What are some non-obvious ways that people WFH cause stress on others?
April 28, 2020 5:24 AM   Subscribe

For example: more noise leaking through apartment walls during the day.

This is something I've been thinking about for obvious reasons, but not for the sake of anything serious, just brainstorming.
posted by lucidium to Human Relations (36 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've read that a lot of the grocery/supply shortages we've been attributing to hoarding are at least in part due to people consuming things at home rather than at retail establishments, meaning they're using like 40-50% more grocery staples/toilet paper/etc than the supply chain had been set up for.
posted by space snail at 5:29 AM on April 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: For people in abusive relationships, it means many more hours a week of contact with their abuser.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:44 AM on April 28, 2020 [14 favorites]

Best answer: For some people (myself included) it's draining not to have time alone in a shared apartment. Pre-pandemic, my housemate was away a good amount of the time and there's a sort of decompression that happens for me when I have the whole apartment to myself for hours.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:17 AM on April 28, 2020 [17 favorites]

This is just a cartoon - but I feeling it might still be a plausible answer for some of our companions.
posted by rongorongo at 6:20 AM on April 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Neighbors/relatives of WFH people might ask if they could have their packages sent to them, assuming the WFH person is sort of a doorman who can receive their packages instead of letting them sit on their own stoop until they get home. It's a minor thing but fits into the "well you're home anyway" mindset.
posted by Gray Duck at 6:21 AM on April 28, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: WFH = Work from home. I had to look it up.
posted by seasparrow at 6:36 AM on April 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: When I used to WFH full-time in non-pandemic circumstances, my social skills declined precipitously and I was a noticeably worse conversationalist when I did meet people in person. Was so happy to be chatting with people that I literally couldn't shut up.
posted by mosst at 6:37 AM on April 28, 2020 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Sharing internet doesn't seem like such a clever idea now that everyone wants to stream video meetings all day.
posted by teremala at 6:45 AM on April 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: My husband working from home means that my kids have to be quieter than they otherwise would during the day. Also, working from home uses a lot of internet bandwidth that might affect other people’s internet quality.
posted by Night_owl at 6:48 AM on April 28, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: The flip side of Gray Duck's comment: If more of your neighbours than usual are at home because of WFH, and you're out or indisposed when a package turns up, there's more chance it'll get left with a neighbour instead of being left on your doorstep, taken back to the delivery office or redelivered the next day. Which, if you don't like disturbing your neighbours in order to collect a package, or don't like their having been imposed on in the first place, is a negative.

Yes, the person WFH might make noise that their neighbours don't expect or appreciate. But their presence also places a burden of responsibility on the people next door: if you know your neighbours are working from home, and you have a party wall, you have to be careful how much noise you make yourself. It's a bit antisocial to practise the drums mid-afternoon if you know your neighbour's trying to concentrate on work just the other side of the wall.

If you're WFH yourself, you'd normally drive to work (or to the station), and you don't have a private driveway, then a parking spot that's usually free during the day now isn't.

When you're WFH full time, especially at a time like now when lots of people are suddenly WFH full time, you're putting extra pressure on local services. You're generating more waste at home, so the dustcarts are getting fuller and perhaps some people's bins are going uncollected. You may be adding contention for a shared internet connection during the working day. You're receiving deliveries that you might normally pick up yourself from a shop near work or have delivered to the office, so the local Hermes, DHL etc. delivery people are under more strain, and so's the post office. Groceries you might usually buy on the way home from work, or not need to buy at all because you'd eat your breakfast and lunch on the go, you're now buying at your closest supermarket, adding to the queues there as well as the shortages.

