Pre pandemic, if someone had suggested a 100% stay at home role I would have firmly declined. I used to work four days a week traveling across the country meeting customers within a highly sociable role. I loved being out and about. And as a singleton living alone, socializing and making contact with new people was a great thing.
However, when Covid struck the world, like many peoples, my role became home based. Although at first it was difficult to adjust, I soon got into the swing of it. Working from home didn’t feel so bad after all. No commute was a bonus. I could work in my PJ bottoms and no one knew. Morning traffic wasn’t the bane of my life anymore. I didn’t feel as tired. And I had more time to spend with friends and family. Despite my initial concerns, the whole working from home thing felt pretty great to be honest.
Yet three years down the line, I’m not so sure about this full time remote-working thing anymore. Especially as someone living alone. Here’s a few of my own challenges with living alone in tandem with working from home.
Trying to keep home and work separate whilst working remotely
I don’t imagine this challenge is one only experienced by those of us who live alone. Working from an office, or any other location, creates a sense of separation between work and personal life. But when your office is merely across your living room, it’s hard to halt work or gain that mental distance when the laptop sits metre’s away. Also making it far too easy to dip into that workload pre-working hours, and post. Or lose a lunch break by thinking, ‘I’ll just do that one email’ and then before you know it, the time to recharge is gone.
I think I can safely say that no-one loves a commute to or from work. But what I’ve realized is that those commutes actually offered time to wind up or down to or from the working day. When you get home, you then enter ‘personal life’ mode. Without the commute, there doesn’t quite feel that disjoint from personal life and work. And so there’s never quite the full sense of being completely away from the 9-5.
It’s a strange situation to have your home, your safe place, be invaded by your job
The thing you’d like to leave behind at the end of the day, yet can no longer do so completely. I saw the end of commutes as such a wonderful thing to enjoy at first, but now, I kind of miss them to be honest.
I also felt my mental health was at first positively boosted by a more flexible remote working schedule and zero traffic stressed mornings. As these benefits, afforded me more personal time. And yet only a few years later, I actually feel I have less time overall in a home based role. Quite simply, as I’m unable to draw a complete line between work and home mode. And so I am working longer hours than when I had travel to factor into the equation.
Steve Hogarty has written an interesting article on how to separate home and work whilst working remotely. Unfortunately, as much as I try to set boundaries on my working hours, created a hidden away space in my living room for the home office, try my best to utilize a lunch break by walking the dogs – which doesn’t happen often enough – and try to limit peering at the emails pre or post work, I still can’t seem to find that long-term balance.
Working from home, isn’t providing the overall benefits to my mental health it once was
I really only have myself to blame. After all, no one is forcing me to log on outside of my contracted hours, or giving me a hard time for taking every minute of a lunch break. Yet I still can’t seem to break the tie from work, in the same way I could when I left the office and all the work stuff behind in a different location to the other side of my living room.
Without a team or colleagues to natter with outside of Teams or Zoom, the world can feel quite small. Virtual calls only offer so much in terms of feeling connected with your colleagues. And mostly those virtual calls are distracted by incoming emails and Teams messages, so you don’t get that same attentiveness to the conversation as you do when stood in front of them. There also isn’t so much of an unwind from screen time, as a scroll on the phone has replaced the mid-morning coffee chats I’d have had in an office environment.
How does this impact someone living on their own?
Well, to be honest, I hadn’t realized how much I relied upon my work life to provide me with social interaction throughout the day. Unless I have plans with friends or family of an evening, I could spend an entire working week only speaking to people virtually. It’s only a few years down the line, that I recognize how different in person contact is to virtual chats. Incomparable, in fact.
Now, when I do spend a rare day at the Head Office, despite the long commute I feel invigorated by the coffee break conversations, general catching up with colleagues and the buzz of a packed office. The in person contact also helps that feeling of being part of a team or company and I come away feeling super happy.
It reminds me that working from home for a long period of time can leave you feeling pretty disconnected from colleagues and the business. That these seemingly small moments of checking in with a colleague whilst making a brew, have a deep impact on wellbeing. And that a hybrid approach likely creates a more happy medium for myself and my mental health as someone who lives alone and doesn’t naturally have as much social interaction outside of the working hours during the working week.
Daunting social anxiety
To be honest, even pre-covid I used to experience some social anxiety. Meeting new people didn’t ever feel entirely comfortable, yet my default humour to mask my uncomfortableness, inability to be anything but totally honest – and occasionally, way overshare – and my love of learning more about people, has served me well in creating good relationships and offsetting the social anxiety.
