Ten challenges of working and recovering at home

Gabrielle Lis

Whether it's because of a work injury or a pandemic, many of us have periods of working from home. Understanding the challenges of home office life can help remote workers stay connected and thrive.

1. Working from home is more stressful than coming into the office / workplace.

According to Eurofound and the International Labour Office, 41% of people who work remotely feel stress versus 25% of office workers. This may seem counter-intuitive, but read on: there are plenty of ways in which poorly managed remote work can make life more difficult...

2. Social isolation and loneliness can easily set in.

We all have emotional needs, some of which are met by our workmates. Extroverts who work from home for a period may really struggle without water cooler chats and Friday afternoon drinks. Introverts might discover that, without the human interactions built into the average workday, they can go for days without speaking to anyone outside of their family / housemate / cat. And that's unlikely to be good for mental health...

3. Physical activity is likely to decline.

Obviously, decreased physical activity is a must for some injured workers. However, most people benefit from the kind of incidental physical activity that's part of the average working day, be it a walk to your favourite cafe, a short run to catch the bus, or using the stairs instead of the elevator to get to the office. When you're injured and working from home, your world can shrink to fit the dimensions of your house or apartment, and the distances you travel in a day can diminish accordingly.

4. Bad work habits can proliferate, unchecked.

Some people are self-motivated and driven. Others rely on social pressures to motivate them to stay organised and get things done. In a physical workplace, we're more likely to be conscious of our obligations to our colleagues: after all, they're right in front of us. And we're right in front of them, meaning if we're surfing the net instead of finishing a report, or using the floor as a filing cabinet, someone's likely to notice. Which all adds up to the fact that - left to their own devices - some workers will be less productive at home than in the workplace.

5. Switching off can be really, really hard.

When you work from home, setting work / life boundaries is more difficult. One of the ways this can manifest is via an "always on" mindset. Checking work emails when you could be checking what's new on Netflix might not sound like a huge problem but people need down-time, especially when they're recovering from injury or illness. At-home workers are generally set up for easy access to technology and workplace systems. If there isn't a conscious decision to switch off, burn out, insomnia and Trump-style 3am intranet rants could result.

6. Family and friends can get in the way.

From toddlers bashing on keyboards and deleting work, to friends who interpret "working from home" as code for "drinking beer at 3pm", loved ones can definitely get in the way of productivity in the home office / workshop. This could be especially problematic for people who are working from home temporarily, as they're unlikely to have a dedicated work zone. 

As one RTWMatters team member described, there can be mixed feelings about this: a positive (I saw my kids when they got back from school) can also be a negative (my kids interrupted my work when they got back from school).

7. Distractions abound.

People's homes tend to be full of things they enjoy, as well as reminders of their household responsibilities. Instead of getting stuck into their latest work assignment, an injured worker might well be tempted to answer the call of the dirty laundry or the XBox. Some people will be particularly vulnerable to procrastination when working from home. 

8. It's easy to lose rhythm and routine.

Much as we might decry the daily grind, most of us are creatures of habit. We tend to do well with routines; without them, we feel less purposeful and more at sea. Injured workers may be particularly vulnerable to this loss of rhythm, as they've already experienced trauma / loss in the form of their injury. 

9. Out of the office = out of the loop.

Is the person working from home usually monitored closely? Do they supervise others? Is teamwork an essential part of their role?  Some roles are more amenable to remote work than others. If a worker who has high levels of task-interdependency with co-workers is required to work from home, expect organisational complications. Teams might become less cohesive, and important information might fall through the cracks.

As one RTWMatters worker put it: "Misunderstanding can be amplified over email. Nothing beats a face to face conversation to work something out."

10. Opportunity for early intervention may be lost.

If you're not seeing someone face to face, it's harder to guage how they're feeling in terms of job satisfaction, workload, relationships with colleagues and stress. This means that you might miss the signs that an injured worker is struggling and needs additional support or futher modifications to their role.

This article is the first in a series on working from home. Next up, the advantages of working from home, followed by tips to help you and them get the most out of remote work.

Published 24 August, 2018 | Updated 18 March, 2020