Working from home is an increasingly popular thing to do–and more of us are doing it on the regular. Whether we’re freelancers, own our own businesses, or travel a lot for work, a Gallup survey found that 43 percent of Americans work remotely at least some of the time. That’s a decent jump from 39 percent in 2012.
Working from home can have some serious benefits. It’s shown to help with productivity, it’s environmentally friendly, and it allows you to get more use out of your home gym. Working in your pajamas may cut your commute, but it also may have some other less obvious side effects. It’s important to talk about what it might be doing to your mental health.
According to Dr. Charlynn Ruan, clinical psychologist and founder of Thrive Psychology Group in Los Angeles, working from home can have both positive and negative effects on your wellbeing. “If you plan well and are intentional about how you schedule for work-life balance, social interactions, and [have] a positive work environment in your home, then working from home can give flexibility that is positive for one’s mental health,” she says. “Working from bed or [in] your pajamas can be tempting, but [that] can leave people feeling depressed.”
Working from home can cause feelings of isolation.
If you work remotely, chances are that you spend much of your day alone and communicating primarily through email. This can be great when you want to focus on an important project without distractions. But it isn’t great for your mental health long-term. “The lack of casual interactions throughout the day can lead to missing last minute plans with co-workers, such as [a] happy hour or impromptu lunches,” Dr. Ruan says. “This can leave you feeling left out both socially and professionally.”
In order to make sure that you don’t spend hours on end without human interaction (sorry, pets don’t count), Dr. Ruan says that it’s important to make regular plans to touch base with colleagues. Whether that’s a coffee meeting or Skype call, staying connected with others outside of email helps build meaningful relationships and reduces feelings of isolation. So, whenever possible, make an effort to see co-workers face-to-face.
Another way to combat feelings of isolation is to spend a few hours in a co-working shared space or coffee shop. Even if you’re typing away on your laptop, a change of scenery and being around other people can help alleviate feelings of loneliness. It’s also a great way to stretch your legs or get some easy steps in.
If you work from home, make plans to see people.
If you work for yourself or don’t have colleagues, it’s incredibly important to leave your home to see your friends. Since there’s a relationship between isolation and depression, having a strong social network is one of the most important factors in mental health and life satisfaction, Dr. Ruan says.
“With people working longer and longer hours, work relationships are becoming increasingly important in developing a good social network,” she explains. “Therefore when working from home, it’s important to schedule social activities into your day—like a yoga class or lunch with friends—to compensate for the lack of social contact [that] you would normally get in the office.”
Working from home can affect the quality of your work.
Some of us do our best work when we’re in the comfort of our home. Not having a million conflicting ideas about how a task should be done helps with productivity. Some projects are better done alone to avoid groupthink, Dr. Ruan says. Plus, she adds, some folks who are introverted may not feel comfortable expressing their ideas in front of others. But, on the other hand, working alone can hinder brainstorming processes.
“If you have a positive work environment where brainstorming and taking creative risks are encouraged, working in a group can lead to greater creativity,” she says. If you work on a team where you can meet with others in-person to discuss ideas, make an effort to do so. Maybe you don’t have a team to bounce ideas off of. If so, seeking out a mentor or joining a freelance meetup group can help.
Outside of the work itself, working remotely for long periods of time might make you less able to navigate workplace relationships, Dr. Ruan says. This can affect your ability to understand workplace norms. In turn, it can hurt your potential to work effectively with others. To keep these skills sharp, Dr. Ruan suggests volunteering and partaking in outside group activities.
It’s all about balance.
Working from home is a highly personal thing. For some of us, it’s great and fosters productivity. For others, it can lead to feelings of social isolation and loneliness. To make sure that you maintain good mental health, it’s important to create a positive workspace. Additionally, be aware of how you’re feeling.
“Working from a sunny, well-lit, tidy, and cheerful spot in your home will be key to maintaining a positive mood,” Dr. Ruan says. “Designate a home office area so [that] your work does not permeate your personal life.”
And, in order to keep your mind and body sharp even when you’re not working, make sure that you eat properly, get enough exercise, and sleep well. Turn off your phone, stop checking your emails, and relax once your workday is done. Just because you work from home, doesn’t mean that you should always be working when you’re there.