Is remote work making us paranoid? It might be – and there are completely logical reasons as to why. Who could blame us, really? Many who now work from home (WFH) had never done so before.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to mitigate any negative effects you feel. These include managing your expectations and to resist being a people-pleaser.
But, before we get into that, we’ll take a look at why remote work makes us paranoid. The reasons are simple on the surface, but they have lasting effects.
Let’s chat about remote work, paranoia, and how to manage this relationship.
Have you ever heard the term “Imposter Syndrome”? It’s the persistent and unrealistic belief that you’re a fraud. Unrealistic, because of the overwhelming, contradictory evidence of this belief.
It’s incredibly common for those experiencing a period of transition or change. This is why it’s no surprise that it’s become common in the last two years.
The shift to remote work was sudden but unavoidable. Many were forced to adjust to a new way of working. To add to that, we were isolated and the entire world was reeling. Emotions were high and fear was rampant.
Is it any wonder remote work made us paranoid?
If remote work is making you paranoid, you’re not alone. We are all out here, struggling to adjust to the new normal. Yes, it’s been two years. But time has no bearing on things like this.
Have you ever messaged a coworker and an hour later you were still waiting on a reply? Are they just busy? Or have you offended them somehow?
Does that sound familiar?
To make things worse, some companies use software to monitor employees’ work. This micromanagement is not good for anyone.
It was these other side-effects of WFH that spurred our paranoia. They might not seem bad on their own. But when they’re all mixed, it’s a volatile cocktail.
Let’s explore these side-effects in detail.
When you receive feedback via email, Slack, Skype, or whatever digital platform you use, it’s hard to gauge nuances.
The tone of voice is as important as the words themselves. Without that, you’re missing a key element.
This can cause constructive feedback to seem like harsh criticism, instead.
Even during video meetings, it’s harder to read social cues.
Body language, facial expressions, and emotional cues are important. Yes, you can see their faces and hear their tone of voice.
But, are they looking away to read a message? Or is it because you’re boring them?
Such things are difficult to determine through a screen.
This was one of the more difficult aspects of the global lockdown.
Humans are social creatures by nature. Being unable to meet up with friends, family, and coworkers was depressing.
When we say this, we mean that it caused real depression for countless people around the globe.
As they spent more time alone, receiving validation became harder. This made it easier for people to succumb to imposter syndrome.
Hybrid work models have become increasingly popular. They offer flexibility and freedom.
But, there’s a downside too.
Those who mostly WFH sometimes fear being left out. This feeling isn’t completely unfounded, either. Those who spend more time in-office will experience and know things that remote workers won’t get to.
This can lead to an “us” versus “them” environment. Is it any wonder that remote working is making us paranoid?
This is why it’s best when the entire team (and the manager) are remote workers. It prevents cliques from forming within teams.
Isolation leads to self-doubt and insecurity. You end up picking apart every online interaction and conversation.
Your paranoia about yourself amps up, and you go out of your way to please everyone.
Managing paranoia is imperative for your overall happiness and job satisfaction. Let’s go over some important steps to take, to ensure that your remote work experience is a good one.
To mitigate paranoia, it’s best to prevent any misinterpretations and assumptions. A good way to do this is by setting expectations with all relevant people.
- The communication style and medium.
- How managers will make decisions.
- How teams will deal with internal conflict and different opinions.
- The maximum time to respond to messages.
- Being open-minded and non-judgemental.
- Speaking up for yourself.
- Offering honest, constructive criticism.
- Add your work hours.
- How you work/learn best.
- Things you struggle with.
These are only examples, and you can add anything you think might help.
Paranoia often turns us into people-pleasers. This might seem good on the surface, but you’ll only overextend yourself.
Have you found yourself attending every virtual meeting? Even when your presence wasn’t strictly necessary?
Overextending yourself gives you the illusion of control. You fear that they will say or do something behind your back. If you’re at every meeting, they can’t do that. Right?
If you carry on in this way, you will burn out.
A simple way to manage this is by critically auditing your schedule. Are there meetings you can cancel/remove from your calendar?
If you still want to know what takes place, read the direct report afterward. Or, you could ask a coworker to take notes for you.
This will feel uncomfortable, and it should. It means you’re on the right track.
When you aren’t speaking in person, it’s easy to perceive a throwaway comment as an insult.
Even if you’re not an overly sensitive person, paranoia can make you twitchy.
Try seeing things from their perspective. What could have made them react that way? Is there a different interpretation of their behavior?
You might find that they weren’t displeased with you. It could simply be that they’ve had a stressful day.
WFH makes it difficult to leave work anxieties at the door. How do you stop work stress from interfering with your personal life?
Mental exercises are a great way to compartmentalize.
Have you ever heard of someone having a ‘mental box’? Imagine a box in your mind. Now shove all your work worries, stress, fears, and concerns into the box.
Seal it up tight and toss the mental box into a corner in your home office. Try and forget about it until tomorrow.
A more practical way to compartmentalize is to have a separate work area. While a home office might not be possible, you can still have a designated space.
Even if it’s just a corner in your bedroom, having a workspace will help to compartmentalize. When you leave that space at the end of the day, leave all the work stress there too.
Another way to do this is to have separate work electronics. Have a different laptop, tablet, and/or phone for work.
This removes the temptation to check up on work during your leisure time.
And, as tempting as it is, don’t continue past your scheduled cutoff time.
Working from home is tough on those who had always worked in an office. Many were completely unprepared for remote work.
Lots of employees don’t have space for a home office or know how to find a balance.
A little remote work paranoia is understandable. But, too much of it is unhealthy.
Remember to set clear expectations with your team and managers. Try to avoid pleasing everyone. Agreeing to everything (when your plate is already full) will only hurt yourself.
Most importantly, don’t take things personally and learn to compartmentalize.
Managing remote work paranoia won’t be easy, but it will make working easier. Be kind to yourself, and remember: you’re not a fraud.