Working at home during the pandemic

As the Coronavirus pandemic worsens around the globe, many people will find themselves isolated, working from home and could face some mental health challenges.  In normal times, perhaps 10-20% of employees work from home at least some of the time, but in these changed times many more are teleworking, many for the first time. Homeworking and teleworking can bring both opportunities and stress and a few ground rules can help minimise problems and maximise the positive for all concerned.

For employers ….

  • A big increase in teleworking can bring technical problems, where IT systems are overloaded, which in turn creates problems for the teleworker
  • Supervision can create problems, especially where employers are used to seeing their employees all of the time
  • Scheduling of work may need to be more formalised, meetings with staff may be more difficult to arrange
  • Changes to the business as a result of the pandemic need to be actively communicated

For employees ….

  • Uncertainty about the future can lead to increased stress
  • Managing the relationship between work and non-work time can be difficult for many
  • Where there are others living in the employee’s home, managing relationships with family and others can be difficult
  • The teleworker can suffer from loneliness and isolation, especially where they live alone

Back to the Future or a Brave New World?

The last time there was such a blurring between workplace and home and between working and non-working time was in medieval times.  Is there is a danger that those times might be revisited for many new teleworkers?  Or will the opportunity to create a new working relationship be realised?  Making the best of teleworking arrangements involves the creation of new and flexible structures and ways of working. 

For the teleworker, they should:

  • Schedule and organise their working day to meet the needs of the workplace, their household and their personal needs
  • Take regular breaks and meals
  • Stay in touch with work colleagues and supervisors
  • Offer support to co-workers where needed
  • Clarify and define work tasks with their employers

For the employer, they should:

  • Be clear and regular in their communications
  • Ensure there is adequate technical resource available
  • Schedule regular, short meetings to manage workflow
  • Clarify expectations of employees
  • Be flexible in their approach to what is a new situation for many

Prof. KARL KUHN: President and co-chair of the ENWHP

RICHARD WYNNE: ENWHP Board member and Director of Work Research Centre (Dublin)