Mental Health Implications of Remote Work: Navigating the New Normal

February 19, 2024   •  Posted in: 

In the wake of unprecedented global events, remote work has shifted to become much more ‘normal’. Far removed from the traditional office setting, the virtual realm has opened new doors of flexibility and adaptability. While the advantages of remote work are huge, it’s important to consider the mental health implications.

With remote work, for example, the once-clear boundary between professional and personal worlds has blurred as employees find themselves navigating a digital landscape where the boundaries of work and leisure collide. The mental effects of constant connectivity and the struggle to establish a healthy work-life balance can take a toll on workers.

In this article, the nuances of the mental health implications associated with remote work are explored. The psychological challenges individuals face in this era of virtual collaboration will be discussed, as well as an exploration of the intricate interplay between autonomy and isolation, the impact on team dynamics, and the struggle to maintain a sense of purpose and motivation in a world both interconnected and physically distant.

Strategies and resources to foster mental well-being in this evolving professional landscape are key to navigating remote work. Getting the psychological underpinnings of remote work right makes for a more resilient and balanced future, where individuals thrive both personally and professionally amid a rapidly transforming work environment.

1. Isolation and Loneliness

Humans are social beings, and social connections play a crucial role in mental health. Lack of face-to-face interactions can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Isolation can contribute to depression, anxiety, and a sense of disconnection. At the same time, loneliness can have a hugely detrimental effect on our physical health, too, with studies showing lonely individuals exhibit higher rates of morbidity and mortality[1].

If you are in a fully remote work environment, combatting feelings of isolation and fostering virtual connections is essential for maintaining mental well-being. Here are some effective strategies:

Regular Video Meetings

Face-to-face interactions, even virtually, can help build a sense of connection, so schedule regular video meetings for team check-ins, project updates, and casual conversations. Seeing colleagues’ faces can humanize digital interaction.

Virtual Watercooler Moments

Replicate the informal chats that occur in a physical office setting by setting aside time for virtual coffee breaks, where team members can gather casually to discuss non-work topics. Use messaging platforms for quick, informal conversations.

Online Team Building Activities

Foster a sense of camaraderie and teamwork by organizing virtual team-building activities such as online games, quizzes, or collaborative projects. These activities can provide opportunities for bonding outside of work-related tasks.

Open Communication Channels

Encourage transparent and open communication among team members by establishing clear digital communication channels where team members can share updates, ask questions, and express concerns. This can create a sense of accessibility and inclusion.

Buddy System or Mentorship Programs

Pair employees for mutual support and guidance through the implementation of a buddy system or mentorship program, where team members can connect one-on-one for support and guidance. This fosters a sense of belonging and provides a designated person for sharing experiences.

Virtual Happy Hours or Social Events

Create opportunities for socializing outside of work, such as virtual happy hours, social events, or themed gatherings. These events can be scheduled at the end of the workweek to unwind and connect on a more personal level.

Utilize Collaborative Tools

Enhance collaboration and a sense of shared work through the use of collaborative tools that facilitate real-time interaction, such as shared documents, project management platforms, and virtual whiteboards. This can simulate a collaborative workspace and strengthen teamwork.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

Support communities with shared interests or backgrounds and establish Employee Resource Groups based on common interests, hobbies, or demographic characteristics. These groups provide a platform for like-minded individuals to connect and share experiences.

Encourage Informal Communication

Create virtual spaces for casual interactions that will foster informal communication by encouraging team members to share personal updates, anecdotes, or even humorous content in dedicated channels on communication platforms.

By implementing these strategies, organizations can actively address feelings of isolation and cultivate a virtual work environment that prioritizes connection, collaboration, and employee well-being.

2. Zoom Fatigue and Screen Overload: Understanding the Cognitive Strain of Virtual Collaboration

While such screen-based activities can help reduce isolation and loneliness, the mental toll of perpetual video conferencing and extensive digital communication – often termed ‘Zoom fatigue’ – is a recognized challenge in remote work. Studies[2] show video conferences are exhausting, more than meetings held through other media.