Conversely, you're no longer helping to support the businesses you'd otherwise frequent: the coffee kiosk at the station, the sandwich shop near work, the pub you'd drink in with your colleagues on a Friday. That's causing stress to the people who make their living from those businesses.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 6:50 AM on April 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When both partners in a relationship work from home, so neither of you get downtime from each other.
posted by wwax at 6:54 AM on April 28, 2020 [9 favorites]

Best answer: My partner has found that she will unconsciously be quieter and talk less to our baby when I'm "at work," even if I'm not on a video call because we live in a one bedroom apartment. She also has the added stress of trying to calm our baby when I am on a video call and our child is crying or fussing. I mute as much as possible and my coworkers are all aware that I just came back from parental leave, but my partner feels the pressure nonetheless.
posted by carrioncomfort at 7:11 AM on April 28, 2020 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I'm sure I'm not the only one whose ergonomic setup at home just BLOWS, so I'm bitching about my health/stiffness/bad knees a lot more to my husband than I usually do. Chiropractors and physical therapists are going to be minting money once we can finally leave the house.
posted by jabes at 7:53 AM on April 28, 2020 [19 favorites]

Best answer: Landscaping/ground-keeping crews usually work on homes while almost everyone is at work, and now we have to try to have zoom meetings while someone is leaf-blowing the neighbor's yard right outside our house.

I guess that's the opposite of what you're asking but it's on my mind right now.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 8:02 AM on April 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: More people eating at home means more cooking at home and more dishes to do.

If one person is a stay at home parent and the other usually works out of the home, there may be more conflict over parenting styles/decisions now that the out of the home parent is home all the time.

Really young kids may have a hard time understanding why their parent is home but can't interact with them.

Definitely not speaking from experience or anything.
posted by natabat at 8:13 AM on April 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Privacy and alone time are gone. I used to be able to grab a half hour to myself after work most days when my husband was picking up the kids on his way home and it was my cherished private time. Now if I want to sneak a bite of ice cream from the freezer or take a quick power nap after work or hang out in the bathroom plucking my chin hairs or whatever, now I'm doing that with my whole family watching.
posted by beandip at 8:17 AM on April 28, 2020 [19 favorites]

Best answer: For me, it's a lack of privacy. I live in a tiny backyard house and normally work from home, and the layout here means I have little or no privacy, but the people in the main house and normally gone during the day, and now they're not. Their toddlers are also LOUD, but privacy is the main challenge for me. I usually could also take walks without seeing many/any people, but that has completely changed to the point where there isn't enough space for safe distancing much of the time.
posted by pinochiette at 8:22 AM on April 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: My spouse and I had the biggest fight of our entire relationship yesterday over a toilet flushing during a meeting.

Also, seconding the dishes thing. The machine is more or less always running or needing to be emptied. However, we're doing less laundry, because no one changes clothes after work.
posted by Etrigan at 8:24 AM on April 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

I never realized how much I appreciated the option to not plan/make a lunch and just buy something at one of the many restaurants in/near my office building.
posted by misskaz at 8:55 AM on April 28, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: My wife has been working from home for several weeks now. I've been WFH for many years. Our home is sort of a two-floor townhouse layout. The downstairs is just the living room and the eat-in kitchen. Upstairs are the bedrooms. She has commandeered the kitchen table as her office.

My pre-spouse-WFH routine was to float between the upstairs and downstairs throughout the day. I do the cooking and home chores, so I was generally all over the place. With her in the kitchen, though, I feel like I shouldn't enter her "office" too often, so I have tended to keep myself upstairs until I absolutely had to do something like get dinner ready.

In the past, I would often turn up the stereo downstairs to listen to music while I'm prepping/cooking. I can't do that now, because she is often on the phone with (or dictating texts to) coworkers, employees, clients, etc. That's been the hardest part.

The hardest part, though, is seeing how much more of her day work takes-up, now that she doesn't have an actual office to commute to/from.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:04 AM on April 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You might find this FPP interesting, as well as the discussion. Several comments from that discussion that stood out to me as something I hadn't thought of before, e.g. this one and this one (both, I notice now, by Hypatia).

Working at an office provides a luxurious delineation between work and home life. Every day you get to go away to a place where (if you have a desk job) someone else cleans the floors and bathrooms, and heats/cools the space etc. for you. Nobody bothers you with personal requests during the time you're in the office. It's lovely. It's a BREAK for most moms.

