The psychological impacts of working from home

Due to Covid-19, many workers were forced to work from home, with staff at the University of Derby, transitioning to home working in mid-March. While these unprecedented circumstances have brought us many challenges, adjusting to this new way of working has happened relatively quickly. Here, Yasuhiro Kotera, Academic Lead in Counselling, Psychotherapy and Psychology at the University of Derby, discusses the positive and negative psychological impact of working from home. 

New ways of working during COVID-19

My colleague Katia Vione and I were invited to write a systematic review about the New Ways of Working (NWW) which was published in July. Here I discuss our findings that are relevant to working from home during Covid-19. 

NWW is a concept developed in the Netherlands around 1994, characterised by work time and space flexibility using information and communication technologies and clearly defined goals. NWW seeks to respond to diversified needs of employees as happier employees perform better and stay in an organisation longer[1]. Many studies have reported the psychological impacts of NWW, but no study had appraised the quality and quantity of evidence and synthesized them. 

The positive and negative psychological impacts 

Our analysis revealed that while NWW can help work engagement, flow and connectivity among staff, it can also increase blurred work-home boundaries, fatigue and mental demands. For the many workers who are or were working from home, these positive and negative impacts may be easy to understand. There is no commuting (i.e. frustrating traffic jams), no meeting room moving, no coffee room chat, etc. Our work has become more focused on the tasks and because we are not in the same room/building, we are now more aware of how to reach our colleagues. 

Dealing with isolation, fatigue and increased mental demands

In our department at the University , we started online morning huddles to deal with isolation and were not surprised to see that engagement, flow and connectivity were identified as positive impacts in our systematic review.

More attention needs to be paid to the negative impacts of blurred work-home boundaries, fatigue and increased mental demands. Some workers don’t feel a sense of ‘on and off’, and sometimes feel  ‘always on’, which of course is associated with stress. Related to this, being able to focus more on each task allows you to engage with more tasks (increased mental demands), leading to fatigue.

Zoom fatigue’ is a new term coined during this pandemic, referring to mental tiredness coming from online meetings. While many workers have experienced the positives, they also encountered difficulties with working from home. Organisations and employers/managers need to protect their staff from these negative impacts of this way of working.

Protecting employees from negative impacts 

Ways in which employers can help to protect employees could include:

  • Holding a casual short meeting to focus on staff members’ wellbeing at the beginning and/or towards the end of a workday to accentuate a sense of the on-and-off,
  • Encouraging workers to take a walk to switch their brain to on and off. Having a daily routine with these types of activities included may help workers to feel that the boundary between work and life is maintained. 
  • Fatigue and increased mental demands may be mitigated by setting a timer for you to take a short break. As mentioned earlier, you could go on without a break, however in order to have a good level of concentration for a long time, a short break would be effective.
  • If you have a high table, you can work while standing. Sitting all day can exhaust your brain, and the negative health effects (both physical and mental) have been reported. Changing the scenery is also helpful. How you deal with those negative impacts of working from home needs to be well-thought out. 

Many workers in general enjoy working from home and find it helpful. However, the negative impacts identified in our study need to be addressed. It may be useful for you to think about what you would do to deal with the blurred boundaries, fatigue and increased mental demands.


[1] https://archive.acas.org.uk/media/4901/Flexibility-in-the-Workplace-Implications-of-flexible-work-arrangements-for-individuals-teams-and-organisations/pdf/Flexibility-in-the-Workplace.pdf

Join the conversation

You might also like