Grip and control when working from home

The coronavirus outbreak caused the business community to switch en masse to online home working. For some organisations, this was an easy transition: a lot of work was already done online and from home. For other organisations, the step was much bigger. One minute staff were in the office, the next everyone was working from home. Despite quite a few hurdles, most organisations managed to carry out this forced transition without major losses. A fine example of organisational skills and flexibility, for which we can give ourselves a big pat on the back!

The problems of online homeworking

Now that the dust has settled after more than six months, it turns out that long-term online working from home can still cause problems. One of these problems we address in this blog concerns the feeling of loss of control that many people feel. This sense of loss of control leads to deterioration in mental and physical health. Below you can read why it negatively affects, and how to prevent this feeling in your organisation.

Why we are all "control freaks"

Neuroscience research shows that, as humans, we like to maintain control over our environment, both privately and at work. Our brain acts as a "prediction machine", constantly looking for signals that predict what is about to happen to us. This way, we avoid nasty surprises that could jeopardise our interests. Predicting our environment requires information. We use this information to adjust our circumstances and behaviour in time, so that we obtain the best possible outcome in any situation.

The worse we are at predicting our environment, the more stress hormones are produced by our brain. While this stress makes us alert, it costs our body an enormous amount of energy. Prolonged stress leads to deterioration of both our mental and physical health, with negative consequences for both ourselves and our work environment.

Working from home means loss of control

Pre corona we imperceptibly obtained an extraordinary amount of predictive information by being in personal contact with each other. Consider, for example:

  • The ease of dropping by colleagues and managers, to ask a quick question or share information.
  • The moments just before and after a meeting. These were ideally suited for sharing important issues off-the-record.
  • The corridor circuit: lunches, walks, smoke breaks, the coffee machine and birthday cake were excellent opportunities to informally share important information.
  • It was also possible in personal contact to read each other's non-verbal communication and thus learn a lot about each other's moods and real motivations, among other things.

In these - and many other - ways, we kept ourselves well informed and maintained a sense of overview of our working environment.

These informal ways of predicting the work environment have been largely lost with online working from home. Consciously or unconsciously, this leads to many people losing control, feeling less 'in control' of the ins and outs of the department or organisation and not knowing everything they should know. This creates a feeling of insecurity and unconsciously causes stress.

Give employees back the sense of control

As a team or department manager, it is very important in the coming period of working from home to replace the former informal in-office information circuit with other forms of information provision. One of these forms is working with communication platforms, which focus on transparency, accessibility of knowledge and the possibility of social interaction. By actively using such a platform together, employees regain their sense of control over their work in the foreseeable future. Resulting in an increase in mental well-being and reduction of stress.

Want to know more about working with such a communication platform? Then also read the article on MS Teams.

If you are interested in other ways to restore a sense of control in your employees as a manager, feel free to take contact with me.

Anneke van der Kuip

Speaker, consultant and trainer in neuroleadership

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