But ask me if long term remote working has impacted my in-person social skills?. Absolutely. Nowadays I have to gear myself up just for in person meetings. My social anxiety is most definitely heightened from lack of in-person social interaction on the daily. I realized this, when I saw myself avoiding in person contact. When I was asked to attend in person meetings or networking opportunities, and I declined where possible. And when recently I spoke in-front of about ten people, and my nerves were crazy! Yet pre-pandemic, it wasn’t unusual for me to stand up in front of hundreds and deliver a still slightly nerve wracking, yet confident presentation.
The trouble is it’s a never ending cycle. I know in person socializing is good for me, but I also struggle to do it from lack of practise!. I’ve literally had to force myself to say Yes to things and get back into it because I know in the long term its good for me. And once I carve out time to replace virtual with in-person, I feel bloody great afterwards, which keeps me doing it. Living alone, definitely means I need this time with people IRL. I have to make that effort. Because otherwise I’m likely to morph into a total hermit and become allergic to any kind of social interaction!.
An extrovert working in an introverted world
I’m 100% an extrovert. I’m also 100% one of those extroverts who thinks she’s secretly introverted – as she occasionally likes a day or two to herself. Whilst I need more reflective alone time as I’ve gotten older, in reality, I am energized by people and I’d be rather lost if I ended up on a dessert island by myself one day.
Sophie Blaine said it best in her article ‘An Extroverts Guide To Working From Home’. “Working from home is an introverted fantasy, but for those extroverted, this could feel like a complete and utter nightmare. Extroverts gain energy from socializing and surrounding themselves with people who bring up their serotonin levels, so working from home probably sent many extroverts into total disarray. Silence and solitude: two words an extrovert never wants to hear in the same sentence.”
Spending time with people recharges my soul
I love talking to people and learning more about them. I love talking through ideas. Creating positive energy, is totally my thing. I enjoy communicating my ideas and engaging with people. And yet working from home is not really a suitable environment for an extrovert I’ve come to realize. Especially for an extrovert who lives alone. Being someone who loves to engage with other people, now totally reliant on those engagements being mostly via a screen and so less connected in a way. It’s a challenge for sure.
Working from home is definitely more suited to those who like to reflect and consider their thoughts inwardly, and aren’t saddened by the thought of long working weeks of solitude and silence. For me, remote working just doesn’t cut it to maintain a work life community in ways I realize I need to improve my productivity, quality of work, my sense of connectedness to colleagues and the company, and to stave off feeling a bit sad and isolated.
The negativity spectrum
Pre-pandemic, I was pretty positive overall. But slowly, my sway towards the negative side of the spectrum has increased. I’ve considered this a lot, and come to the conclusion that all of the above has had a big impact on how I react, interact, and the vibe I put out there.
Less social interaction, struggles to separate work life from personal, increased social anxiety, putting in longer hours at the desk, lack of peer support or contact, lack of feeling connected within my company or to colleagues, it all has a big impact. Combine this with living alone, and these are real challenges to wellbeing, resulting in a less than feel good vibe, low mood, and not reacting as positively as I once did.
In a BBC article written by Katie Bishop in 2022, she references the association people have of working from home with an overall positive thing for wellbeing and mental health, as far more complicated than it at first appears. Working remotely sounds amazing on the face of it, but it has its challenges and detrimental effects.
New data suggests that “80% of workers feel that working from home has negatively impacted their mental health,” pointing towards “An increasingly complicated picture emerging when it comes to the wellbeing of home-workers.”
Has working from home adversely affected my mental health, negatively impacted my social skills, and heightened my social anxiety?. For sure. Has this been made worse by the fact I live alone? I believe so. Of course this isn’t a topic only relevant to remote workers living alone, yet I’m highlighting this portion of people, as they do seem a bit forgotten. Remote working might sound idyllic, but in truth, it’s not a way of working life for all. For those of us who live alone, the remoteness of predominantly at home roles, represents many further challenges to maintaining good mental health and wellbeing.
Of course different people will view working from home, well, differently. But that’s kind of my point
It’s not straightforward or a model that 100% has the same impact on each person. Personal circumstances absolutely affect whether a working from home role eventually leads to benefits, or downsides. And so companies need to consider this if they are aiming to do more for the wellbeing of their employees.
For me, I’ve come to recognize that the lack of social interaction hasn’t been the best for my mental health or wellbeing, and so I need to seek ways to improve that outside of my 9-5 role, or incorporate a form of hybrid working to ensure I get in-person social interaction within my job at times.
I’m hoping to find balance. Hopefully one day, I’ll find it.