‘Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breadth or motion,
As idle as a shunted ship,
Upon a painted ocean’
Here, the late poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was talking about/referring the sailors in his poem ‘The Rime of Ancient Mariner’. He might as well have been eluding to the prolonged impact of employees getting aboard the remote workshop and losing resilience. Attending to office, apart from the daily execution of tasks and goals, additionally acts as a social ecosystem of the congregation which binds human outside their home environment. While there are definite benefits of remote working, one of the chief complaints against it is the loneliness and isolation that comes with it, denying oneself the very corporate ecosystem most employees aspire for after their finishing school.
Interestingly, loneliness and physical isolation happened to be two of the key symptoms of a century-old ailment experienced by shipwrecked sailors and people trapped indoors by harsh weather conditions. The ongoing circumstance is same but only replaced by harsh viral conditions.
At this stage, I would introduce the concept of ‘Cabin Fever Syndrome (CFS)’. It is a never-ending ‘Monday Mood’ where series of negative emotions and distressing sensations people face while they are isolated and feeling cut-off from the world or in short ‘Work from Home – WFH’.
|Cabin Fever Syndrome refers to the distressing claustrophobic or restless experiences when a person, or group, is stuck at an isolated location or in confined quarters for an extended period.|
Symptoms of CFS
The concept of virtual working or WFH will have several implications and leaders should be mindful if its prevalence both implicitly and explicitly. They need to adopt new approaches to manage and maintain positive engagement with teams for productivity.
The distinction between weekday and weekends begin to blur. The walls feel like they are closing in. One can start to feel the onset of an unexplained sluggishness and sometimes everyday sleepiness. Given the abovementioned signs, it would be natural for leaders to expect triggers of anger, confusion and even symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
Ways of coping with CFS
I would recommend a few ways leaders can support their employees in coping with the prevention of CFS.
|Chronology of Leadership Interventions||Best Practice Recommendations|
|1.||Awareness||Employees in most of the situations are unaware of their current mental situation and acquire ‘blind spots’. Companies are taking initiatives to educate their employees on the signs and symptoms of CFS and enabling them with tools and resources proactively for them to cope.|
|2.||Conversation||Work isn’t all about a source of livelihood. It is a prime fulfiller of interpersonal needs and belonging to a typical social system. It’s a comfortable routine of coffee machine banter, post-work hangout and social life beyond our domestic space. Leaders should evaluate alternate models in creating or repositioning online communities to compensate some of the lost grounds on physical distancing.|
|3.||Implementation||Recasting goal setting and review the current targets set. Provide scope for leniency to factor in distracting variables like motivation, engagement, team development, reduction of ‘instant response’ systems like chats and email.|
These 3 steps chronology of action by leader could be a directional source to overcome some of the side effects of CFS.
CFS isn’t a natural state. Most of us are social animals, and we enjoy each other’s company. That’s why staying at home or working from home for a longer period might become hard to deal with.
However, whether you’re sheltering at home to avoid dangerous weather conditions or heeding the guidelines to help minimise the spread of disease; staying at home is often an important thing we must do for ourselves and our communities.
If and when it’s necessary, finding ways to engage your brain and occupy your time may help to beat cabin fever and the feelings of isolation and restlessness that often accompany it.