The rise of working from home stress

On average people are more engaged and productive when working from home.

However, personality is a big factor. Introverts can concentrate, are not easily distracted, and don’t need a lot of social contact. If you’re extroverted, you probably like to be surrounded by people making it harder to work from home.

Working from home can certainly cause employees stress if they feel they’re “out of sight out of mind”.

Let’s looks at some practical ways leaders can help reduce the stress of working from home and boost employee morale.

Watch the next video in this series here:

Part 7 – Difficult times: Stress management techniques

And watch the previous video here:

Part 5 – Why are some people more sensitive to stress?

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript

Creating a successful work from home environment

Hi, Andrew from SACS, and welcome to video number six in our eight video series on leadership in tough times.

What we’ve covered so far is a bunch of stuff about leadership, the nature of stress and stressors, some of the neuroscience of stress, how to pick out whether people are stressed, and why some people are more stressed sensitive than others.

In this one, we’re going to be talking about stress and working from home, and then we’re going to finish off with some really practical techniques that leaders can use to lead most effectively during tough times.

Extroversion and introversion

Stress and working from home. If you take a thousand employees and you send them to work from home if they’ve been in an office, what you’ll find is on balance, they’re a little more engaged and a little more productive than they would be in the office.

So on balance, working from home is successful on average, but that varies enormously from person to person. And the biggest determinant of that is a thing called personality.

So if you are emotionally stable, so you don’t rely heavily on other people to feel alright. And if you are an introvert, you are perfectly suited to working from home.

The introvert bit means that you like to concentrate, that you’re easily distracted, that you like to focus on what you’re doing, and you don’t need a lot of social contact.

The emotionally stable bit means another reason as to why you’re not relying on other people to feel okay about yourself. The worst person to send working from home is the emotionally unstable extrovert.

The extrovert bit means I like to be surrounded by people all the time, and the emotionally unstable bit means that they rely on this contact in order to feel alright.

So that’s the context that we have to look at in terms of working from home. At SACS, we have an instrument to measure whether people are likely to be successful in working from home rather than in an office.

Distal vs. Proximal

In the context of all of that, there is some stress for people who are not suited to remote work, and it’s really these kinds of characteristics where people feel they’re out of sight, out of mind.

Elsewhere in this series, I’ve talked about the proximal-distal effect. And proximal being close to me, distal being far away from me. If I only have emails from my boss where I used to have personal contact, well, of course that’s much more distal, much less proximal.

Proximal is in general effective for human beings, distal is not so much. So proximal-distal is an important thing to understand.

Now this is also a clue for how people who are leading people who are working from home need to lead.

So leaders need to plan to be more proximal in their communication efforts. And what that means is that if you think of proximal and distal in terms of communication efforts, an email is really quite a distal communication effort because you don’t get any of the non-verbals.

A phone call is more proximal. If you go to a Zoom or a Teams or some other form of video meeting, that’s far more proximal because you get to see the non-verbals of the person that you’re interacting with.

So the proximal-distal equation is very important to understand in leadership. And I think that good leaders should plan to make their communications proximal when they’re working with people who are working from home.

So you might have been planning to send somebody a text or an email, ring them up. And every so often, convene a meeting. Just say, “Okay, well, let’s get on the computer “and have a Teams meeting.” And so you’d see the non-verbals. And that makes it more of a social interaction rather than simply an intellectual interaction.

The other thing is about the out of sight, out of mind as we’re saying on this slide (refer to video). The risk that you run in working from home is that if I say something to you and you don’t hear from me in terms of my voice for the two or three days or the next week or something, what I’ve just said to you has a very significant impact. And I might have said something that is unintentionally, maybe a little bit harsh or perceived to be so by you.

Now if we’re all working in the same office and we’re bumping into each other all the time, you see while I smile at you when I see you, but otherwise a relatively insignificant thing can become very significant.

So that’s an important thing for leaders in tough times to understand when they’re working with people who are working from home.

That occasional contact becomes quite powerful in terms of their morale and wellbeing.

Give your day structure

One of the things that’s a big issue for working from home is a lack of structure.

And when people work in the office, you have a sequence of meetings and you’ll do this and you’ll have conversations with people. It give your day structure.

