Abu Dhabi: The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted corporate life across the world in a way that truly brought the digital revolution home. But more than nine months into the new working norms, residents — many of whom are still working remotely in turns — admit that the changes have brought about a degree of stress and anxiety.
From finding suitable work spaces at home, to carving out time for personal lives, to the inability to share worries about job security and health with colleagues — the shift to the work-from-home format has not been easy. In a survey of more than 12,000 residents in 11 countries, including the UAE, by technology corporation, Oracle, 81 per cent of those polled felt they are dealing with more stress and anxiety at work this year.
“With remote working, there are many obstacles one needs to adapt to. For instance, as we are all working in some form of isolation. We need to book online meetings for every little thing — you do not have the luxury of having colleagues around to talk to. Otherwise, you have to make do with whatever equipment you have at home, whereas you are used to having all this at the office,” said Nikola Aksentijevic, 41, consumer sales head at technology firm, Epson. “Working hours seems to be longer and family time has gotten shorter. A a result, [work stress] can just build up to much more than usual,” the Serbian expat added.
No social relief
In an office setting, people often relieve their stress and frustrations by sharing a cup of coffee, or going out for a quick lunch. Those working from home are, however, unable to manage this. “What I miss the most is interacting with my colleagues and my team in person. While we are continuing to communicate through video conferences and phone calls, this is not the same feeling as being present in person. In the office, we are used to having our morning coffee together and discussing our workday,” said Majd Sinan, country manager at cybersecurity firm, Trend Micro. The 52-year-old Syrian has been working from home since March, like many other members of the UAE workforce.
No work-life balance
“It can also be challenging not to get distracted when you are working from home and your family is right there. In addition, work-life boundaries disappear when you work from home. This can impact one’s personal life, the time spent with family, and even your efficiency at work,” Sinan added. The expat said he had managed to set up a dedicated remote work space with the help of his wife. Even so, he felt that his children may have even become bothered by his working from home. “You feel like you are disturbing your family by discussing business and work-related topics. They hear you talking about work day after day,” he said.
Unable to share
Being at the workplace can also help dissipate stress because team members get to share their concerns, or even pitch in when needed to distribute the workload. “Even though we are all still in touch, the feeling of being at the office and being able to bounce ideas off one another, to joke, ask questions and share the burden, is missing. So work stopped feeling collaborative, [and just became all about deadlines], said Nada A., a 29-year-old media professional from Jordan. She said that she had also not been able to find a great work space, and that just the presence of her husband and cat at home could be distracting.
“Moreover, many managers are distrustful of their team because they cannot oversee everything in person. This is understandable because it is a new way of working, but it just compounds all the stress, and increases the number of tasks one has to complete during the workday,” she said.
As the search for a COVID-19 vaccine continues, it seems more and more likely that the work-from-home model will be widely used in the UAE at least till the end of the year, if not longer. With working professionals reporting unprecedented levels of stress, sleep deprivation and burnout — even in the absence of the commute to and from work — it seems like a good idea for employers to also be flexible, and to seek to understand the challenges remote working has entailed, some residents said.
An Asian engineer who declined to be named said that employers definitely need to be more accommodating. “It is difficult to get things fully quiet at home because my children are so young. So during meetings, this just adds to my stress and anxiety. Given that I also have a lot more work now, and because layoffs have become commonplace to keep pace with the financial challenges, all of this is creating a lot of stress. I just hope my bosses can be more understanding,” he said.
For others, the support of family has been essential to make the workday easier.
Rajesh Balachandran, 41, regional sales manager at an electronics firm, said his workplace had been shifting to an agile work model for more than a year. “Because we have been doing this for a while now, including working from home four days a month, this transition has not been as much of a jolt for me. I try to treat myself as if I am at work during working hours, and even if I cannot find a separate room, I try to settle myself in a place that is less busy. At the same time, as this becomes the new norm, employers do have to grow to understand the practical challenges of working remotely, such as a crying child during a meeting, or technical concerns that take longer to resolve,” he said.
Naziha Niyan Anas, 37, a Sri Lankan mother-of-three, said she keeps meals prepared for her husband and three boys. “I prepare ahead, and keep my youngest son — aged four — engaged and away from my husband’s meetings in the hope that this will be of some help,” she said.