss and your colleagues then everybody can kind of get on the same page. So everybody knows the expectations. The boundaries have been set.
Gupta: If you’re balancing work with other tasks, Vasel has a good suggestion: Combine easy ones with hard ones. For example, you might have trouble working and caring for an elderly relative, but maybe a conference call while folding laundry is doable.
She also encourages workers to identify a “power hour,” or a chunk of time during which you will feel most productive.
Vasel: Recently, my most productive hours are from like 9:00 p.m. to about 1:00 a.m., a little bit later. Where I can just kind of sit and write. So that’s where you need to figure out what would work best for you.
Gupta: Working from home has consequences not just for efficiency but for getting those creative juices flowing. We can’t just pop into a colleague’s office anymore to ask a question, or take a joint coffee break to discuss a new idea.
The loss of those social interactions can make remote working feel both harder and lonelier, so make sure to find a way to reach out to colleagues on video chat for consistent face-to-face time. But that doesn’t mean you need to be available any time someone from the office calls.
Vasel’s reporting and research has found that it’s more important than ever to definitively sign off at the end of the day and then go make time for yourself.
Vasel: And I know that sounds so ridiculous right now for people who are like, “Yeah, right. I have no time for myself.” I get that, personally. But it really is important to kind of take a step back and really focus on yourself for a little bit so then you can be just better for everyone around you as well.
Gupta: Which brings us to one of the most difficult aspects of working from home: child care.
David Anderson is a clinical psychologist and senior director at the Child Mind Institute.
David Anderson, senior director of national programs and outreach, Child Mind Institute: So what we’ve seen, especially at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, is the sense that parents’ work hours haven’t seemed to decrease even though we do hear that a lot of workplaces, at least at the outset of the coronavirus crisis, became more empathic to that balance for parents.
Gupta: He’s been working with children and parents who are trying to navigate this new normal.
Anderson: Over the course of the coronavirus crisis, the difficulty is that same empathy that we began with in March seems to have faded. In that at first, when folks thought they were social distancing for two weeks, the thought was everyone can be mindful of the, you know, reduced hours that parents might have. But many businesses now are just trying to survive.
Gupta: Which in turn adds to the pressure on parents, who’ve been acting as teachers and playmates on top of their normal jobs. And now, many kids are getting out of “virtual” school only to find out that their summer activities have also been canceled.
With nothing to structure their kids’ days, Anderson is hearing from tons of parents who feel they are now at a breaking point.
Anderson: For anyone going through a stressful experience where there is no end in sight, our immediate intervention with that person is to chunk time, as in try to think about just the few days in front of your face. That’s it. Like we’re not thinking about July right now. We’re thinking about how to get through the weekend.
Gupta: Kathryn Vasel, the CNN Business Writer, has a toddler and a 7-month-old. She has advice specific to having younger kids who might be interrupting your work to try to get you to play with them.
Vasel: Try going like all-in with them for an hour or so and really take them out and run around with them if you can, if it’s safe, or sit down and really play for them and kind of get them so they that they might be satisfied for a little bit longer.
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So then you can then go work for a longer chunk of time. So you don’t feel like you’re working in like fits and spurts, which can be hard and feel like you’re kind of stuck on that hamster wheel.
Gupta: And, again, make sure to communicate your needs with your colleagues. Let your boss know if you need help. If you have a partner, try alternating shifts with them. Maybe they can work in the morning while you’re on kid duty, and you can switch in the afternoon. Have the grandparents video chat with the kids for a while.
Coming up with creative solutions is tiring, so don’t forget to check in with yourself as much as you check your to-do list.
I can tell you, the opportunity to work from home has been a blessing and a burden. You probably feel the same way. You get to see your kids more, your spouse and the people you live with, but work-life balance might also be harder to find.
So don’t beat yourself up. We’re all learning as we go. I promise you that. Set boundaries, take time off if you can and communicate with your employer if you need to make changes to your schedule. Good communication is key, even if it seems hard at the time. This might be the new normal, but it could also be a better normal.
We’ll be back tomorrow. Thanks for listening.
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