Working from home is mainstream for more than a year. Now we share our insights about its challenges: having to simultaneously manage children and work, the mental health problems it might raise, and how our staff is dealing with it.
March 2021, one year and a quarter after Covid-19 was first reported. This virus rapidly turned into a pandemic, spread all over the world. By March 2020 millions of people were experiencing the first lockdown of their lives. This had a tremendous impact on the world as we knew it, including on the way work had to be organised. Many people lost their jobs, and the majority of those who kept working had to get used to remote work.
Working remotely, from home, became a challenge not only to employees but also to most companies. Network security, data privacy matters, working schedules, employees labour rights – everything had to be quickly revised to be adapted to the new ‘provisory’ reality. But, more than one year later, this reality didn’t go away and became the new work paradigm.
As a nearshore company based in Lisbon, we too had to shift to teleworking. We had to change our daily routines completely, which forced us to learn a lot during this period. With it, we were aware of not only the benefits of this way of organising work but also of some problems and dangers. In this article, we will go through many pros and cons of this new paradigm. Also, we’ll debate what probably changed forever and give some insights on how to overcome recurrent difficulties associated with this new paradigm.
The new paradigm
The ‘normal’ way of living disappeared with the rise of Covid-19 infections and government measures to restrain that spreading. Lockdowns, restrictions on freedom of movement, physical distancing, curfews, and more, took place. Working from home became the standard. But it means having to deal with work and family, co-existing in the same place at the same time.
The commutes were gone – and so did the time and resources spent on them. Workers began spending much more time with their families – some of them even left the big cities and returned to their hometowns. However, many people and companies had a hard time adapting to this. Lack of physical infrastructures to work, poor internet connections, difficulties in accommodating to the new routine, the permanence of kids at home, and much more. In fact, various mental health issues are being reported by some of these workers.
We’ll now go through some of the problems associated with teleworking and share some of our employees’ insights on how they handle their work routine. How do they think one can efficiently overcome feelings of loneliness, anxiety or even prevent burnouts? What they had to do to manage work and family at home? And how has e.near been helping them?
Mental health risks
The world wasn’t perfect before the pandemic, and many people suffered from different levels of mental health issues. But adapting to a new reality is never an easy task – and even for those who had an uncommonly balanced mental health, the unprecedented changes in their reality quickly became a trigger. Inês Malheiro, e.near’s CEO states that “there will be, undoubtedly, people needing support during this. They shouldn’t feel that as a weakness but rather as something that might help them go through this and be stronger.”
Anxiety, Stress, isolation, depression, burnout. They became even more prominent as people were starting to spend most of their time inside the four walls of their homes. “We all had to learn how to better adapt. Our home became not only our rest-place but also our space for leisure, or office, gym, school… Everything is done in the same place. And despite numerous virtual meetings, that lack of human contact persists”, the CEO recognises. Getting enough fresh air, doing exercise, eating healthy and having a routine may be hard. Everyone must be quite aware of what they’re feeling, so it’s easier to quickly act on it. Hopefully, there are some great ways of diminishing these negative effects of teleworking.
– Loneliness & isolation feelings might become more frequent
People who always worked in offices with other people suddenly being forced to isolate might not adapt easily. When the ‘office life’ ’is great, employees tend to cherish it. Taking our reality into account, José Escudero, Development Manager, assumes that he misses the office. He says that “the environment at e.near office was absolutely great. Not only because of the great location of the office, the views, the tourists (always making us feel we were on holidays as well), but also because of the great team working with us at Connect Enterprises hub.”
Inês Malheiro, the CEO, agrees that e.near’s office was a special place (and will continue to be once we go back there). “Team members help each other a lot, and even now that’s still true. But feeling that support with a hug or a smile often really helps to allay those daily concerns.” The truth is that when that reality is taken away abruptly, the mental health of some employees might deteriorate.
Daily interactions reinforce our well-being. But the pandemic took away most social interactions. There are almost no physical gathering-ups, no nights out, no vacations, no visits to family and friends. And e.near always had a culture of promoting big events and lots of gatherings and activities. “The events that used to happen before the pandemic were amazing. Our company always knew how to organise absolutely great activities”, refers Eduardo, Quality Assurance. “Dinners, theme parties, team buildings, picnics, etc. it is at these events that we meet everyone in the company”, adds Paulo Massano, a Senior Software Developer.
Company events and activities can (and should) now simply shift to online. Eduardo agrees. “Events during the pandemic might not be as fantastic, but they’re very important and undoubtedly help us not forget about each other”. However, the problem is not only about the lack of events, it is about missing the daily routines as well. José Escudero assumes that he misses almost everything about his previous routines at work. “I miss the 3 km walks towards the office. And then, after arriving at the office, taking a coffee on the rooftop while enjoying the views.” Our CEO agrees. “Our rooftop has given us marvellous parties and conversations. The fact that we could be there looking at the Tejo river, drinking a coffee and talking to a colleague was enough to relieve our days.”
