How Remote Work has Changed Since COVID

I’ve been working from home with UpBuild for over four years now, and since the onset of the COIVD pandemic, legions of the workforce have joined us in remote work. Many have loved the transition to remote work, while others missed the clear separation of home vs. work-life, longing for human interaction and perhaps even the commute. Wherever you land, one thing needs to be clear: setting boundaries is one of the most important aspects of thriving when working from home, especially during COVID.

Benefits of Remote Work

The opportunity to work from home was one of the reasons I was so excited to work for UpBuild in 2017. UpBuild was seemingly one of the few companies that implemented full-time distributed work — there was no office, and the whole team was scattered throughout the country. Since May of 2020, 70% of workers who could work from home (i.e., non-essential) partook in the work-from-home lifestyle and started to enjoy the various benefits UpBuild has been preaching since its origins. Some of these benefits include a flexible schedule, location independence, no commute, and saving money. But did the benefits outweigh the struggles of the pandemic?   

How COVID has Changed Remote Work

While I love working from home, there was a noticeable shift once COVID hit: working from home before the pandemic was a very different experience than working during the pandemic.  I started to feel burned out, worked longer hours, and wasn’t feeling the work/life balance I so happily maintained in my pre-COVID life. Remote work started feeling dull. What happened?

Video Conferencing Fatigue

COVID not only affected our work lives, but it affected our social lives. Zoom went from being a niche video service used primarily for work to become the primary way we interacted with the world in 2020. 

I went from being on Zoom calls a few times a week, with clients and co-workers, to every day, after hours, and during work. Not looking friends in the eye or being with anyone physically during my social time took its toll. While we’re no longer as dependent on Zoom for social interaction, the isolation still feels real. 

Search Volume  Trends for ‘Zoom’ from July 2016 – July 2021

Social Isolation

Remote workers have always dealt with feelings of isolation; the lack of constant contact with colleagues, no in-person meetings, and living and working in the same place made it hard for some to adjust. However, post-pandemic, feelings of isolation have only escalated. One study found that “what respondents missed most about being in an office was the people, specifically meeting and socializing with colleagues, ‘impromptu face-to-face time,’ and being a part of the office community.” Creating and fostering connections has become one of the most critical aspects of this pandemic, with many workers feeling lonely. 

Longer Work Hours and Burnout

With many businesses closed throughout the pandemic, there were fewer opportunities to partake in anything that got our minds off work. By April of 2020, during the first big Covid spike, homebound working Americans were logging three more hours on the job each day and over a third of Americans now say they are burnt out from working at home.

Nearly 70 percent of professionals who transitioned to remote work because of the pandemic say they now work on the weekends, and 45 percent say they regularly work more hours during the week than they did before.

The line between work and life has become blurred, even for those accustomed to working from home. I’ve noticed myself working in front of the TV after dinner, opening my laptop when instead I should be taking my mind off of work. The pandemic has made disconnecting more complex, taking a toll on workers. 

The Home is No Longer a Respite

While most people (even remote workers) tended to leave the house pretty regularly in pre-pandemic life, the initial excitement of being able to work from our own spaces has, for many, turned into a feeling of being trapped. With fewer opportunities to leave the house, many people might be fantasizing about their once-long commute, a ritual that at least gave them the time and space to transition into work or the home. 

How to Maintain Work/Life Boundaries During a Pandemic

With so many more people working from home, it’s important to point out the differences between remote work pre and post-pandemic. I thought I was well equipped to deal with the challenges of remote life, but the pandemic shone a light on where I need to place more structure and boundaries. So, where do we start?

Take Time to Leave the House

It’s crucial to leave the house. It can be too easy to start work in the morning and end in the evening without leaving your front door, leaving you in our own version of Groundhog Day. Being outside can improve your mood, help you focus, and reduce stress. If there was ever a time to reduce stress, it’s now. 

Exercise

We often hear of exercise as the cure for all that ails you, but when it comes to your mental health and establishing boundaries, exercise is here to help. You don’t have to run a marathon to gain benefits, even walking can do the trick. Establishing an exercise routine can help relieve stress, get more energy, and reduce anxiety. Make sure you exercise outdoors for a double win!

Institute a ‘No Work’ Schedule

Stop working when the day is done! Institute a house rule that you can’t check your email or work outside of office hours to maintain healthy boundaries. If you have a partner or roommate, enlist their help to enforce this ‘rule’ and make sure you’re letting yourself relax. 

Take a Break from Zoom

If video conferencing has been contributing to your burnout, take a break from Zoom for socializing. Once I switched from Zoom video calls back to calling family and friends, I noticed the difference right away. There will never be an adequate replacement for seeing people in person, and going back to simple phone calls helped alleviate some of that video fatigue. 

Setting boundaries with yourself might be difficult, but it’s necessary in the world of COVID. As we’ve adjusted to this pandemic life, so does our work habits. It’s not only important to protect your physical health, but also your mental health. 

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