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The flexible working dilemma: Are remote workers suffering?

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Something that was rarely considered for most employers just a decade ago, remote working is becoming increasingly popular in recent years.With a whole host of potential benefits to working remotely, including environmental sustainability and economic development, we are facing a different issue.

As you are probably aware, remote working is growing in popularity. With remote workers boasting the benefits of work-life balance, greater work performance and ease of scheduling personal plans, the benefits are pretty obvious from the workers perspective.

However, a report from State of Remote Work highlights that nearly 50% of remote workers state that mental wellness is the biggest drawback to the work. Almost a quarter (22%) have trouble ‘switching off’ at the end of the day, one in five (19%) feel lonely, with 8% struggling to stay motivated.

In some respects, these results are not hugely surprising. Many subjective factors can come into play here – lax management, connection speeds and even the space in which the workers have created for themselves. 84% of those surveyed work from a traditional home office, opposing the trend of ‘digital nomads’.

The free movement

The freedom to work from anywhere with an internet connection has triggered the digital nomad movement, whereby professionals opt to work whilst travelling the world. Packing nothing but a laptop and some clothes in most cases, more and more work is becoming available for these types of workers.

Where any remote worker will state how liberating it is to hang up the suit and 9 till 5, it may not be having the best effect on our behavioural health.

Through a number of tests, remote workers are seen to feel symptoms of anxiety and depression, and this is at a higher rate than those commuting to traditional office spaces. Feeling of isolation and loneliness are at the forefront as mentioned prior, but additional problems are beginning to surface also.

Specifically, concerns over job performance and security appear to be a major trigger of anxiety, sleep disturbance, fatigue and irritation. With reduced feelings of self-worth and security, job performance and satisfaction plummets.

Why are we seeing these results?

With professionals and workers, themselves claiming that a greater work-life balance and lower stress levels are major perks of going remote, where are the negative feelings coming from? Hidden behind this flexibility and independence are some underlying issues.

The freedom of greater autonomy Is resulting in a greater amount of self-management, including but not limited to IT troubleshooting, time management and task prioritisation issues. Those that have worked in an office will understand the meaning of this if the boss has left early one day, the ‘easier’ jobs get pushed to the forefront.

The lack of being able to compare to others and gauge the response of your higher-ups results in ambiguous career markers and development. For instance, it is difficult to gauge the tone of a response from your peers or boss via email, or obvious career progression would be seen in an upgraded office space and title.

With the freedom to achieve results in your own time, often workers find themselves worker far greater hours than they are actually paid for to meet targets or exceed them for bonus. The resulting negative effects can be unpaid work, poor engagement in personal relationships, lack of sleep and work burnout. There is a real lack of transient work when remote and this comes back on the remote worker.

Freelancers face issues in trying to find work, as well as actually carrying it out. The constant state of trying to achieve this results in heightened stress.

When working from home, although largely variable on the working circumstances, most remote workers tend to work for extended periods without a break. The serenity of working from where you like often translates to bad ergonomic growth. The distractions from work via co-workers, meetings and planned lunches gives us an opportunity to take a break and clear our mind (and stretch our bodies!) for a short period, which is vital for our mental health.

On the topic of health, chiropractic health is another major factor for health, both physically and mentally. Without the necessary equipment to ensure proper posture and physical requirements met, remote workers are more likely to experience workers chin, back and shoulder pain, getting increasingly worse over time.

Workers can also experience feelings of not just mental isolation, but physical isolation also. The inability to obtain physical resources, in addition to inconsistent internet, can compromise the ability to perform their job well.

Is remote work doomed to fail?

Clearly, there are a number of reasons that working remotely can have a negative effect on primarily your mental health. So, should we be returning to offices for the sake of our mental health? Much like evolution itself, the key is to adapt, not revert. At FJP Investment, we offer our workers the opportunity to remote work, and we always help to encourage a happy, comfortable work environment remotely. There are a number of things you can do to ensure your remote working experience mitigates these potential problems.

Create the best home office for you

It is incredibly easy to do the basic office, or even work from the sofa. As time goes on, you are very likely to experience some of the problems mentioned above. You need to ensure that an office or space that you will be working in will inspire you. Create an environment that you are looking forward to entering, is comfortable and will support your ergonomic needs.

Focus on transparent communication

This doesn’t just apply to work, but also for personal connections. No matter how introverted you are, or how little your boss appears to need updates from you, you need to ensure a process is in place to encourage regular communication. This will prevent you feeling isolated in yourself, ensure that regular communication is implemented, not just via email, but by call, video chat and where possible, face-to-face.

Diversify your interests

Make sure you are creating some you time. Set hours in which you work, and outside those hours you can focus on seeking fulfillment. If you are a nomad, you will have the opportunity to work and see some potentially fantastic, eye opening things. Take advantage of this! If you are working from home, join social groups, volunteer and ensure you are maintaining relationships.

Stay active

When working from home, it can be incredibly easy to fall into a sedentary lifestyle. To improve both your mental and physical health, take breaks often throughout your working day. Use these breaks as an opportunity to stretch your legs – why not join a gym and improve your physical health? When working remotely, you have the opportunity to take advantage of this, and exercise is essential for a healthy mind.

Build a support network

When working in an office, there are ample opportunities to maintain a healthy and happy mental state – the government enforces thousands of occupational policies to aid this. When working remotely, this is a little different.

When you create your own office, the importance remains the same, it just becomes your responsibility to enforce it. Implement phone calls into your day, as connecting with others has scientifically shown to produce endorphins and increase mood. This also decreases anxiety – you have to make sure communication is sustained not just via your boss but also a supportive network of people.

Should I work remotely?

The simple answer is, give it a try and see what works for you. What works for some will not work for others, but for those that are successful at working remotely and have mitigated any potential problems associated with remote work, the benefits of flexibility and work-life balance can be a real blessing.

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