Home working and mental health during a world pandemic – by Andrew Rowland

April 30, 2020

Home Working is all about life work balance.  It is part of the juggling act that is modern life, where traditional roles and career choices are all being questioned. We want to be more flexible about when we work in order this fits with the rest of life.

Clearly, giving more time to your family when they need it is important and people do have different sleeping patterns as well as colleagues in different time zones.

Other positives include; less time travelling, doing things off peak without queues, the school run, clubs and activities. This all sounds like something that should surely increase Mental Health, for all?

Well, now we are in the midst of a world pandemic I’m living the dream, everyone is working from home…  However, I find myself not sleeping well, and feeling pretty overwhelmed!  Is all this a result of home working?  Probably not!  Certainly, the danger of contagion and the massive change to our lives are unique.  The situation differs to a ‘normal’ home working situation, once or twice a week while the majority of the team are still office bound.

However, a few things occurred to me…

Motivation / Self-Motivation
Are we all 100% self-motivated?  All the time? What if we are doing a repetitive task?

The team spirit of a work environment helps one to push through the less interesting bits.  The idea of all being aligned to an overall goal can feel slightly stretched when isolated at home…

If we don’t feel motivated, we won’t be feeling positive.  I’d say the office environment, with its common goals and banter are an important component of providing motivation.

Distraction / Concentration
Working alone, in my spare room I’ll be less distracted of course?  Well no actually.  I find that I’m constantly switching from work related to family related tasks.  We (the family) have had to set out and agree a complex timetable.  For a significant portion of each day I find my brain cannot concentrate on one thing.  It tries to think about the design I started this morning, whilst my son is asking me how to work out what ¾ of 36 is!  I suppose some people may be better than I at multi-tasking…

Plus, I’m surrounded by other distractions here, whilst at work my mind is focused on the task in hand, free of all the other things in life that interest me.

Loneliness / Isolation
In the office, when one of my team comes up to interrupt my train of thought I crave isolation in order to focus.  I have always been a bit of a loner anyway!  Not everyone is like me though and I am surrounded by 3 other family members.  What about the extroverts who thrive on social interaction?  Maybe they live alone…  Ordinarily those people just go out to meet people but in these circumstances that isn’t possible.

Our studio creates social cohesion, providing support structures that are a positive contributor to ‘getting the job done’.

Achieving Goals
Those few minute briefings that I would give at my desk have been replaced by long drawn out Skype calls or worse still, lengthy written briefs.  And that assumes the technology is working.  Just as the deadline approaches and the email just won’t send because your family are all using the bandwidth!

Tasks take so much longer and need far more patience and this leaves me exhausted with a feeling of low self-worth as I struggle to achieve what I intend.

As a manager, dealing with people remotely makes my task of delegation, ensuring everyone is working efficiently and that deadlines will be met much more difficult.  This loss of control creates a great deal of anxiety.

When all team members are doing different hours (for perfectly legitimate reasons) the problems multiply?  OCD?  Me?  Of course, I trust my team but it creates a deep sense of anxiety…

Finally, what about those who aren’t as comfortable working at home as they should be?  Going to work is a way to get out of the house, to be someone else; professional, respected, skilled.

In summary…
Home working seems good for limited periods (a day or two a week, or task limited) but perhaps not something that is productive or healthy longer term.  Since writing this early in the lockdown I have adapted myself and the systems I use to organise my work, however I can’t wait to get back to my beloved studio and my friends there!

By Andrew Rowland, Senior Associate at ADAM Architecture, April 2020