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Stress Management for Mobile Professionals and Telecommuters

5 challenges remote workers face & how to reduce the stress they cause

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Although many studies have shown that telecommuters report less stress and higher morale compared to on-site employees, working remotely can also pose unique challenges and introduce new causes of stress. Here are some of the issues mobile professionals and telecommuters face, and ways to manage or reduce your stress while working away from the office.

(Note: For more general, yet comprehensive, stress reduction for all types of work situations, I highly recommend the book Calm at Work, by Paul Wilson. It's a great resource for life-planning as well.)

1. Overwork

Issue: Traditional on-site workers may occasionally or even often bring work home with them. For remote workers, however, the work is always at home with them, and this can make the potential for overwork or burnout much higher for telecommuters (especially Type A workaholics). Working from home or on the road also takes you away from the formal structure provided by the workplace, requiring you to manage your own time -- something that's challenging for many of us.

Stress Management Tips:

  • Set and stick to a working schedule and routine, and make sure your routine includes taking regular breaks. If it's hard for you to stop working at the end of the day, set up appointments or join activities that will force you to stop at a certain time.
  • Limit yourself to only a couple of reasonably-attainable tasks to accomplish each week (or whatever is appropriate for your job). For each task, differentiate between what is truly urgent and merely important.
  • Set up some physical boundaries between your work and home lives. If you're a teleworker, set up your office space in a separate room (and close the door at the end of the day); if you work on the road a lot, put away your laptop and paperwork at the end of the day.
  • Consider productivity systems like Getting Things Done or Franklin Covey's planning system to work more efficiently and reduce stress.

2. Pressure to Always Be Available

Issue: Sometimes the "always on" issue is an internal one: When working remotely, you may feel guilty or anxious if you miss a call from the office or a customer, even if you do so for legitimate reasons (even on-site staff take bathroom breaks). Also, because you're a mobile worker with 24/7 BlackBerry access or a telecommuter working from home, there may be (unreasonable) expectations for you to always be reachable.

Stress Management Tips:

  • Stop putting the pressure on yourself -- acknowledge that you may not always be able to take every call and that you have a right to the same courtesies as other employees (even if you do get to work remotely). At the same time, of course, you should be reasonably available during your scheduled hours.
  • Set up your voicemail to let callers know your available times and that you will call them back as soon as possible -- and do so.
  • Although you probably want to go "above and beyond" for your work anyway, when on vacation or during off hours, screen your calls and respond to those that are truly emergencies that only you can handle.

3. Isolation

One of the benefits of working remotely is the independence, but for some this may eventually feel like isolation. Regular business travelers and mobile workers may also spend more time away from the office than in it. Besides separating you from co-workers, this situation can also distance you from your manager, sometimes leaving you with less support and direction than on-site workers may get.

Stress Management Tips:

  • Being physically distant doesn't have to mean seclusion. Use IM and web conferencing tools to keep in touch with co-workers and your manager, even if only to say hello or for some virtual water cooler chat.
  • Plan to touch base (via phone or Web-based tools) at least once a week with your manager or boss.
  • Maintain relationships outside of the office by joining professional associations or community memberships and also investing more time with friends and family.

4. More Personal Distractions and Interruptions

By working from home, you can avoid typical office distractions like co-workers invading your cubicle. However, you may also find these interruptions replaced with more personal ones (like your child invading your home office or delivery/service calls breaking your concentration). Business travelers may have even more distractions, depending on where they try to get work done.

Stress Management Tips:

  • Establish some ground rules for family members when you're working from home, so they know not to interrupt you unless it's a true emergency. Shutting the door to the office is a good sign to help them know when you cannot be reached.
  • Figure out when the most distractions are likely to happen in your area (On Wednesday mornings, it seems like all of my neighbors have gardeners using the loudest equipment ever made). Schedule phone meetings or web conferences outside of those times.
  • When traveling, try to arrange for a hotel in a quiet neighborhood (away from loud bars and fire stations) and, within that hotel, a quiet room (typically, away from the elevators and public spaces and on an upper floor).

5. "Work at Home" Stigma

A lot of the stress telecommuters feel about interruptions is due to this still-standing stigma that we're not every bit as professional as other workers simply because we're not at the office. You may even hear it intimated that off-site employees don't work as hard as their commuting co-workers. Or you may have career advancement concerns, afraid that you'll be passed over when it comes to promotions (off site/out of sight, out of mind).

Stress Management Tips:

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