The home truths of working in isolation

Coping with the physical and psychological demands of self-isolation can be difficult. The predictability and regularity of our work routines are hardwired into our lives.

Office dwellers the world over are adjusting to a new working life away from the workplace. Here’s how to stay productive and feel connected to your colleagues.

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By Engel Schmidl

NASA has identified isolation as one of the five critical hazards of space flight. Indeed, few of us will ever have to confront an experience as extreme as a flight to Mars. 

However, the prospect of working from home, isolated from our colleagues, is still an alien one for those of us accustomed to the comforts of office life.

Coping with the physical and psychological demands of self-isolation can be difficult. Most of us are creatures of habit. The predictability and regularity of our work routines are hardwired into our lives. 

Often without realising it we gain a sense of security from being around our colleagues, sharing jokes, information about projects or clients, or even the occasional bit of office gossip. Work provides meaning, structure and community. 

So, when we do have to abandon that and work from home, in some cases in self-isolation, it’s easy to feel disoriented, untethered from the people, rituals and habits that usually give our lives shape and meaning.

How do we go from working in a communal space like an office to working at home alone? What strategies do we put in place to make the most of self-isolation and avoid the pitfalls of loneliness, anxiety or even depression?

Strategies for positive isolation

Workplace psychologist and filmmaker Eve Ash says the fundamental thing is first to remove any negative mindset you may have about working from home. She says once you “truly accept” the fundamental principle that “you can only control what you can control”, you can make the most out of any experience, including working in self-isolation. 

She says routine is paramount to working from home effectively. 

“You need a dedicated workspace, a regularity about hours, and you need to set up regular communications with colleagues,” Ash says. 

One-on-one, team and group meetings via the phone and video conferencing are essential not only to communicate the practical details of work projects but also for maintaining social bonds. 

“Don’t make it random,” she says. “Make set times and stick to them as much as possible. That way, people can check-in and continue to feel connected.”

Know yourself

Clinical and coaching psychologist Dr Jo Mitchell says your approach to working from home is largely dependent on your personality type, and whether you are working at home alone or with others. 

“The first thing to do is stop, pause and reflect. What kind of human are you? If you thrive in structure and routine, if you don’t love uncertainty and change, then it’s probably crucial to stop and look at what would I normally be doing and how can I adapt that to this environment?”

When our regular patterns of behaviour become disrupted, she says, other aspects of our lives can be thrown into chaos, too. Mitchell says establishing boundaries and routines around work and personal time can help you look after your physical and mental health. 

Eating well and regular exercise can make a world of difference to how we cope with the pressures of isolation.

“The big one is connection,” she says. “Just because you’re in isolation doesn’t mean you need to be disconnected from other people. Even though you can’t go for Friday night drinks or go for that coffee chat in person, you can still reach out and have virtual catch-ups with people.”

Make it a positive journey

By creating a regular work routine and being adaptable, we can give ourselves the opportunity to thrive while working from home. Regular contact with colleagues and clients will also help stave off the feelings of disconnection that can make working from home an isolating experience. 

With proper planning and the right attitude, you can make self-isolation a positive experience; one that doesn’t have to feel as daunting as a trip to Mars.

Making the most of self-isolation: 9 things to read, listen to and learn

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September 2020
September 2020

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