The Biggest Challenges Facing Work-From-Home Employees During the Coronavirus Pandemic

A real-time analysis of the latest data on the employee experience in these challenging times.

Anchiy / Shutterstock
Anchiy / Shutterstock

To successfully adapt and thrive in this new normal, we can’t simply react to COVID-19-related workplace issues as they occur. Rather, we need to monitor key patterns and trends to predict challenges and effectively, proactively direct our efforts. Real-time tracking and analysis of the employee experience throughout this uncertain time is one of the most effective ways to understand how to support our colleagues in meaningful ways as they adapt to new ways of working and living. 

With all of this in mind, we’ve created this space to share our newest findings and actionable insights. In addition to discussing what we’re observing in our real-time data, we’ll also be using this as a forum to let you ask questions and share your topics of interest in an effort to help you and those most important to you not just survive but thrive.

We encourage you to come back daily to see the latest findings on how employees are feeling about working from home through the coronavirus pandemic, plus Microsteps and solutions from Thrive Global to help you stay healthy and productive while working via remote.

April 17, 2020

Insight of the Day:

87% of those living alone and working from home are now struggling with loneliness and social isolation.

As noted in an earlier post, the importance of close relationships and feelings of belonging, connection and support cannot be understated — particularly during challenging times such as these. Yet while our social ties and support systems have been consistently found to promote better health, it is also critical to recognize that loneliness and social isolation can have equally profound negative impacts on mental, emotional, and holistic well-being.

Indeed, decades of epidemiological research have identified social isolation as a major predictor of and risk factor for illness and premature death, including cardiovascular disease and infectious disease mortality. While positive, strong social support is related to more positive biological profiles across disease-relevant systems — including cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and immune function — a lack of such social connection and communal ties leaves individuals at significant health risk.

Concerningly for many, and especially those now working from home while living alone, social isolation is becoming increasingly prevalent and problematic. Our findings suggest that 87% of those living alone are now struggling with feelings of loneliness, while 86% of all individuals are looking for easy ways to stay better connected to family, friends, colleagues, and close others.

With much of the world continuing to enforce social distancing restrictions and shelter-in-place orders, it is more important than ever that we continue to work together to combat loneliness and maintain our social ties — irrespective of any literal distance that may be keeping us apart. And, as a recent call to action from a panel of 24 multidisciplinary specialists emphasizes, starting with a focus on our own mental well-being as well as that of others is a great place to start.

Recommended Read:

If you haven’t already, I highly encourage you to read of Eric Stine’s recent piece, in which he poignantly reminds us all, “Don’t forget the people who live alone — I have colleagues with rich, fulfilling lives balancing work and travel and rowing and cooking — and all their social outlets have shut down now. Don’t just be an employee, a leader, a spouse, and a parent — be a friend. The world needs a lot more of them right now.”

Microstep:

While you’re at it, try this Microstep to improve feelings of support, connection, and belonging:

Choose a WFH well-being buddy. When you’re working remotely, it’s easy to feel disconnected from your core team. Ask someone you get along with to be your buddy while you’re working remotely. You can check in with each other daily, or take a virtual coffee break together each week. This lets you continue to prioritize thoughtful connections.

April 14, 2020

Insight of the Day:

More than 85% of employees report dietary concerns and challenges with healthy eating due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Daily habits and routines can be critical to the maintenance of health, structure and balance, both at work and in our personal lives. In fact, “the idea of routines has been one of the most productive in organization studies,” with abundant evidence supporting positive impacts on productivity, performance, organizational health, and even flexibility and change.

At the individual and family levels, routines can similarly provide the structure and framework necessary for effective, long-term health and behavior change. As such, it’s disconcerting that our survey findings from more than 5,000 American employees indicate that nearly 75% of individuals are already experiencing notable negative impacts on day-to-day healthy habits and routines as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, with more than 85% of employees reporting significant dietary concerns and challenges with healthy eating.

Recommended Read:

Even seemingly small decisions and routines can have major impacts over time. Simply drinking more water, for instance, can help boost your immunity and performance as you continue to adapt and adjust to this new normal. As Claudia Hleap, R.D., a registered dietitian, notes, “It is so important to stay hydrated, especially when you’re going through a major adjustment to your normal daily routine. Hydration is essential for optimal performance, including skin health, cognition, hunger cues, and organ performance… by staying hydrated, you are optimizing your body’s ability to combat illness and potentially reduce overlapping symptoms, such as headache and fatigue.”