Lunchtime was very appreciated as well. Escudero refers that “as there are plenty of restaurants in the area with lovely terraces, we used to enjoy them quite often with our colleagues. I miss that a lot too.” Paulo Massano believes that lunchtime at the office means always having “playfulness as the ‘main dish’.”
Paulo pointed out the spontaneous events created by everyone. “From time to time, someone would bring cakes/sweets/liquors. It is e.near’s general practice. When you go abroad, you bring them.” Escudero even misses his trips back home, “taking a stop to hang out with some friends while having a drink before dinner. Sharing our day’s issues or achievements with people”.
Maintaining some routines and relationships with colleagues is essential. And technology is critical for that task. Amara, Quality Assurance Lead, is well aware of that. “It’s very important to have channels for not work-related conversations between colleagues. And also meetings/events with all staff. Like, for instance, the Flash News that we have at e.near with cameras on, which allows us to continue to see peoples’ faces.”
Having a culture of fostering open communication, online coffee breaks, light chatting can be truly helpful. So keeping the work-unrelated communication active amongst everyone in a company is essential. Inês, our CEO, knew it was crucial even before the pandemic. She refers that “besides the work channels, we have numerous other channels where we can share interests and have side conversations.” We have, for instance, a Yoga channel, a Sell & Buy, and amongst others, one channel for Travels as well. She concludes by adding that “anything that makes the team closer is a good thing. It has been crucial for keeping us united.”
Paulo Massano endorses that idea too. In his team “the schedule was set to a 9-to-6, so no one leaves work after 6 pm. A ‘decompression meeting’ was implemented at 5:45 pm to end the day with a lot of foolishness. Talking about work was prohibited.”
– There’s a higher risk of burnout
The apparent dissolution of boundaries between personal and professional life poses a threat to employees. Even when companies don’t push on extra hours, their workers might be compelled to work more. This might be a way of trying to demonstrate productivity – even if it’s unconscious. Sometimes it just happens, since employees are already at home and might forget about time. That is exactly what Amara pointed out. “We are involved in our work and forget the time. But we have to always try to maintain our normal schedule as much as possible.”
Another reason might be that not being able to leave the house turns into an urge to keep doing ‘productive’ tasks. Most “hobbies” were taken away due to Covid-19 restrain measures. This might easily lead to long shifts and many working hours if companies don’t step in. And let’s be clear that these do not lead to an increase in productivity. Which also leads to further frustration.
A burnout is, according to the Cambridge Dictionary “extreme tiredness or a feeling of not being able to work any more, caused by working too hard”. Focusing the work in only one room of the house and having well-defined working schedules, with coffee breaks, is a very common strategy to avoid it. Also, doing exercise and having a healthy diet is seen as essential.
José Escudero discovered that a daily walk can do wonders. “I try to get out of the house every day for a walk and do some shopping if needed.” And it has a very clear purpose. “If for some reason I stay at home the whole day, my mood clearly drops (and you wouldn’t be happy to be around)”, he laughs. Paulo Massano goes further and says he chose to “spend the maximum amount of time possible in the garden doing photosynthesis and taking vitamin D.”
For Amara, it all comes down to keeping the routines. “My strategies are to have routines in the same way as if you were going to the office. First, I get up at the same time every day, I have breakfast and dress up. Then, I start working.” But she has an extra secret to share: “I always do extra food at dinner to have enough for the next day’s lunch.”
– Higher levels of stress and anxiety are experienced
The future might not be exactly as thought. People knew the world was changing rapidly and everyone was somehow used to changes. Probably no one was expecting such a change though. Many questions might haunt people – “How’s gonna be the world in a few years?”, “When will I be able to visit my family?”, “Will my children be able to visit the world as I used to?”, “Will human rights go backwards because of this?”. So many questions and no answers.“This wasn’t a normal situation and I had several moments of uncertainty in the future. In fact, I’ve experienced some sleeping problems due to that”, mentions Amara.
Paulo Massano describes something different. “I see it more like a wish. Since I came home, there is a huge desire to be able to go back to the office. Those who know me, are well aware that I like to be with people. And that is what it costs me the most these days.” But while for Paulo it is only ‘a wish’, feelings of anxiety caused by the total unknown of the future might easily block workers’ minds.
Focus and motivation might get lost and productivity falls. These symptoms might hit harder sometimes and get almost gone other times. However, if they’re not properly addressed, they can quickly turn into something bigger. Employers should be aware of employees’ mental health. Discussing these matters openly is a great way to start. But hopefully, there are a few ways of minimising these problems. “I restarted to meditate one or two times per day and I do workout 3 to 4 times per week. This helped me a lot”, assumes Amara.
Managing family and work simultaneously
It was not only companies that closed. Many schools are working remotely too – even if it’s not always. Working from home and having to take care of the children and become their teacher assistant is not an easy task. In fact, José Escudero, Development Manager, says that dealing with children at home is the biggest challenge of teleworking.
