Working from home and abruptly hit a brick wall? Here’s why

Working from home and abruptly hit a brick wall? Here's why

If you’ve shifted to working from home (WFH) since the coronavirus pandemic hit, the change may have initially been a breath of fresh air.

You embraced the new routine and change of scenery, and enjoyed the break from your jam-packed train commute to work.

Perhaps those initial weeks of working from home were incredibly productive and you were wondering why you’d never done it before. Then suddenly, your motivation to work rapidly declined.

Organisational psychology researcher Denvar Summers shares some reasons why you may have hit a wall when working from home.

The change became exhausting

The Yerkes–Dodson law is an empirical relationship between arousal and performance, which suggests that performance and arousal are related up to a point, at which the arousal begins to negatively impact performance.

“The fight or flight response may be how people expect they will react when faced with a global pandemic,” Summers said.

“However, it is very situational and less relevant when coping with something universal. A more appropriate model to use is the Yerkes-Dodson law.

“At the start of the pandemic, with a change of scene, an initial peak in performance arousal can cause immense productivity. It will almost feel as though it came out of nowhere. If the arousal continues to increase, it can become overwhelming and exhausting, hitting a peak too high to find an optimal level of performance, and then go the opposite way.”

There’s little distinction between work and home life

Without a distinct separation between work and home life, it may be harder to switch off at the end of the day. Or it may be harder to concentrate during the workday when there are other pressing things to do, such as washing the dishes or colour coordinating your wardrobe.

“This is very much the case, especially if people can be flexible with their time during the workday. Taking an hour to go for a walk, see a friend or go to the gym can mean that the work you need to complete seems less compelling, or bleeds into later portions of the night,” Summers said.

“Words like procrastination, disengaged and unenthusiastic are used to explain this state of lacking motivation. It goes back to the worker at an individual level, whether or not they are naturally engaged and happy within their work.

“For some people, it can be overwhelming to have so much to do, especially in their own space. When they’re at work, in whichever space their work may be, they can relate their environment with needing to work. It is easier to put other life worries out of your mind when you’re in a space that encourages you to focus on the task at hand. At home, it can be difficult to just focus on work. You can always convince yourself that there are other things you need or want to be doing.”

There’s a lack of physical interaction with others

Depending on your field of work, you may feel you require inspiration from those around you to get the job done.

Specifically, for those who work in creative capacities, what do you do when you hit a creative block? You get inspiration from your colleagues or surroundings.

Working from home makes this difficult, which can lead to feelings of isolation and discouragement.

“Without the healthy social pressure a workplace can provide, there is no motivation to perform,” Summers said.

“Offices can create a real team energy, a social unit that comes together with different strengths, and skills to create something everyone is proud of. These environments encourage motivation and positive work ethics. If you are used to this and are now having to work from home, this could greatly impact your motivation.

“You could absolutely find yourself hitting a wall, seemingly out of nowhere.”

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You have Zoom fatigue

It’s much harder to have several Zoom meetings a day than it is to have several physical meetings a day. This is because online platforms require you to always be ‘on’.

It also takes away that change of scenery of a usual workday. Instead of going to get a coffee, meeting in a different room, or talking to your team face-to-face, you’re in the same room, on the same screen.

“It’s also a lot harder to pick up on non-verbal cues when you’re talking via Zoom, which is a big hindrance for many people,” Summers said.

“If you’re presenting ideas to a group of peers, you often rely on body language to let you know they’re interested or paying attention. This isn’t possible when you just see someone’s head and shoulders.

“It also reduces the options for verbal feedback because it’s harder to interrupt someone to ask a question. You have to process a lot of visual information coming from all the other members in the chat, which is not a skill we’re very familiar with.”

How to get past the brick wall when working from home

If you’ve been experiencing difficulties when working from home and are keen to find your enthusiasm and motivation again, here are some things you can try:

Separate your workspace and set your work hours

If possible, create a completely separate workspace within your home. Convert a spare bedroom into an office or create an office nook that you can partition off. The goal is to create a workspace that you can walk away from at the end of the day.

When working from home, it can be easy for your work hours to bleed into your leisure time, so be disciplined with allocating your work hours and sticking to them. It’ll help you create work-life balance when working from home.

Prioritise your sleep

One of the best things you can do to improve your sleep is wake up at the same time each day, advises sleep expert Prof Dorothy Buck. Waking at the same time each morning keeps your body clock synchronised, allowing for alertness in the morning and helping you to feel ready for sleep in the evening.

If you’re having trouble waking up and sticking to a regular sleep routine, try exposing yourself to light in the morning – go for a walk outside, eat breakfast near a window, or turn on bright indoor lights. The light exposure will help suppress your melatonin and encourage your body to be awake.

Protect your mental health

It’s normal to feel heightened feelings of stress, sadness or anxiety in these uncertain times, which is why it’s so important to protect your mental health.

Try to consume less news, spend less time on social media, do at least one enjoyable activity every day, and engage with mindfulness exercises like meditation.

Laura Roscioli writer SHE DEFINED

Laura Roscioli

Laura Roscioli is a freelance writer based in Melbourne, Australia. 

Through years of experience working for VICE and other media agencies, she has fostered an invested interest in storytelling and seeks to push boundaries with her work.