By Michael Copp, Executive Vice President
I do not know about you, but I feel more bushed by the end of the day than I did before the pandemic forced a lot of us to telework from home. I maintain that this feeling of exhaustion comes from stress that is induced in part from feeling a general lack of control. In an article published by Psychology Today, its authors list common symptoms of stress: (Retrieved from the World Wide Web on July 13, 2020, here).
- “Sadness, confusion, irritability, anger, uneasiness, and suicidal thoughts
- Reduced concentration, efficiency, and productivity
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Interpersonal problems (e.g., lies, defensiveness, communication concerns)
- Tension (e.g., headaches, jaw clenching, teeth grinding)
- Body pain (e.g., headaches, muscle spasms)
- Reduced energy (e.g., tiredness, weakness, fatigue)
- Sleeping problems (e.g., insomnia, nightmares)”
The Center for Leadership and Organizational Change at the University of Maryland observes that “We are not working from home. We are at home, during a crisis, trying to get some work done.” (Retrieved from the World Wide Web on July 9, 2020). Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy (2020) wrote in their article, How to Combat Zoom Fatigue, that “force us to focus more intently on conversations in order to absorb information.” (Retrieved from the World Wide Web on July 9, 2020, here). They suggest that “Zoom fatigue stems from how we process information over video. On a video call the only way to show we’re paying attention is to look at the camera…having to engage in a ‘constant gaze’ [which] makes us uncomfortable — and tired.”
The feeling of exhaustion is exacerbated by fighting the urge to read email, text a co-worker, friend or family member, and mitigate interruptions caused by pets, children, partners and/or parents during a video conference. Fosslien and Duffy (2020) shared several helpful tips that can reduce this weariness:
- Avoid multitasking- “switching between tasks can cost you as much as 40 percent of your productive time.”
- Build in breaks- “consider making meetings 25 or 50 minutes… to give yourself enough time in between” for a quick break.
- Reduce onscreen stimuli- The Starship Enterprise background may be cool, but it’s a lot of visual stimuli to process. Consider opting for simple virtual backgrounds.
- Make virtual social events opt-in- “…[the host] makes it explicit that people are welcome, but not obligated, to join.”
- Switch to phone calls or email- If it’s a practical alternative, it’s likely that others might appreciate the break from video conferencing, too.
- For external calls, avoid defaulting to video- “…a video call is fairly intimate and can even feel invasive in some situations”- especially amongst clients and others you do not know well.
Other causes of mental and physical fatigue include working longer hours, poor posture while sitting still for longer periods of time, lack of exercise, and feeling lethargic. Given the additional fear, anxiety, and stress associated with COVID-19, I sheepishly admit that at times I feel disassociated from everything and everyone. So, for those of you working remotely-m while you might find entertaining ways to get through yet another video conference– like messing with a video add-on or a virtual meeting background that you suddenly can’t turn off,–you are not the only one feeling more exhausted these days trying to get work done from home. We need to remember that we still have other tried and true means of communicating with each other and that video conferencing is not a panacea for feeling more connected and more productive in every interaction. And for goodness sake, stand up, turn up the radio and bust a move like no one is watching- uhm… after your video conference is over because frankly, no one can unsee that.
Working in the field
These are also very stressful times for contractors and their employees out in the field providing essential services. According to a recent PHCC Contractors Sentiment Survey in 2020, their work lives have changed quite a bit:
- The pandemic has impacted their everyday life emotionally and socially. They are juggling issues like family members that have been laid off, children at home being home-schooled, fear of income reduction, and potential job loss.
- Loss of production due to potential exposure to others that either tested positive or showed symptoms of COVID-19
- Business off by 40-50%. Construction shut down in many areas
- Low call volume- Clients only seeking emergency repairs
- Reduced work hours for the crew in order to keep them on the payroll and avoid layoffs
- Splitting schedules impacts the daily workload
- Increase level of safety measures leading to higher than normal tension and stress
- Jobs will take longer with added safety measures being taken and resulting jobsite congestion
- Longer wait times when ordering, shipping delays, cost increases and decreased hours of operation. Rescheduling due to shipment delays
- Difficulties in finding personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning material, etc.
- Cannot enter supply houses and must call first, then pick up at curb
“As information on COVID-19 continues to develop, it is important to stay updated with information from reputable sources such as this prevention guide and this myth busting list from The World Health Organization.” The Psychology Today article suggests several steps one can take to mitigate these stressors to include knowing your limits such as “limit[ing] your consumption of news,” taking care of yourself and “eating nutritious foods, staying active, and getting adequate rest,” and learning coping mechanisms like playing with a pet, calling a friend or family member, reading a favorite book, and practicing gratitude as a way to reframe negative thoughts. It’s been widely recommended that one communicate often with their supervisors, mentors, or anyone to whom they feel comfortable expressing concerns and developing ways to address them quickly.
While these stress inducers may be with us for a while, we can all take comfort in the fact that they will not be here forever. Flexibility, adaptability, patience and perseverance are all key, and as many people say: “We’re all in this together.”