Why Does Working Remotely Overwhelm Me?

April 24, 2020 Tarandeep Singh

Published 24 April 2020remote working

First published on LinkedIn

Lockdown is a reality that most of us are experiencing for the first time. Talking to clients and colleagues about these turbulent times, I notice a recurring theme: a feeling of being overwhelmed. Why is this? Is it that because, with little opportunity to do anything else, we choose to work longer hours? Are we suffering the emotional trauma of a lockdown, feeling anxious about the uncertainty around our future? Are we seeing work as a distraction from our struggle to adapt?

My take on this is that the reason behind being overwhelmed is different for each of us.

It is dependent on our individual personalities: How aware we are about how we like to do things and have things done, and our acceptance of the changed reality around us.

Plenty of blogs discuss how to cope during these changing times. They offer a quick checklist of actions: dress up for work; create a schedule; keep in touch with friends and family through video; and create bridging rituals between home and work life. All great stuff, but we need to understand what works for us as opposed to a colleague.

Here is an example. A high-performing manager in my office works out of a bean bag, despite having a perfectly functional desk. Whether in the office or at home, I cannot visualize him dressing up and sitting upright to take calls. So, is he more or less productive currently?

As Aristotle is known to have said: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

Take a look at these four pen portraits of people we may all work with – and the challenges they face right now navigating this new normal.

The Conscientious One

Those working longer hours, unable to differentiate between personal and professional time are likely to possess a high level of conscientiousness. They wear their task orientation, responsiveness and methodical approach as badges of honor. An office-like environment provides space to operate in their ‘war zone’ before making the switch to ‘being at home’. But now, work and home have blended into one. The outcome is long hours at the home office desk until they have ‘earned’ their daily bread. This kind of behavior cannot continue for too long without affecting a person’s composure.

Imagine this person as a manager. What will they expect of their teams? The same or even higher levels of productivity?

And what of those with low conscientiousness. Perhaps they are taking life easy, balancing home chores, catching up with Netflix, scrolling through social media. Perhaps, not even trying to be productive as no one is really expecting them to be.

Of course, some aspects of this depend on the role or the kind of job one does. However, the point is about self-drive and its impact on the self and others.

What advice would I give?

To those who possess a high level of conscientiousness, leave behind your guilt for unfinished work and carry it over to the next day (post prioritization). If you really think the whole week wasn’t full of ‘work’, log half-a-day’s personal time off (I do that).

The Extrovert

Now, let us consider the extrovert: those who derive energy through others. They need to meet – and they need to talk. They need to regularly connect emotionally and at a personal level with colleagues.

I know of a very senior manager who believes that people “have to” meet face-to-face to get work done. In my view, this is because this person’s own performance is enhanced by socializing. How tough are these managers finding it right now?

My advice to the extroverts among us: use video chats to connect and keep aside an hour for a Zoom meeting with the team.

The Lover of Ambiguity

Those who love the thrill of new experiences and are conceptually motivated will flourish under the current ambiguity, and the daily shift in what is needed. It requires them to think differently and argue over/conceptualize a new normal.

In my role, I am reaching out to clients and co-creating solutions that they will need in the future. As a team, we are marketing and selling – and doing this virtually. It is exciting to explore new ways of working; however, too many of these can leave one with a sense of overwhelming, more so if one is also detail oriented.

One way to help is to create a balance structure to one’s day - include (and limit) blue sky thinking time with continuous check-ins to identify when an idea is no longer useful.

The Level-headed One

Composure and emotional stability are probably the most coveted virtues during these times. We need people who are level-headed, considered in their response and somehow have a calming effect on others.

While being emotionally stable is influenced by more than a personality trait, our ability to be reflective and accepting of our position is the first step to manage stress. A lack of acceptance of where we find ourselves (because of higher expectations we set upon ourselves) can further damage one’s mental state. The result? Being overwhelmed!

The above pen portraits use some common personality traits. However, we must not see these as unidimensional. We are all a blend of different attributes, of highs and lows of varied styles.

Some final thoughts

In current times, high-performing individuals are as much at risk as others (probably more so if you consider the above factors). Therefore, now is the perfect time for organizations to focus on employees’ emotional and mental well-being.

My parting piece of advice?

Each of us needs to seek out a clearer understanding of ourselves and work out how best to navigate through these times. It may mean we need to invest in learning new skills. We may need expert help and use valid reliable assessments to learn more about ourselves and those with whom we work. Such tools offer a structure for insight and a framework for a common language to share with others.

If you already use such tools, take a look at your profile and supplement it with work ability tests, if needed and decipher how you can be the best version of your remote worker self. If you don’t already use such tools, get in touch with us and let’s see how we can get you started.

While so many of us feel overwhelmed, can we carve out some time to stop, contemplate and work out the answer to the question that Alice asks of herself in Wonderland? “Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.” Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


Disclaimer: This document has been provided as an informational resource for Aon clients and business partners. It is intended to provide general guidance on potential exposures and is not intended to provide medical advice or address medical concerns or specific risk circumstances. Due to the dynamic nature of infectious diseases, Aon cannot be held liable for the guidance provided. We strongly encourage visitors to seek additional safety, medical and epidemiological information from credible sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. As regards insurance coverage questions, whether coverage applies or a policy will respond to any risk or circumstance is subject to the specific terms and conditions of the insurance policies and contracts at issue and underwriter determinations.

About the Author

Tarandeep Singh

Tarandeep Singh leads Aon’s Assessment Solutions for Asia Pacific and Middle East. He has more than 22 years extensive experience in human capital consulting and change management. Tarandeep supports clients in driving growth and enabling transformation, with a focus on product strategy and service solutioning.

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