The Darker Side of Remote Work

Working from home has its benefits. You most likely have more control over your daily routine, you get to spend more time with your family, and you avoid the headache of commuting to and from the office. Since March of 2020, barring the most essential of workers, most of us have experienced remote work in some form or another. And the reality is that, despite the many benefits we may have experienced while sitting in our makeshift home offices, our overall emotional health is worse off than it was when we were going into the office every day.

But how much of these mental health outcomes are related to remote work itself, and how much is a reaction to the events of the last two years as a whole? Remote work cannot be examined in a microcosm. It is a manifestation of the past two years of “unprecedented” (sorry), devastating social and political upheaval. Our collective emotional state is dependent on more than just a shift in workplace culture. 

“Work-life balance” is now one of those catchy, trendy phrases that corporate America espouses in an attempt to attract and keep Millennial employees. Our generation genuinely wants a healthy work-life balance, yet we are being confronted with a reality that effectively contradicts this desire. When good work-life balance necessitates separation of work and life, we are now living in a world where we attend our weekly staff meetings from our kitchen tables, and eat dinner next to the ever-present work laptop. Creating healthy work-life balance often feels like a task to be attempted alone, a confusing puzzle you are left to put together by yourself while sitting in your home office/kitchen.  

In a pioneering attempt to combat this, Portugal recently passed a set of laws prohibiting employers from contacting remote workers after hours. The new laws also will require employers to help pay for expenses related to remote work, such as Interne bills.

When the negative side effects of remote work are viewed through a micro lens, this type of legislation is the obvious solution. Of course, it will be helpful to some in tangible ways. And at the very least, it will allow Portuguese workers to feel less like they are climbing the mountain of healthy work-life balance alone. But is this just a band-aid to the bigger issues we face in the modern world, the deeper wounds we have suffered as a result of two years’ worth of uncertainty, division, and fear? 

Sometimes, it helps to just acknowledge that you’re not alone. If you’re feeling down, isolated, overwhelmed, or you’re finding it difficult to stay motivated while working from home, you’re in good company.

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