The scientific reasons why working from home is so exhausting

Adapting to new changes such as video conferences and indefinite uncertainty cause real physiological changes in our bodies, which sap energy. Here's how to address them

Bhavna Dalal
Updated: May 26, 2020 10:39:09 AM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

You must have noticed that being on video conference calls all day has been exhausting. There is a good reason for it. On the one hand, it is crucial now more than ever to maintain the interpersonal connection and keep your video on while speaking to people. This is as close as we can come to mimicking a normal work environment. On the other hand, doing so continually is more tiring than your regular face-to-face interactions.

Once you understand this better, you can choose which meetings to keep your video on in, and which ones you turn it off and use voice only.

According to Dr. Albert Meharabian’s principle of communication, we absorb only seven percent words, 38 percent tonality, and 55 percent of body language. We are subconsciously geared to gathering body language signals. In the case of a video call where only the face may be visible, our physiology is desperately trying to capture more body language signals, which it is unable to accumulate, leading to more energy expenditure and hence, exhaustion.

If you were to switch to voice-only calls, you know not to look for body language and focus on just the words and tonality. Hence, communication and comprehension may be better. As a suggestion, meetings with more than three or four people can be initiated with video mode and then switched to voice only, while for one on ones it might be better to turn on video.

Another factor to consider is that the uncertain environment has put us in survival mode. Survival mode activates the limbic brain (the part of the brain involved in behavioural and emotional responses) and stocks up on adrenaline. Imagine walking in the jungle knowing a predator may spring any minute—it is the same environment for our nervous system, with, of course, varying degrees for different people depending on their situation. Essentially, it translates to being on high alert and continually having to look over your shoulder. The negative messaging around us only makes things worse. Due to all these factors, we are expending extra energy without really being aware of it.

One more thing we are doing due to the uncertainty is making multiple plans. If this happens, we will go with plan A, else plan B; if that happens, we will go with Plan C and parts of plan E, etc. This pattern is common for corporate leaders with high intelligence and planning abilities. While this is typically a strength, it can become a huge energy drain in present times.

In conclusion, we are feeling less focused, drained and unproductive. As leaders, it is essential to become self-aware of how your working methods in the new environment are impacting your energy levels. It is a direct measure of your well-being and that of your team. Productivity is a direct consequence. After focusing on self, communicate and educate others on your team. This is the way for teams to truly bond. Leaders that will not practice self-awareness will end up becoming too harsh on themselves and pushing even further, causing more malnourished energy levels. That is the last thing you want to do right now.

The writer is founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners, a Leadership Development company based in Bangalore, India

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The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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