So optimize your body for peak performance today by learning “How to Stay Hydrated While Working From Home.”

Microstep:

While you’re at it, try adopting one of these science-backed Microsteps:

Every time you wipe down a surface, drink a glass of water. It’s a great way to do something for your environment and for your body at the same time. 

Swap one sugary beverage a day with water. Sugar is proven to increase inflammation in our bodies, which limits our immune response. If you’re able, you might want to add a slice of lemon to make it more flavorful.

April 10, 2020

Insight of the Day:

28% of employees report needing, but not currently having, support from their employer around how to manage their current workload.

The importance of close relationships and feelings of belonging, connection and support cannot be understated—particularly during challenging times such as these.

Decades of scientific findings in the fields of psychology, psychobiology, epidemiology, and more highlight myriad ways in which interpersonal processes can and do influence individuals’ attitudes, beliefs, goals, motivations and behaviors, as well as holistic health and well-being.  

Higher levels of social integration, for example, have been consistently and causally linked to better mental and physical health, lower rates of cardiovascular disease, and increased life expectancy. Similarly, where social isolation has been found to increase the likelihood of infection, disease morbidity and premature death, strong close relationships have been found to “buffer” the deleterious impacts of stress and illness while boosting immunity and increasing levels of positive affect and holistic well-being.

Relatedly—with regard to work—feelings of social support, connection, safety, and belongingness among teammates and colleagues are among the top predictors of both individual and team performance, productivity, engagement, job satisfaction, advocacy, and retention.

As such, it is more important than ever that we continue to work together to maintain and foster our social ties, as well as a sense of support and connection—irrespective of any literal distance that may be keeping us apart.

Recommended Read:

Interested in learning more easy, actionable, and effective ways to help others manage their stress and anxiety? My colleague Alexandra Hayes’ piece, How Managers Can Help Their Team Prevent Burnout During the Coronavirus Crisis, is a great place to start!

Microsteps:

I’d also suggest trying out a related Microstep (or two)! My personal favorites are great ways to help foster a sense of connection and promote feelings of support even while physically distant.

Ask someone what they’re doing to take care of themselves and stay connected to loved ones. Social distancing can make us feel further apart, not just physically but emotionally. Bridge the distance with a simple question — you might learn something, or find you have something in common.

Show someone concern without offering advice. Instead of “How can I solve their problem,” ask, “How can I be there for them in this moment?”

April 6, 2020

Insight of the Day: Parents/education

Although young people may be less susceptible than other demographics to COVID-19, the pandemic has still led to major disruptions in everyday life — especially when it comes to education.

While chronic absenteeism and a lack of engagement were problems in the United States even before the outbreak, it is quickly becoming clear that coronavirus-related disruptions are having a deep impact on students, particularly those from lower income families. The downstream consequences of this could prove catastrophic, with ample research consistently demonstrating the positive effects of early childhood education on linguistic, emotional, and cognitive abilities; self-regulation; sociability; motivation; self-esteem; longer term health outcomes; and even the betterment of entire families and communities.

Though undoubtedly an extremely challenging scenario in current times — especially in lower socioeconomic status households where access to computers, high-speed internet, and a variety of other vital resources are often limited or nonexistent — there are ways for parents and guardians to keep children busy, entertained, and, most importantly, continuously learning.

Recommended Read:

If you’re looking for creative ways to integrate fun educational activities into your “new normal” routine, check out Lindsey Benoit O’Connell’s story, 18 Educational Resources for Your Kids to Enjoy While You’re on Zoom Calls.

Microstep:

 If you’re working from home and taking care of children, try this Microstep to bring a little more structure to your days.

Microstep
Together with your kids, come up with a rule to help them understand when you’re available.
Maybe it’s a specific room, a colorful sign you make together, or an open/closed door that helps them understand when you’re working and when you’re not. A healthy boundary will make it easier for all of you.

April 3, 2020

Insight of the Day: Over 75% of people agree the COVID-19 outbreak has negatively impacted their habits, routines, and structures.

