The generalization of telework and isolation

2020 was just beginning when the world suddenly stopped, and governments decided to impose drastic measures to prevent a widespread healthcare crisis.

In our country, telework was already in use, but for a limited time (for example, a few days a week) and voluntarily, by agreement between the employee and the employer.

All over the planet, to avoid sanitary chaos, governments have tried to guarantee physical distance, closing schools and borders, cancelling flights, forbidding any events that would imply gatherings, and closing several companies whose activity was considered “non-essential.”

 The challenge facing policymakers was how to close without causing irreparable damage to the economy, since closing would entail huge revenue losses. In this scope, full-time telework schemes were imposed, which many companies began to consider maintaining beyond this health crisis, when they realized it offered advantages for the employer.

Unlike many translators, who are or have been freelancers, an overwhelming majority of workers had no previous teleworking experience.

At an early stage, the idea of working without having to leave home seemed appealing to many people… but it quickly turned into a nightmare for so many!

For many, working from home seemed like an excellent opportunity to spend more time with the family or greater flexibility to deal with personal matters. In reality, many teleworkers, during periods of confinement, also had their children out of school and couldn’t juggle working with the children present. Parents know all too well that working with the kids at home can be an insurmountable obstacle.

Loneliness

On the other hand, for many workers, working alone meant having no guidance or support from colleagues and superiors while doing the work, not knowing how to solve specific problems, not having a personal method of organizing work now that they were no longer constrained by the procedures implemented in their workplaces, etc.

For those who live alone, working at home brings even more isolation and loneliness. Decreased social interactions and isolation damage the mental health of those who cannot socialize directly with colleagues in physical offices and are limited in their ability to travel outside the home.

Indeed, when working at home—even without the impositions of confinement and with freedom to go out and socialize—social interaction with others requires greater effort and demands good planning and organizational skills.

For so many others, teleworking meant that they had to deal with technological tools with which they were not at all familiar. Obviously, all of this resulted in delays that caused people to end up spending many more hours in front of a screen than they would during their usual working hours away from home.

Basically, telework is defined as the use of information and communication technologies, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops to perform work outside the employer’s premises.

This is where all the applications and tools created specifically for communication come in: Skype, Zoom, Google Hangout, WhatsApp, etc. allow us to send messages and make video calls with family, friends, and with our co-workers.

Therefore, we can make the most of these communication tools that we all have at our disposal today to face isolation: both with respect to our loved ones, because we spend many hours in front of a screen without being able to give them the attention they deserve; and with our work colleagues, with whom we so often need to communicate to clarify doubts, get support, etc.

If before we undervalued the importance of a few brief moments of socialization for our emotional health, we soon began to understand the dimension of human interaction, even the most trivial, when we work from home.

In this sense, communication between colleagues should not be limited to specific professional tasks, but should also include the social aspects of work, creating opportunities to bond beyond work obligations.

Many companies have already implemented corporate events for socializing purposes among their members, but since the rules of physical distance didn’t allow face to face socialization, the answer was to improve the quality of communication via the Internet.

Communication can make a difference for those who suffer from isolation or anxiety due to lockdowns and telework, but it’s equally important to find balance by limiting social interactions with colleagues to normal working hours to avoid further blurring the boundary between work time and personal time.

In fact, one of the most negative aspects of telework can be the difficulty in “disconnecting” from work in order to rest and spend time with family and friends, which increases negative feelings and ideation, fatigue and irritability, with a consequent reduction in performance, which can in turn lead to even longer periods of work—a vicious circle that is very dangerous for both physical and psychological health.

As our home becomes our workplace, the challenges of drawing boundaries between work and personal time create a major conflict between professional and personal life.

This is even more complex for those of us with small children, and even more so when it comes to school-age children, who were also studying from home.

Additionally, by not having to leave home every day to go to work, and because the ergonomic characteristics of the furniture we have at home are not the most appropriate, workers in this situation are adopting sedentary behaviors and incorrect postures.

Spending hours in the same position, without moving—for many, sitting in front of a laptop computer at a kitchen table—exponentially increases the risk of musculoskeletal disorders, decreased visual acuity, heart disease, and even obesity.

When working from home, people should be encouraged to collaborate with colleagues using the communication tools at their disposal to share information, give feedback, share efforts, etc.

A positive point of telecommuting imposed by this social and sanitary crisis has been the increased communication between management and employees in order to manage all these issues by maintaining an efficient flow of communication, collaboration, and feedback.

It’s essential that employees communicate to colleagues/supervisors if they feel overwhelmed, allowing them to reorganize the distribution of tasks as to avoid the risk of burnout.

Now more than ever, communication should be clear and concise to avoid problems of interpretation, which would potentially lead to unnecessary additional effort for the employee and the team.

It’s also helpful to determine how people organize their work at home and at what time of day they feel most energized and focused—as these are the times when they will be most productive, and when teleworking it can be extremely helpful to devise a work schedule that covers these peak times.

Last but not least, we must not forget that offline time is crucial if you want to work well online! ????

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