I personally find childcare to be the most challenging aspect of working from home. My job has been WFH even in pre-covid times, but when my kids get home from school they don't understand the need to leave me alone. I am expected to be on childcare duty as well as at work - and now that's every day since they have no school.
posted by MiraK at 9:11 AM on April 28, 2020 [13 favorites]

Best answer: There are entire Twitter threads dedicated to the misery of getting to know your SO's work persona due to them working from home. I imagine it must be a bit of a bummer to realize your loved one is the kind of person at work who would annoy you.

Cigarette breaks (or even lunch break toking) on the balcony or in the back yard can really get on the nerves of any neighbours who can't stand the smell, and now they're not only limited to evening hours.

Work/life balance is less easy to maintain. I know people who work a lot more and much longer hours since working from home, either because their employers have crazy expectations, or because they're less productive due to frequent interruptions, or because it's just something that happens easily when there's no office door to close behind you at the end of the day. Their loved ones aren't happy about that.

Work related frustrations may also spill over - the kind of gripes you might let go of during your commute and forget by the time you arrive home. I'd imagine many people subsequently complain about work stuff to their living companions much more frequently, which can be quite stressful to listen to.

Teenagers have less autonomy and no downtime from their parents. I'm sure that mine miss the lazy, noisy afternoon hours after school spent gaming, playing music or otherwise enjoying having the whole house to themselves. (And teenagers sharing really small spaces with their WFH parents must be losing their damn minds.)

Being physically there but not really mentally available creates situations that can feel like rejection to others. Maybe particularly to small kids who might not easily understand why dad can't stop at a moments notice and give his full attention to their crayon masterpiece when he's right there. But grown ups may experience something similar too.

In places where house cleaners, dog walkers, live in nannies, repair crews, landscapers etc. are still working, they feel much more under constant scrutiny. My parents live in a country where 70+ year olds are told to avoid all social contact, so their house cleaner has to do very precise scheduling with most of her clients so that they don't come into contact. I assume some WFH arrangements may require going through similar extra hassle.

Extraverted coworkers hijack quick work related phonecalls or skype sessions for extended watercooler conversations (which is particularly stressful for people who don't like talking on the phone or on skype to begin with). At the office that crowd tends to be more self-selecting, and introverts are often safe at their desks, but now the socially starved colleagues try to get their fix anywhere they can get since they have trouble dealing with the isolation.

Also, new colleagues are spamming entire team apps with questions they'd normally only ask the person sitting next to them (where can I find this information, that file, who's organizing X and what's their phone number? etc.)

Do houseplants count? :) I've read they're thriving due to the extra CO2, but I really have to check myself not to water them too frequently, just because I notice them much more often.
posted by muuratsaari at 9:13 AM on April 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

I lost all my audiobook & podcast time, and I am less interesting conversation now!

I used to listen to stuff on my car rides and midday walk.

Now WFH, I am constantly surrounded by someone talking to me (family of six!), so I can't wear headphones. If I go for a walk, I bring the dog -- and then I have to be listening for trucks or dogs because my reactive dog goes bananas.

During the day I am concentrating on my work, so that time is out, too. Gaaaah.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:35 AM on April 28, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Private space boundaries are all smashed.

I WFH and my four kids do School From Home, plus my wife does household paperwork stuff, so we had to set up desks all over the damn place. Now my high school senior has his SFH desk set up next to my side of the bed in our bedroom, so I have to walk around his backpack & school books at night! My daughter is in the living room, my other daughter is in our little extra room, and my other son is in the boys' room.

You never know when someone is on a call or taking a test or just goofing around, so everybody tiptoes around literally all the time.

Also, teen boy b.o. is heinous, and the weather won't warm up so we can't get it out of the house except by cooking spicy food.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:39 AM on April 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

We are caving on some things that previously weren't negotiable.