The relentless cycle of virtual meetings, presentations, and screen-focused collaboration can lead to heightened cognitive strain and exhaustion. Prolonged exposure to screens, coupled with the demand for sustained attention during video calls, contributes to feelings of mental fatigue, eye strain, and a sense of being constantly under scrutiny.

Acknowledging and addressing these challenges can pave the way for enhanced digital well-being.

Techniques to mitigate screen fatigue include:

  • The Pomodoro Technique, where work is divided into focused intervals with short breaks.
  • The 20-20-20 rule encourages a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away.
  • Actively scheduling screen-free periods to allow eyes and minds to rejuvenate.

Fostering open communication within teams to encourage breaks, advocating for diverse modes of collaboration beyond video, and being mindful of individual boundaries contribute to a more sustainable and mentally nourishing digital work environment.

3. Autonomy, Motivation, and Purpose

Autonomy, motivation, and purpose play pivotal roles in shaping individual experiences and overall job satisfaction.

Remote workers often enjoy a heightened sense of autonomy, granting them the flexibility to structure their workdays according to personal preferences. But while autonomy can foster independence, maintaining motivation and a sense of purpose, it can also pose challenges in the absence of direct in-person interactions and team camaraderie.

While motivated, remote workers may also grapple with feelings of detachment from their teams and organizations, impacting their sense of belonging and connection to the company culture.

Nurturing effective virtual team dynamics, setting clear goals, and providing avenues for regular communication are essential in cultivating motivation and instilling a shared sense of purpose among remote workers.

Empowering individuals to find intrinsic meaning in their work, coupled with transparent communication about organizational goals, contributes to a more fulfilling and purpose-driven remote work experience – the perfect addition to the autonomy and motivation remote work can bring.

4. Creating an Optimal Remote Work Environment

Creating a conducive home office space is crucial for promoting mental well-being during remote work, whether full-time or part-time. Here are key elements to consider when setting up a home office:

Dedicated Workspace

Designate a specific area solely for work-related activities. This helps establish a clear boundary between work and personal life, promoting focus during work hours and relaxation during non-work hours.

Natural Light

Maximize exposure to natural light, as this positively impacts mood and alertness. Position your workspace near windows to allow daylight to flood the area.

Ergonomic Furniture

Prioritize comfort and support with ergonomic furniture. A comfortable chair and a well-designed desk reduce the risk of physical discomfort and contribute to a positive work environment.

Plants and Greenery

Integrate plants for a touch of nature. Plants can improve air quality and bring a sense of tranquility, positively influencing mental well-being.

Personalized Decor

Decorate with items that bring joy and inspiration. Personal touches, such as artwork or meaningful objects, can create a positive and uplifting atmosphere.

Organized Workspace

Maintain a clutter-free and organized environment. An organized space reduces visual distractions, making it easier to focus and fostering a sense of control and order.

Noise Management

Minimize distractions from external noise. Consider noise-canceling headphones or soundproofing measures to create a quieter work environment if required.

Proper Lighting

Ensure adequate and adjustable lighting. Proper lighting reduces eye strain and fatigue. Use a combination of ambient, task lighting (focused light for a work area above and beyond that room’s ambient light), and natural lighting to create a well-lit workspace.

Tech Organization

Organize and minimize tech clutter. Streamline cables and devices to create a visually clean and efficient workspace. This reduces mental clutter and promotes focus.

Comfortable Temperature

Maintain a comfortable room temperature. Extreme temperatures can affect mood and concentration. Adjust the thermostat to create a comfortable work environment.

Breakout Spaces

Create alternative spaces for breaks. Having a separate area for breaks can help refresh the mind and prevent burnout.

Personal Well-Being Tools

Incorporate elements that promote well-being. Include tools like a yoga mat, meditation cushion, or stress-relief items to encourage short breaks focused on mental and physical health.