Depending on many factors it may be more or less hard to articulate work and parenting at the same time, but it will never be an easy task. Especially when you’re a single parent or both parents are working. And apparently, the age of the children might only change the challenges of teleworking parents. Employers have to take this into account and do as much as they can to help their employees – flexibility and understanding of their needs is always a great option.
Fábio Rocha, Team Leader, started his paternity leave when Portugal entered the first lockdown. For Amara, having two “very independent” kids at home – a pre-teenager and a teenager – adapting to remote work wasn’t that hard. She only had to help them for a month, until they got used to the new reality. For Eduardo, things weren’t like that. Even though he has a teenage son as well, it didn’t make it easier. “In the beginning, during class time, I had to be in a supervisory role. ‘Are you assisting the class?’, ‘you’re chatting with your friends, aren’t you?’, ‘do you have your camera turned on?’, etc.”, he assumes.
But it’s not impossible to work with children around the house. And over time, our collaborators eventually came up with some great ideas to keep everything in order. “How did I deal with it? Splitting the day with my wife so we could at least focus ½ day on work. That strategy was key to achieve some success in this craziness”, refers José Escudero. In Eduardo’s case, the strategy to deal with his (at the time) 13 years old son, had 2 ingredients: “lots of talking and a few groundings”.
Private and professional life boundaries almost disappear sometimes. Fábio, with a young child at home, had to turn his bedroom into his office. “When I started teleworking I was working in my living room. But there was a bit of noise and movement that eventually distracted me. Now my office is in my bedroom. ”
Nevertheless, remote work has its perks too. Fábio continues by saying that he has opted to shift his schedule a little sometimes “to make the day go smoother” as it “helps a lot” with his performance. Eduardo states that currently, with so many meetings during his lunchtime, he’s only able to “properly follow the schedules the project demands” because he is at home.
Overview of the remote working paradigm at e.near
In a way, things can be seen as ‘only different’. As with everything, we can find both pros and cons. As IT nearshoring staff, e.near’s employees are well-prepared for remote work. That’s what they did in the office. Some of our client’s teams are bigger than others, but all of them worked remotely with clients spread all over the globe. The key difference is that they worked remotely for the clients while being physically working from our office.
From our point of view, our staff’s main challenge doesn’t have to do with the work itself. Rather, it is not having colleagues around to talk with, to share life events with that is being hard to overcome. As our office was never completely closed, everything that can only be done in the office by our staff still is. This might not apply to other companies, but we believe that our staff has adapted to this new reality very smoothly.
Even the extra flexibility is being used differently to fit each team’s needs. While Paulo Massano shared that his team is on a 9-to-6 working schedule and no one works beyond that time, Fábio refers that there are times when he works beyond the schedule. “It still happens and I think it’s natural.” “Let’s put it this way”, he continues. “I’m focused on a task and I’m reaching my ‘daily hours’. I’m not leaving the task just because the clock is ticking. It’s like using the commute time to finish a task and save me the ‘ramp/catching up with the task in the next morning’.” He concludes by saying that “ultimately it eases my daily tasks and life.”
Paulo points out that he thinks “the balance is even greater now, as time is not wasted on commuting.” He now uses his lunch hour to read and be outside. Besides that, he believes that his “free time is better spent”. But he still raises a particularly interesting topic. “Of course living in a house helps a lot to not have a feeling of confinement between 4 walls like people living in a flat have”, he assumes. Besides that, “everyone is living different realities. Some have a big household while others are all alone.” adds Inês Malheiro. The type of house and size of the household are only some of the copious reasons why personal experiences during this time are so divergent.
Even when events are concerned, Paulo Massano has a positive view. “Events during the pandemic might not be as fantastic, but they’re very important and undoubtedly help us not forget about each other.” He concludes by saying that regarding the relationship with colleagues at work, “all the after-work stuff was lost, but of course, it will come back when the current situation ends”.
Covid-19 abruptly changed our habits and routines, and that negatively affected many of us. However, there are diverse ways of overcoming those negative effects. As we learned, different people and teams developed varying approaches. In fact, we understood that despite the downsides of teleworking, it offers employees wider flexibility to conciliate work and other personal tasks.
Despite that, we have to acknowledge that this situation helps us further understand the huge benefits offered by nearshore solutions. By having teams working remotely but from a physical office, the best parts of both working concepts are maintained. For both companies and workers. While you have teams of highly qualified professionals working remotely at the same time as your in-house teams, the social needs of the nearshore workers are guaranteed since they’re working from the office of the nearshore services’ provider.
We’ll soon share a new article focused on how we managed to stay near employees and clients as well. After more than one year of being separated (even if some of us were able to be at the office sometimes), we learned a lot about online communication and how to keep the whole family together despite the physical distance. Stay near and don’t miss our next contents.