A lot of people when they work from home don’t have that structure. And in the sequence that I’ve developed about working from home and leadership of people who are working from home.

One of the things that I emphasise strongly is that when people are working from home, you really have to create a structure and you have to give people an opportunity to understand exactly what their job means and a little bit more about what their job needs to achieve because the research evidence suggests that that understanding does get shaken by a different environment.

Covid-19 distractions

And then you have the idea of distractions when people are working from home, there could be distractions particularly as we’ve had in COVID-19 where we’ve had lockdowns and people working with their kids in the same room and those sorts of things, hopefully that’s easing now as at early 2022.

A UN report found that 41% of remote workers reported high stress levels compared to only 25% of office workers.

And as I said, I reckon that 25% versus 41%, that’s all the unstable extroverts who are pining for their colleagues.

That’s going to be a big slice of those people, as well as of course, less technology or perhaps not so well set up, those kinds of things can drive stress.

Practical WFH tips

Practical tips for leading people remotely.

I suggest it’s a good idea to build a structure to the week. So when people go to work remotely, and one of the things that I’ve also said in other videos is organisations need to develop a methodology for working from home.

They need to develop a kind of an operating model for working from home. And one of the things that’s really useful in a local team, schedule meetings so that everybody knows when they’re going to have to come to meetings, how they will be able to interact.

Have a plan, have a structure that causes people to feel that they’re part of a structure.

That will reduce people’s levels of stress.

Empowerment will boost morale

Now is a good time for empowerment.

There’s no doubt about it that empowerment certainly increases people’s morale, but a feeling of lack of control does increase people’s stress.

So if you cause people to be more involved in making decisions.

And in the next video, I’ll be talking a little bit more specifically about that.

That will increase people’s levels of wellbeing as well.

Inclusive leadership

Plan to contact people.

Let them know when you don’t have the water cooler or coffee room accidental catch-ups so you need to create contact.

And that’s what I meant about planning to be more proximal in your communication.

Be conscious of creating team tasks.

The temptation for leaders is to say, “Mary can you do this. “Bill, can you do this? “Jane, can you do this?” And that’s an effective style of leadership in certain circumstances.

But when people are working from home, it’s even more important to buddy them up. Mary, Jane, Bill, can you get together, have a meeting, have a telephone conversation, have whatever. Plan how you’re going to respond to this ’cause I need your help.

That’s what we call inclusive leadership.

And it’s teamwork style leadership. Not individualistic, you cause people to come up with solutions to work together, and that can keep them socially involved.

And one of the things that everybody’s worried about is, will we lose our corporate culture or our disparate core by having people working remotely? This is the best way of avoiding that problem.

Social activities

Social stuff. You know, I think many organisations do this now.

People are working from home. Okay, on a Friday afternoon at 3:00 o’clock, we’re going to have a quiz or something like that.

Many organisations do that, but it’s certainly helpful in terms of building the social context of people who are working in that way.

The great resignation

And of course, as we’re starting to see now, returning to the workplace is also a stressor. And so people have been talking about the great resignation.

Well, one of the reasons that people have experienced the great resignation in places like the UK and the U.S. and Germany is because some organisations are saying, you have to come back to the office. And many employees have said, “Well, actually it’s worked pretty well “from a productivity point of view “and from a wellbeing point of view to work from home. “So why would I want to come back to the office?” And compelling them to do so in a kind of a dictatorial fashion certainly can cause people to have higher levels of stress.

There’s some ideas about stress and working from home covered briefly.

And the next video is going to talk about stress management techniques for leaders and finally leader behaviours for tough times.

So we’ve talked about where people’s resilience comes from and we’ve talked about how to recruit, and we’ve talked out why people are stressed and some stress management techniques including being able to lead people more effectively if they’re working from home.

So the next two videos are really practical videos about this is what leaders can do to lead more effectively in tough times.

Watch the next video in this series to find out more about leadership in tough times:

Part 7 – Difficult times: Stress management techniques

And watch the previous video here:

Part 5 – Why are some people more sensitive to stress?

And if you’d like some help with developing your leaders to better handle challenging times, contact us about our Wellbeing and Engagement Survey.

SACS Consulting
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