Good Internet Connection

Ensure a reliable internet connection. A stable internet connection is essential for smooth work operations and reduces frustration during virtual meetings and tasks.

5. Achieving a Healthy Work-Life Balance

A 24/7 digital presence can make setting boundaries and maintaining a balance between work and personal life difficult.

The psychological benefits of routine in a remote work context are huge. Routines have been shown to increase predictability, help meet values and goals that give meaning to life, allow for work with available resources, and keep conflicts and disagreements relatively low[3].
Establishing a routine can significantly contribute to improving the mindset and well-being of remote workers.

Here’s an example routine for a full working day.

Wake Up Early

Aim to wake up at a consistent time each day to regulate your body’s internal clock.

Mindful Morning Ritual

Begin the day with a few minutes of mindfulness or meditation to set a positive tone.

Hydration and Nutrition

Start your day with a glass of water and a nutritious breakfast to fuel your body and mind.

Physical Activity

Engage in a quick workout, stretch, or a short morning walk to boost energy levels and enhance mood.

Set Daily Intentions

Outline your priorities for the day, setting achievable goals to guide your work.

Establish a Designated Workspace

Create a dedicated and organized workspace to signal the start of the workday.

Regular Breaks

Schedule short breaks between tasks to stretch, hydrate, or step outside for fresh air.

Virtual Communication

Stay connected with colleagues through regular virtual meetings and casual check-ins to combat feelings of isolation.

Lunch Break

Take a break to enjoy a mindful lunch, focusing on the flavors and taking time away from screens.

Short Walk or Stretch

Incorporate a brief walk or stretching session into your lunch break to refresh your mind and promote physical well-being.

Prioritize Tasks

Tackle high-priority tasks during your peak energy hours in the afternoon.

Mindful Pause

Take a moment for a brief mindfulness exercise or deep breathing to alleviate stress.

Set Work Boundaries

Establish a designated endpoint for work to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Reflective Journaling

Spend a few minutes reflecting on your day, noting achievements, and expressing gratitude.

Disconnect from Screens

Limit screen time in the evening to reduce eye strain and promote relaxation.

Dinner and Family Time

Enjoy a nutritious dinner and quality time with family or friends.

Relaxation Time

Engage in activities you enjoy, such as reading, listening to music, or watching a movie.

Digital Detox

Consider implementing a brief digital detox before bedtime to improve sleep quality.

Wind Down Ritual

Establish a calming bedtime routine, including activities like reading or gentle stretching.

Adequate Sleep

Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night to support overall well-being and cognitive function.

6. Incorporating Mental Health Practices into Your Remote Workday

Social interactions act as a buffer against stress, and when these are reduced, individuals may experience heightened stress levels and challenges in coping with work-related pressures.

As remote working comes with an increased risk of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, it’s important to mitigate these with activities that support well-being.

Mindfulness techniques can be powerful tools for reducing stress and enhancing focus, according to the research[4]. Here are some examples of what to do and how:

Mindful Breathing

Focus on your breath, paying attention to each inhale and exhale. Practice deep, slow breaths to calm the nervous system.

Set aside a few minutes each day to engage in mindful breathing. This can be done sitting comfortably or even during short breaks throughout the day.

Body Scan Meditation

Gradually bring awareness to different parts of your body, noting any tension or sensations. This promotes relaxation and body awareness.

Lie down or sit comfortably. Starting from your toes, slowly scan each part of your body, releasing tension as you go.

Guided Imagery

Visualize a peaceful scene or scenario, engaging your senses to create a vivid mental image.

Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a calming place, such as a beach or forest. Focus on the details, colors, and sensations to evoke a sense of relaxation.

Mindful Walking

Pay attention to each step, the sensation of your feet touching the ground, and your surroundings during a walk.

Take a mindful walk, whether it’s around your home, in a park, or during a break at work. Be fully present in the act of walking.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

Tense and then gradually release different muscle groups, promoting physical and mental relaxation.