For example, our older son's XBox was always allowed only in the end room with the TV, but his little sister's school desk is there now. So in the basement I assembled some idle shelving into a base and then set up his big sister's TV (home from college!) and then I ran a network cable & power so that he can play down there and chat with his friends -- partly to avoid disturbing her schoolwork, but also to have some separation from us, and vice versa.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:25 AM on April 28, 2020

Best answer: Oh also I'm not just wfh now, but my husband is an essential worker and has moved to the graveyard shift, so he's sleeping upstairs while I'm working downstairs (at least we have two levels in our condo), so I'm trying to be extra quiet during the day. Not a huge issue but it's like "monitoring the microwave like a hawk" to try to get to it before it beeps, closing the windows when the furloughed neighbors are hammering on their fence/drinking and listening to country music at 2pm, wondering if I should flush the toilet or let it mellow, etc.
posted by jabes at 11:25 AM on April 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I really want my craft room back.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:44 AM on April 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

I am in the process of moving because while I mostly worked from home (except when teaching) I am now lecturing online AND my housemate is working from home full time AND my co-parent is working from home full time at his house AND my child is homeschooling full time. The internet at my house cannot handle the stress, my housemate needs quiet when talking with lawyers and she is in the open living space, so my kid and I work and sleep in my bedroom. What worked okay for weekend visitation is unworkable for weekday parenting as well (she is ten, we both want privacy and space). Her dad also works from his living space, and while he can handle the occasional day of homeschooling, does not have the same capacity for flexible timing that I have.

So we got to inspect property during a pandemic, then go furniture and homewares shopping since I needed to outfit an entire house rather than just my room. I got a good deal on rent as well as a very quick and smooth application process because very few people are moving houses right now.

We are generating far more rubbish than normal, my housemate is losing weight since I cook most meals and we aren't eating takeout as much.

I have become my father and I wake before dawn most days. This gives me a few hours of peace before everyone else gets up. So our whole daily routine has been disrupted.

I don't have as much space to meditate or do thinking work. My kid is reduced to primarily me as her contact with the adult world so I've answered a lot of weird questions.

Yesterday my housemate was handling a multi line sensitive negotiation, and all of our deliveries came at once, just before I had to set up for teaching and while my kid was homeschooling. So delivery guys had a sparky ten year old sign for meat and veg.

Mostly? I've learned that I'm much better suited to mountain hermitage than I would have predicted, while almost everyone else I know is going mad.
posted by geek anachronism at 12:47 PM on April 28, 2020 [6 favorites]

ManyLeggedCreature's mentioned the first thing I thought of: street parking availability.

Before the pandemic, people switching to working from home often discontinued their doggie-daycare service, and barking is specific kind of additional noise disruption for the neighbors. Larger utility bills can cause stress on roommates, depending on how that bill is usually divvied up. Solitude, in shared living spaces -- spouse/child/roommate was accustomed to having a few hours alone in the house back when your respective weekday schedules had you leaving earlier in the morning or returning later in the evening than they do. (-did.)

For to apartment complexes, multi-unit houses, condo communities and the like, people working from home can cause stress to others due to:
-- Monopolizing shared community resources: WFH, but doesn't want to be 'cooped up' in their apartment, so they'll hunker down beside the complex's pool / in the common greenspace; having more packages delivered to home instead of business address and clogging the mail area or halls; increasing mid-day traffic in a limited laundry room
-- Plumbing issues arising from increased daytime usage (mostly thinking of already-dicey plumbing in subdivided houses)
-- Temperature issues (as in, your downstairs neighbor is newly WFH and cranks the heat during the day, inadvertently turning your flat into a sweatbox)
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:11 PM on April 28, 2020

My dog snores like a beast 20 times his size, right next to my living room “office” setup.
posted by slateyness at 2:35 PM on April 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Office supplies - printer paper, ink, pens, desk space. All now supplied by me instead of my employer. I'm starting to run out.

House - We've never really had extended periods where we're using both the upstairs and the downstairs all day long. The air conditioner can't handle it. It's either super cold downstairs or super hot upstairs, or both.

