Remote working has existed for a while now, but the COVID-19 pandemic meant a vast majority of people suddenly found themselves working from home (WFH). And it seems like an ideal setup – seated in your living room or home office, a cup of coffee to the side, no need to commute or drive to the office.
But remote working isn’t without its downsides, and that includes its effects on your mental health.
It may sound contradictory, but working from home has made more connections possible while also making us feel more isolated. You might get the opportunity to work with people from different states or even countries, but you won’t get to meet them in person and socialise outside of chats.
There are other pros and cons to remote working, which all lead to the question – what is the impact of work-from-home on our mental health?
Benefits of working from home
These comparisons are primarily against a traditional office setup, where you need to be visibly present in your company’s physical offices. Additionally, we’ll focus on the benefits of working from home on your mental well-being.
#1 – New opportunities
Remote working has opened up a wealth of job opportunities for people across the globe. Previously, you might have been geographically limited to working in companies near your place of residence. Now, however, you can work for companies based in a different city or even a different country – options that wouldn’t be available for in-person work.
These new opportunities can benefit you by allowing you more variety in your job options. You can pursue certain passions and encounter new cultures and meet people you wouldn’t interact with otherwise.
#2 – Lower personal costs
Remote work eliminates many of the costs associated with in-office work. There’s no need to pay for fuel or public transportation, and you’ll need a smaller professional wardrobe (if at all). While these expenses may seem small individually, they can add up to significant savings that will leave you financially better off.
Saving more money allows you to feel more fiscally secure and reassures you that you have more tucked away for a rainy day. You can also use the savings on indulgences you might have not afforded otherwise.
#3 – Better productivity
Since you’re not spending hours on a commute or unnecessary meetings, you can make better use of your time. You’ll also be able to work at your own pace and in a comfortable environment. 51% of telecommuters admit they feel more productive working from home. 
Adverse Effects of Working From Home
On the flip side, working from home can have negative effects on our mental health. This is besides the feeling of isolation from your officemates – there’s no more socialising in the break room, after all. 
#1 – Inconsistent work environment
You may not have the most optimal setup for working at home. Maybe you don’t have your own office, or your home situation is not ideal for calls and meetings. Coffee shops are noisy and chaotic and not conducive to productivity. You can use a co-working space, but that costs money.
This inconsistency can lead to distractions and a dip in productivity. It can also cause anxiety and distress since you may not be able to focus. 
#2 – Fewer social connections
Working remotely means fewer in-person engagements with your colleagues, which can feel isolating.  There’s no more random chats in a corridor or getting food together in the break room. They may be small interactions, but they can be incredibly meaningful to our mental well-being.
#3 – Work-life permeation
Being physically present in an office provides some distance and creates an intangible boundary between your work life and your personal life. Working from home blurs that boundary, since there’s no distinction between your work and personal spaces. You may even find yourself doing more work than you would do in a traditional office setup. 
If you don’t set strict boundaries for yourself and create that spatial distinction, you may find yourself stressed out and heading for mental burnout.
That increasingly blurry line between work and personal life has led to some detrimental effects on an employee’s mental health – including burnout. A survey of nearly 15,000 employees across 15 countries showed widespread, persistent feelings of depression and anxiety.  All these symptoms are associated with mental burnout.
Employees who feel burned out are often irritable and resentful of their employers or colleagues. They also feel ineffective and demotivated, as if they can’t get their work done. Burnout leads to a sense of depleted mental energy, plus physical manifestations like headaches and insomnia. 
Stepping away from work for a mental health day or vacation might improve symptoms, but it’s not a long-term solution. You’ll need to make some lifestyle changes and take on coping mechanisms to mitigate the effects.
Keeping mental health in check during WFH
One of the most straightforward ways you can deal with burnout and distress is to take a break. Give yourself a mental health day or take a short vacation, which will offer you some reprieve and a chance to recharge.
On a smaller scale, you can set boundaries and policies that help you maintain that work-life balance. Turn off notifications after work hours and don’t agree to do overtime unless it’s paid. Block off 5–10 minutes after meetings to decompress and regroup. Give yourself breaks to stand up and move around so you’re not sitting down all day.
It’s also essential to learn the 3 Ds – do, delegate and defer. If a task is urgent, do it now. If it doesn’t require you specifically, see if you can delegate it to someone capable of handling it. And if it’s not urgent, you can defer it for later.
And of course, if you’re struggling with burnout, you can opt to see a registered psychiatrist or mental health professional.
When doing your job at home, don’t just focus on taking care of work – take care of yourself as well. You won’t perform at your peak if you’re feeling stressed and burned out. A remote work setup may not be perfect, but so long as you set boundaries and check on yourself, it can be very worthwhile.