As with anything in life, too much of one thing isn’t good for you. This common saying is an interesting perspective to bring to the remote work conversation––while there are numerous benefits to being able to work from home, as the pandemic continues on, time has brought some of the negative effects of remote work to light, serving as a reminder that balance is key to a hybrid work environment. We chatted with Framery’s Service Designer, Ulla Oksanen, to discuss how remote work might be affecting our brains:
The Mirror Effect
Working from home can lead to endless amounts of back-to-back conference calls. Without even realizing it, we’re deepening our Zoom fatigue due to “The Mirror Effect,” which is a phrase that references how often we see ourselves when we’re working from home. There is a huge difference between how often we see ourselves in the workplaces versus when we’re dialing in remotely. Essentially, the mirror effect recognizes that self-evaluation can be all-consuming. It’s easy for us to get distracted by the way we look: Do I look engaged? Do I look tired? Is my hair messed up? Seemingly trivial questions then consume our minds, tiring us out, before we’re even able to dive into the matter at hand on the call.
On this point of discussion, Ulla explains, “We’re starting to better understand why remote calls can be so draining for us overtime. First and foremost, we need to acknowledge that this is happening. Employees across any industry type can be hesitant to admit that they’re struggling. The fact of it is that this is a huge shift for all of us and we need to be able to say out loud what is challenging about this new work experience so that we can develop thoughtful solutions for staff.”
It all goes back to balance. It’s refreshing to step away from our home environments and get back into the physical workplace. Video conferencing isn’t going away, and while it brings a lot of benefits for a company to the table, coming into the physical office can be a nice way of taking a step away from our home offices and giving us a break from the mirror effect. Instead of staring into a screen, we’re actually experiencing genuine social encounters and facetime with our teams, colleagues, and friends.
Going from one meeting to another looks vastly different at home than it does in the office. When we’re in the office, we might hop into an acoustic pod to take a one-on-one conference call or go over to a breakout space to have a team meeting or brainstorm. There’s natural movement happening here: walking from one space to the next, subsequently, giving your mind a moment to decompress and yourself a moment to breathe.
There are other valuable moments that happen amidst the movement, you catch a glimpse of coworkers laughing and get to hear the end of a joke, you walk by the cafe and you’re able to grab a coffee, water, or snack before diving into your next regroup. These moments, while seemingly simple, have a large impact on your day-to day wellbeing at work. Additionally, mobility has a large connection to cognition––we think better when we move.
On the flipside, when you’re at home, jumping from one call to another can involve little to no movement at all. This reduced mobility can have a larger impact on our brains than we want to readily admit––we’ve already taken away the commute, and now we’re seated at desks, confined to a small video conference square on our screens. Even the duration of a meeting looks different in-office and online: in-person we don’t think twice about getting up for a glass of water, moving around in the swivel chair, or stretching. On a video conference call from home, we’re less inclined to move outside of the frame, making us unnaturally still, stiff, and uncomfortable over long periods of time. The key to recognize here is that movement is almost like a medicine to our brains––it serves us a great deal of good to stay active throughout the workday.
“I encourage people to look for those natural transitions at home and at work. While we’re all familiar with the benefits of taking a break from our phone screens, breaks from our devices are even more crucial to our wellbeing when we’re working remotely. Give your eyes a moment to rest, identify the things that are happening around you; basically step away from the virtual work environment and soak up the physical one and find the unique moments that your space has to offer you,” says Ulla.
At the office, even just taking a moment and going into an acoustic pod can be that breather that you’ve needed all day. Especially when considering all of the employees that are being called to return to their offices, these soundproof spaces can offer a nice refuge for that transition. There are benefits of working remotely, just as there are benefits of working from the office––but the full potential of hybrid work is accomplished when employees are able to establish a balance of in-office and at-home time. Balance is going to be an incredibly important component to successfully navigate the hybrid office for the long term and these types of conversations are only the beginning.