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Working from home: Why should we care about this topic?

Updated: May 1, 2020

by ARC Laureate Professor Sharon Parker

Sharon is a globally-renowned expert in the field of work psychology. As the Director of the Centre for Transformative Work Design, she leads a team concerned with improving the quality of work. She is an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow; a Chief Investigator in the Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing, and a 2019 Highly Cited Researcher.

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In the midst of an escalating number of people getting very sick, losing their jobs entirely, and watching long-established businesses go down the drain, I’ve really been wondering why we should even be thinking about working from home right now.

I’ve also been feeling like those of us who can work at home are actually the lucky ones compared to the teachers, nurses, doctors, and others out there who can’t work from home and who are also exposed to much higher risk, and compared to the many people now unemployed.

Perhaps there are more important things to worry about right now than how to work at home?

Well I talked to one of my colleagues yesterday, Abbe, and she made the excellent point that now is precisely the time that we need to keep being productive - even though we’re working at home. Every productive person working from home makes a difference to the economy, and that is absolutely vital right now given the impact of COVID-19 on global finances.

So one very important reason for being effective when our working from home is that we all need to do what we can to enhance the fragile state of our economy.

There’s another reason too, and that’s more personal.

We also need to look after ourselves and our mental health in this highly uncertain and stressful time. As most of you will be aware, before the coronavirus, mental ill health was a big challenge in our society, with one in five Australians experiencing mental health issues. And now there is even more uncertainty and stress in our lives! You might well be driving yourself very hard to deal with the additional pressures of adapting your own work and your team’s work. You might be checking the internet every two minutes to see the change in cases and the shape of the curve. You might be worrying about your future job, or the economy, or the health of your family.

In the face of all this stress, work can be a protective factor.

As an example of the positive impact of work, one of my team member was very distressed last week because she was away from her family, who were overseas, and she was unsure whether or not to return (or even if she could return given the closure of country borders). But after doing a day’s work, my colleague felt much less anxious and more able to concentrate. She said to me that she now understood how work can be protective against mental health challenges.

Work can indeed foster mental health. But it's not a case of “any old work” – the work needs to be well-designed and well-managed, such as providing a sense of interest and meaning. So part of the point of this series is to help you make your work at home “good work”, of work in which you can thrive.

In sum, working effectively from home is important - for both the economy and your own mental health and well being.

So today, we are launching a new series – Thrive at Work at Home - in which we provide practical tips to support you being productive and mentally healthy when working from home, and to guide those of you who are managing others working from home. As you would expect given we are researchers, our tips will be based on research and evidence.

We hope you enjoy the new series!

References and Resources

Examples of statistics about the prevalence of mental health issue:

Useful and reputable websites on mental health and COVID-19:

More information about thriving at work

Thrive at Work

Centre for Transformative Work Design

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