Anxiety of presence while working from home: What it is and how to solve it

While driving to get my morning coffee a few weeks ago (something to break up my cup of joe at home routine) I turned on my radio and dialed to my favorite station. After the usual updates from around the world, they cut to a clip of a program where I heard a phrase that has stuck with me.

“It’s not working from home…it’s living at work”. I chuckled and thought to myself, “Exactly”.

Working from home under these circumstances has created a new phenomenon—the anxiety of presence. Employees—myself included— are finding ourselves feeling the strain of being always ‘visible’ online, through a checkmark or green circle. This pressure begs these questions: Is this worry worth it? Or does it hamper our productivity and mental wellbeing?

What we know

In one of our previous blogs (you can check it out, here) we discussed some of Microsoft’s recent research and statistics about working from home. In that previous post, we talked about how findings showed remote meetings cause greater fatigue and stress, as video meetings require higher levels of sustained concentration. One of the things that contribute to this higher level of concentration is that remote meeting participants are perpetually present, having to exert energy “to extract relevant information and stay engaged”.

 Being ‘always on’ doesn’t just happen in remote meetings—it’s pervasive throughout our workdays as a whole. One of the information workers interviewed in the study said, “My hours are getting longer… It’s a very real point, we’ve been connected prior, but now our laptops are sitting with us in the kitchen, and people need quick updates.”

 In the report, Microsoft measured the usage of their communication and collaboration hub, Teams.

They found:

Image credit: Microsoft

Teams chats outside of the typical workday, from 8-9 a.m. and 6-8 p.m., have increased between 15% and 23%.

Teams chats on and Saturday and Sunday have increased over 200%.

What you can do

Microsoft has advice and a few features to quell some of the anxieties of working from home. In their Teams app, the focus status lets others in your organization know you need some time to concentrate on work. They also have the quiet hours and quiet days capability, which silences Teams notifications during your specified time(s). As for how to handle the ‘always on feeling’ during meetings, Microsoft recommends limiting meeting length to 30 minutes, taking breaks during long meetings, and taking breaks every two hours.  

Both these Teams features, as well as these meeting tips and tricks, will help provide some structure to your workday and manage your presence online—so you feel like you’re working from home, not ‘living at work’.

Talk to us.

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