It is critical to establish boundaries between work and personal life — especially in times like these when work has become fragmented, the vast majority of us are working remotely, and, by and large, work and life are collocated. A failure to do so can lead to work-family conflicts, cognitive and emotional irritation, feelings of increased pressure and stress, burnout, and more. 

Often referred to as “workplace embeddedness,” the blurring of such boundaries is among the most common and negatively impactful drawbacks observed among remote workers, while the successful navigation of such challenges is among the top predictors of remote work success.

Recommended Read:

So how can we all become better with “boundary work?” What steps should we all be taking to make sure that we’re setting boundaries successfully, in ways that work for our careers, families, friends, and all other priorities in life? For one, as emphasized above and in my previous post, healthy communication, building boundaries, and negotiating the time and space needed to fulfill various roles and responsibilities are vital. But perhaps equally important is the re-establishment of habits, routines, and structures to signify the demarcation between work and personal life. And in times like these,  there is perhaps no better way to do this than through evening routines to help mark the end of the workday when you work from home.

Microstep:

I’d also suggest trying out a Microstep around establishing routines, boundaries, and greater structure.

For instance, when you’re nearing the end of your workday, send a message to your team on email or chat. Maybe it’s a simple “goodnight,” a “thank you” for the hard work, or a last-call for questions before you sign off. Letting your team know you’re done for the day will hold you accountable to your own boundaries and help others respect them. Plus, this simple gesture will help everyone feel connected, almost as if you were saying goodbye as you leave the office. 

Or, if you’re a parent, together with your kids, come up with a rule to help them understand when you’re available. Maybe it’s a specific time, a room, a colorful sign you make together, or an open/closed door that helps them understand when you’re working and when you’re not. A healthy boundary will make it easier for all of you.

April 1, 2020

Insight of the Day: Today’s Employer-Employee Communication Satisfaction Score Is… 66%

Effective communication is essential for reducing burnout and boosting teamwork, productivity, and downstream business outcomes, especially during times of high stress and physical disconnect such as these. Moreover, leadership and management communication are among the strongest contributors to perceived organizational support, work satisfaction, and performance — including people’s likelihood to go above and beyond. 

Specifically, high-quality, consistent communication can reduce common barriers related to remote work and convey organizational values and a sense of caring about the well-being of your people.

The importance of communication is not just limited to leaders and managers. As employees continue to adapt to working from home, effective communication needs to flow both ways. Employees at every level need to feel empowered to speak up, seek clarity, and share feedback. As Arianna Huffington writes, “We must give people room to share what otherwise might be kept private — maybe they’re having trouble getting food or prescription deliveries or worrying about their parents’ health. Before we even begin to talk about business, we need to open the door to these conversations in authentic, compassionate ways, and keep that door open.”

While new communication technologies have made it easier than ever to work “here, there, and anywhere,” they also introduce new challenges. Working from home requires navigating issues related to role conflicts and boundaries. Indeed, technology use and communication, particularly when working from home, are major determinants of work-life balance and integration, affecting how we segment work and nonwork roles, our work attitudes and our feelings about flexibility, satisfaction, stress, and overwork. 

As people adjust to this new normal, they are hungry for solutions. According to our survey results from over 5,000 employees across the country, nearly 80% of all employees wish they knew more actionable ways to improve their communication with managers, colleagues, and important others.

Recommended Read:

So how can we all — leaders, managers, and individual contributors alike — ensure that we’re communicating positively, effectively, and in ways that take into account the realities of our new normal? For one, I’d recommend reading my colleague Lindsey O’Connell’s article “How to Talk to Your Boss About Your New Work-From-Home Challenges.”

I’d also suggest trying out a Microstep around improved communication processes. 

Microstep
If you’re a manager, make a point of reaching out to every member of your team once a day.
Even a quick hello will let your colleagues know you’re thinking of them, which helps them feel valued. You can also ask about their workload — since it’s harder to tell if remote workers are experiencing burnout, this practice can help you keep an eye out for its signs.

And if you’re looking to talk to your manager about COVID-19 concerns, reach out to them today and ask if you can schedule a daily five-minute touchbase. This way, you can rest assured that you’ll have time to check in with each other even when you’re not seeing each other in person.

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