British Columbia

Here is how you can make working from home work better for you

Psychologist Joti Samra offers tips on managing your space and your mental health.

B.C. psychologist offers tips on managing your space and your mental health

There is no commute, no bagged lunches and no parking costs when working from home, but it also means the stress of both enviroments now exists in one and finding the balance could help millions of Canadians keep burnout at bay, says a Vancouver-based psychologist. (Shutterstock)

If you have been working from home for the last seven months, the novelty, much like your favourite pair of "office" sweat pants, is likely wearing thin.

According to Statistics Canada, nearly three-quarters of the 3.4 million Canadians who began working from home at the start of the crisis were still working remotely in August.

While a significant percentage of those workers have said they would like to continue to work from home indefinitely, a Vancouver-based psychologist says the setup can take a mental health toll and it is important to keep a few tips top of mind to avoid burnout.

"There is something very important about this separation that we used to get from work," Joti Samra told CBC Monday. "Not only are you leaving the house, but you're leaving all of the troubles, challenges, stressors [and] other things that are at home."

And this works similarly when leaving work stress and returning home. Or it did.

"That separation gave us a very natural recharge, so we'd recharge for our personal life by going to work and vice versa and now the two are just colliding together in this way where we don't have any escape from anything," said Samra.

The balancing act

To create boundaries between work and home at home, Samra says it is best to literally build boundaries.

She suggests picking one spot in the home and designating it as the work environment rather than moving between different rooms. In a perfect scenario, the home office would have its own door, but whatever the setup, Samra says to contain it at the end of the work day to create some semblance of work-home separation.

Samra also recommends people pay attention to diet, exercise, alcohol use and sleep patterns to keep themselves physically and mentally healthy.

She said evidence shows people are having a harder time getting quality sleep during the pandemic, and reminded people to turn off their devices at the end of the day and limit social video chats before bed.

ZZZZZZooom exhaustion

Experts say several factors lead to video meeting exhaustion. Users can feel like they're performing for the camera more than they would while meeting colleagues in person — especially when software continuously displays to a user their own live image, adding an element of self-awareness.

Marissa Shuffler, an assistant professor in industrial-organizational psychology at South Carolina's Clemson University, calls it "having to be 'on' all the time."

Samra said video meetings with multiple participants mean everyone's brains have to absorb multiple interactions and doing it on a two-dimensional screen requires much more cognitive effort than in a boardroom.

"Our brain is working harder and that is making us feel more tired and similarly, we're more stimulated," said Samar.

Indeed, experts agree, spending time away from the screen is key to staying energized amid frequent video chats.

For employees working from home, Shuffler, the U.S. professor who specializes in the psychology of work, said longer-term risks include burnout and depression if normal workplace habits and tools are not properly adapted.

To hear the complete interview with Joti Samra on CBC's The Early Edition, tap here.

With files from The Early Edition, Brandie Weikle, Thomas Daigle

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