Sit or lie down comfortably. Start with your toes and work your way up, tensing and then releasing each muscle group.

Mindful Eating

Pay close attention to the flavors, textures, and sensations of each bite during a meal.
Implementation: Take a few moments before eating to appreciate the appearance and aroma of your food. Eat slowly, savoring each bite mindfully.

Loving-Kindness Meditation

Cultivate feelings of compassion and goodwill toward yourself and others.

Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and repeat phrases like “May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be safe.” Extend these wishes to others in your life.

Mindful Listening

Focus on fully listening to sounds without judgment or reaction.

Choose a sound, such as birdsong or a piece of calming music, and listen attentively. Allow your mind to be fully present with the auditory experience.

Mindful Journaling

Write down your thoughts and feelings without judgment, fostering self-awareness.
Implementation: Set aside time each day to jot down your thoughts, reflections, or things you’re grateful for. This can help clear the mind and promote mindfulness.

5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique

Engage your senses by identifying and focusing on five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

Use this technique when feeling overwhelmed to bring attention to the present moment.

Consistent practice of any of the techniques above can contribute to reduced stress, increased focus, and an overall sense of well-being.

7. Mental Health Resources

Those managing remote workers should educate themselves in ways to support overall well-being and offer resources for those struggling with isolation. Sharing information on mental health resources, such as employee assistance programs (EAPs) or access to counseling services, encourages individuals to seek support when needed.

The Center • A Place of HOPE is an award-winning mental health facility offering support for all types of psychological and emotional issues. Our admissions process is efficient and comprehensive. If you are looking to start treatment quickly, we are proud to offer one-day admissions. Find out more.

1. Park, C., Majeed, A., Gill, H., Tamura, J., Ho, R.C., Mansur, R.B., Nasri, F., Lee, Y., Rosenblat, J.D., Wong, E. and McIntyre, R.S., 2020. The effect of loneliness on distinct health outcomes: a comprehensive review and meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research, 294, p.113514.
2. Nesher Shoshan, H. and Wehrt, W., 2022. Understanding “Zoom fatigue”: A mixed‐method approach. Applied Psychology, 71(3), pp.827-852.
3. Weisner, T. S. (2010). Well-being, chaos, and culture: Sustaining a meaningful daily routine. In G. W. Evans & T. D. Wachs (Eds.), Chaos and its influence on children’s development: An ecological perspective (pp. 211–224). American Psychological Association.
4. Puzia, M.E., Green, J., Clarke, C., Cloonan, S. and Huberty, J., 2022. Examining the associations of using the Calm app with team mindfulness and psychological safety in remote workers. Environmental and Occupational Health Practice, 4(1).

Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

Read More

Related Posts

What Is the Denial Stage of Grief?

By: Dr. Gregory Jantz  •  November 27, 2023

Denial is one of the five stages of grief. This model of grief was developed by the Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying[1]. Although the Kübler-Ross model (also known as the five stages of grief model) was developed as a way to support terminally...

Exploring the Mental Health Benefits of Journaling

By: Dr. Gregory Jantz  •  January 4, 2024

This article details the therapeutic writing process and its effects on self-awareness, stress reduction, and overall well-being. You will discover how to begin a journaling practice with ten therapeutic journaling prompts to try out for yourself. What is journaling? Journaling is writing down your thoughts, feelings, experiences, and reflections in...

The Keys to Emotional Equilibrium

By: Dr. Gregory Jantz  •  October 23, 2015

It is vital for your emotional equilibrium that you counterbalance anger, fear, and guilt with optimism, hope, and joy.

Get Started Now

"*" indicates required fields

Main Concerns*
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Whole Person Care

The whole person approach to treatment integrates all aspects of a person’s life:

  • Emotional well-being
  • Physical health
  • Spiritual peace
  • Relational happiness
  • Intellectual growth
  • Nutritional vitality