Dear Dr. Donna - Working from Home – The Good, The Bad & The (Really) Ugly

Dr. Donna L. Roberts

Sane Advice for an Insane World

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Dear Dr. Donna,

With the COVID pandemic, my company, like many others, has transitioned to mandating that employees work from home. Rumor has it that even after the crisis is over, the company may continue with the new arrangements. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Some of the experience has been good but I never expected it to continue long term.

Any advice on this “new normal?”

- At the Keyboard, in My Pajamas

Dr. Donna Says . . .

Dear PJs,

With regard to working from home, let's just say there's good, there's bad and there’s (really) ugly.

The Good

1. You can stay in your jammies as long as you want

2. You set your own schedule

3. You can focus without office distractions

4. Your friends trapped in offices are insanely jealous

5. There is no more office drama

6. There are no more office politics

7. You don't have to make coffee to everyone else's liking

8. You can snack all day

9. You save time on personal grooming

10. You increase productivity

11. You don't worry about what day it is

12. You have more personal freedom

The Bad

1. You stay in your jammies for weeks at a time hoping no one rings the doorbell

2. Everyone thinks you have no schedule

3. You can’t focus due to household distractions

4. Your friends trapped in offices are insanely jealous

5. Life is boring without a bit of office drama

6. Every career feeds on a bit of politics

7. You always have to make your own coffee

8. You snack all day

9. Your self-grooming reaches a new low

10. You have longer working hours

11. You don't know what day it is

12. You have the illusion of personal freedom

The (Really) Ugly

1. You must eventually wash your favorite jammies

2. You’re expected to be available all the time

3. Laundry, kids, pets, television, Facebook, etc., etc., etc.

4. Your friends ask if you're ever going to get a real job again

5. You feel excluded when friends talk incessantly about office drama

6. Your friends learn to navigate office politics and advance while you languish

7. You realize you make really bad coffee yet you still drink the whole pot yourself

8. You cannot rummage through the office fridge for snacks

9. Eventually you have to turn the webcam on for meetings

10. You’re always at work

11. You fail the orientation section of the Mental Status Exam

12. You learn that freedom isn't free

It quickly becomes clear that there are tremendous advantages and disadvantages to working from home. Sometimes things can be downright ugly.

Anyone who’s ever taken a psych course knows that Sigmund Freud had a lot to say about how we live our lives. About work, he was very clear, noting its importance in our lives, stating, “Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.”

As usual, Freud was on to something . . . something big. It’s estimated that most of us will spend a third of our adult life “working”. Clearly, anything that takes up that much time and energy will become an integral part of how we see ourselves. By working in a specific field or organization, we come to identify ourselves with that collective group and incorporate the norms and values into our own self-identity. It follows then, if we lose part of that affiliation, we feel a sense of loss of self, an angst, a void.

Today there is a whole sub-field of psychology, pretentiously labeled, Industrial and Organizational Psychology, which focuses on the workplace and its role in our lives. On the business side of things, it is similarly profoundly titled Organizational Behavior. As such, these fields seek to define the process of work and its meaning. Psychologist David McClelland theorized three basic emotions that drive our work-related behavior – the achievement motivation, the power motivation, and the affiliation motivation. It seems fairly intuitive how these basic drives play into work in traditional settings. However, ever since technology has enabled us to work around the clock and around the globe negotiating these needs in the new workplace environments, including home, has become more of a challenge.

Like many of the challenges in life, perhaps the answer lies within, rather than in some external solution. Perhaps it is best expressed by Dan Millman in Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives, where he says, “A warrior does not give up what he loves, he finds the love in what he does”

It’s also important to keep perspective, i.e., to remember that the quest for meaningful and fulfilling work is essentially a first-world problem - a privilege, not a right. For most of history, and in plenty of the world today, the notion that work should provide a sense of purpose and meaning, reflect our values and passions, suit our personalities and preferences while nurturing our relationships and sense of self, is utterly foreign. In short, work to most of the world has, or still is, about sustenance and survival rather than success and satisfaction.

That said, in our comfortable modern life, for many of us the task of finding fulfilling work is one of the greatest challenges we will face. Roman Krznaric, in his 2013 book How to Find Fulfilling Work asks, “What is your current work doing to you as a person—to your mind, character and relationships?”

Whether at home or in an office setting, perhaps these are the central questions we should ask ourselves.

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Someone Once Said . . .

People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses or the problems of modern society. - Vince Lombardi

Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out. - John Wooden

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. - Theodore Roosevelt

If I waited until I have all my ducks in a row I would never get across the street. Sometimes you just have to gather what you’ve got and make a run for it. - Judge Lynn Toler

You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it's important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages. - Michelle Obama

The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. - Franklin D. Roosevel

Recommended Reading

For more info on the topic of working from home check out these titles.

Working From Home: Making the New Normal Work for You by Karen Mangia

Professional in Pajamas: 101 Tips for Working from Home by Karen Adamedes

Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working from Home by Kerry E. Hannon

Working From Home For Dummies by Tara Powers

Working From Home...How's That Working For You?: Clean Up Your Mess, Set Up Your Space, And Step Up Your Productivity by Wendy Ellin

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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.

Canandaigua, NY
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