The Five Stages of Psychologically Adapting to Remote Working

Last year was a challenging time, to say the least. It took us all time to adjust to our’ new normal’. For many of us, the greatest challenge was working from home. We had our daily routines all planned out; we knew what to expect when waking up everyone morning and getting to work. All of that was turned upside down in the blink of an eye. As we set into our new way of working, many of us flourished, while others struggled.

The Pros & Cons of Working from Home

Working from home can have several advantages. Many have said that working from home actually boosts their productivity and allows them to perform better than working from an office. Others claim to experience greater job satisfaction while working from home. Working from home also allows us to create a better work-life balance – the absence of which can be stressful for anybody.

That said, working from home is not without its disadvantages. Without being around their fellow coworkers, people can begin to feel isolated. This has a direct negative impact on our motivation and productivity, especially in fields where people need to collaborate as a team. Remote working can also lead to overworking, as people struggle to create an established routine. Our homes are often full of distractions. Where offices provide a dedicated workspace, homes may have family, pets and other things that require our attention – this too can negatively impact our ability to work.

With these pros and cons in mind, it’s important to keep in mind that moving from remote working to working from home is requires a significant adjustment process. This process can be difficult for many of us, but understanding it can make it easier.

Let’s break things down into five distinct steps:


1.      Denial

At first, the prospect of working from home was exciting. We convinced ourselves it would be easy, even more so than working from an office. In fact, we imagined a productive day of working from home while in our pajamas. Most of us quickly realized it was never going to be that easy. In order to be as productive from home as we were at the office, we had to develop new habits, a new routine, and new disciplines.

2.      Frustration

When we realized it would be harder to adjust than we previously thought, denial quickly turned to frustration. This is natural, of course. We were frustrated over not just the change in our daily routine but what it represented – the pandemic as a whole. We realized that zoom meetings and telephone calls just weren’t cutting it, which frustrated us. Communication is a core part of the workplace experience. Many of us have struggled to maintain productivity and motivation without being able to communicate face to face.

3.      Sadness

Working in an office space with the same people every day can be an essential part of one’s daily social experience. We make friends and form bonds with people. Deep down, we all crave this connection. Having to work from home took away one of our most significant sources of social interaction, and, understandably, this led to sadness.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that reports of depression rose during the lockdown. This had an influence on working from home as well. Feelings of isolation and depression lead to reduced motivation for many us, and many are still learning how to stay motivated while they continue working from home.

4.      Experimentation

As the year dragged on, those of us working from home began to realize that we were in this for the long haul. We decided to make the most of a bad situation; human beings are, of course, nothing, if not resilient, after all. We started experimenting with our routine and our work process. We discovered what works for us, and found new ways to keep ourselves motivated while working from home. If you’re not here yet, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. It’s important to work at your own pace. If you build a routine, everything will fall into place gradually, day by day.

5.      Success

This is the end goal of the process, reaching a point where you aren’t just working from home but working better from home. What this means can be different for different people, depending on the nature of your job. Maybe you’re completing more projects than usual or satisfying more customer complaints than usual. Whatever it is that you do, it’s necessary to measure your own success in a way that keeps you consistently motivated while working from home.

Advice from Experts

Ravi Gajendran, PhD., is a professor of management at Florida International University. She has spoken extensively about the psychological effects of working from home and how leaders need to adjust going forward. According to Gajendran, “Leaders need to recognize that employees are going through a lot,” Gajendran says. “It’s not just work as usual but done remotely — it’s work done remotely while dealing with what may feel like an existential crisis.”

Timothy Golden, Ph.D., from the Lally School of Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, has also spoken about the rising need for markets to adjust to working from home, especially in the face of the pandemic. He has said, “This is a watershed moment for telework. Its popularity has been growing for years — and the urgent need brought about by this pandemic offers us the opportunity to learn from earlier lessons to continue to work productively throughout the crisis. It’s not a time to panic, but rather a time to harness the lessons we have been learning and to put them to good use.”

Yasuhiro Kotera is the academic lead in counseling, psychotherapy, and psychology at the University of Derby. He has made a career involving ‘occupational mental health, positive psychology for mental health, organizational applications of coaching and neuro-linguistic programming, and cross-cultural comparison.’ He has warned of the dangers of working from home, such as stress, depression, and anxiety. Still, he also talks about what businesses and leaders can do to make this time easier for employers. According to Kotera, “Some innovative companies are taking this as an opportunity to create workplace trust – and trust from employees to the company is crucially important to maintain long-lasting high work performance.”


In Conclusion

We are now almost halfway through 2021, and as more vaccines enter the market, hopefully, the global situation regarding the pandemic should start to get better. As it does, it’ll be fascinating to see how the employees everywhere react. Will we simply go back to how things used to be? Or have enough of us adjusted to remote working that this is our new normal? As we move forward, businesses should pay careful consideration to the needs of their employees and take the necessary measures to ensure they can keep them motivated and productive both at the office, and at home.


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