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Why remote workers are anxious of going back to the office

By Sandra Wekesa
Monday, October 12th, 2020
Remote workers are anxious of going back to the office.
In summary

Working from home has been a necessary practice for many firms and workers during the lockdown period of the Covid-19 crisis. But with restrictions slowly being lifted, returning to normalcy, is proving to be an arduous task for many.

Sandra Wekesa @wekesa_sandra 

Over the past few months, remote working went from being an experiment or an expectation to being an essential requirement. 

Prior to the outbreak of coronavirus, many employers would never have imagined a scenario where most of their workforce would be working from home.

But the pandemic brought a sudden shift with close to half of the entire workforce working from home.

Surprisingly for many companies, the transition has been smooth with most office work continuing normally.

Considering the amount of time workers spend commuting, this shift, economists say saved time for employees, cut down transport costs increasing productivity of the labour force and contribute to economic prosperity.

According to a survey done in the United States by OnePoll, about 36 per cent of office workers found commuting less stressful.

While 38 per cent admitted that working remotely made them more productive and also made them work for longer hours than before.  

However, with phased reopening of the country, going back to the office is proving to be an arduous task for many.  

Victor Kenani, a journalist, says working from home made him productive as he would not worry about traffic and getting to the office late.

Also, being at home saw him spend more time with his child, which made him be more at ease. This is something, he says, he would miss

“At home, I got to be more creative and was less stressed. I also got to accomplish tasks faster.

I just can’t think of going back to the office after all that while,” he explains. 

Why it worked for good

It’s not any different for Steve Odhiambo. He who says he found it difficult to adjust going back to work from the office.

He had been used to finding enough time to rest and working at a flexible time. 

“I had to ask for some time off because I felt like I just couldn’t fit in immediately.

My mind had to digest and navigate fromworking from home to the office,” he recalls.

Conversely, many people are not willing to go back to normalcy due to various reasons such as fear, anxiety and comfort of working from home. 

 “Even as we go back to the office, things are not the same again. Many companies laid off their employees.

A few who were left are reporting to ghost offices. Imagine going back to work, but your friend and colleague was laid off. You have to get used to not seeing him or her.

Or your favourite supervisor was sacked. This eventually would affect your mental health, hence productivity,” says Beatrice Nderitu, a sociologist.

Working from home also had another advantage of not interacting with toxic colleagues physically.

Berating bosses, employees who take credit for others’ work, assign blame, gossip or spreading of rumours; and coworkers who exclude teammates from networks—all of these can cut a swath of destruction that’s often visible only to the immediate victims.

Targets of bad behaviour become angry, frustrated, and even vengeful. Job satisfaction falls, and performance plummets. 

“Every office has one or two people who are difficult to deal with. Just one negative vibe from such a co-worker can send company’s morale into a downward spiral.

To some extent, it is better when you don’t have to interact with such a person physically.

At home, a smile from your partner or a tiny hug from your little one can get you moving,” she adds.

 Raymond Mwaura, counselling psychologist, says that mental health is one of the first issue that workplaces need to look at.

“The fact that most people have been confined in their houses for the past few months means they might be going through some series of depression, social anxiety and might be having a fragile state of mind.

Others had their salary cut and may not be able to meet the demands of going back to the office and children going back to school,” he says. 

Lives changed

He adds that the partial return to normalcy is basically what so many people are anxious to face.

“At the moment, every situation is different because there are those who are happy to be rejoined with their colleagues and also those that are going through a hard time maybe because one of their spouse was laid off or there is just family pressure.

Employers should ensure that their employees mental health is fit by providing a suitable working environment,” he says.

 He strongly believes lives had changed enormously during lockdown, which makes it even harder for workers to adopt to their lives after everything has eased up. 

He says that some of the things that might actually be useful when it comes to adjusting is talking to your colleagues or supervisor on how they feel, especially when it comes to anxiety and fear.

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