Noise quality on calls - Sure, all the dog noises and random stuff happening behind the scenes are distracting, but I am going crazy when some people are loud, some are soft, some have feedback, some sound like they are in a tunnel or what get's on my nerves the most: a sort of sharp tinny quality where every consonant or tap has a ping aftershock. Like chopping on a glass cutting board.
posted by CathyG at 2:59 PM on April 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

My wife has a good friend in a small town in the northern part of her state. Her small regional bank was just purchased by a larger regional bank. Today, she couldn’t access her account (or her money) Apparently, the new bank doesn’t believe she’s who she says she is.

She spent six hours on the phone today with customer service, and they just won’t budge. They just don’t believe her. Of course, she could go down to her nearby branch (which she has been going to for years) and have the manager vouch for her...if the banks were open!.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:43 PM on April 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What I have noticed is the sheer number of new tools or existing tools but features I was unfamiliar with that we’ve all had to learn to use. Some people get on with it, others find that difficult.

In my organisations we have tended to use the audio functions but not video functions. Well, it took a global pandemic but we’re now all switching to the video stream. Some people really like it and others find it really stressful. I was working from home occasionally before the pandemic so I at least had a workspace set up. But I have had to fiddle with my setup to make video work well enough and I am still waiting on my external camera.

Watching myself on video is stressful. It turns out I talk a lot with my hands and arm...so I had to train myself to hold on th the armrest or table to reduce that somewhat.

And then there is still the problem that one of the historical benefits of WFH was that you didn’t have to get out of your PJs if you didn’t want to and now people want to have video calls at 7.45 am. I tend not to be dressed at that point and I guess they get me in audio only for those.

I live alone so my setup includes a usb mic/speaker for my audio because I cannot be asked to fiddle with headsets as well. It is extremely disconcerting to hear all these colleagues in my open plan kitchen/office. On the other hand, hr long webcasts on pandemic updates are a great time to empty the dishwasher and fix lunch...
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:28 PM on April 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thorzad, in her case I'd be on to a solicitor and send a legal letter to sue for theft of her account.

We have an idyllic set up over three floors with all the kids having flown the coop we were just nearly finished getting the house & garden into showhome condition for sale when this hit. I can work from home but I have to retire early due to spine issues, I have the luxury of my lady who cleans and does garden work & who operates very strict infection control and complies with our more stringent set up as my OH is an intensive care doc. So we take all temps before she comes in the house and she self isolates the one time she had a minor headcold with no temp. completely different bathrooms and different floors and she scours where she's been one day, they I go to the third floor and we operate a kind of rotating schedule of all surfaces, all hard surfaces she uses while here are covered with disinfectant clothes that change daily etc., etc.,

It literally means I can focus on making sure my hubby and his co-workers on their new surge rota gets the freshest home cooked meals while they are on call and I nag him to take vit c and zinc everyday.

On the 2 down days of his rota we have had the luxury of living our in the sun and I can honestly say I am the happiest I've ever been as my need for socialising is being fed as the volunteer new head of Sales with a charity of 1200 volunteers who make scrubs free for the healthcare and emergency workers system. They needed someone with contacts inside the NHS who could get their message to as many parts of the system as they had lots of volunteers but very low orders, some GPs by word of mouth.......I said Hold my COAT! I am the end of life care lead for the whole area you cover, I sent 1 e-mail to all Hospices, hospitals, care homes basically everywhere a healthcare worker is and the order started rolling in for 2000 scrubs 2,400 makes and embarrassingly I was promoted from Sales volunteer to Head of sales and 1,200 sewing machines happily humming along, the credit is the team that set up an infrastructure of teams and logistics in 3 short weeks and recruited the volunteers and fundraisers!!!

We are worried a bit obviously and we make sure that hubby is in one room and one bathroom mainly and treat things way more cautiously when he is in the house, i.e. cleaning lady never coincides with hubby to protect both. The rigmarole of the hygiene stations when he comes home, even when he works on green site (maternity, ladies if possible!!!) are tested and isolate for the 1 hr their test, cleaning his car contact points, his badge and pen and car keys. It kind of sounds more exhausting that it is because it has just become routine. We will be able to sell second car, which I hope we can do cos work forgot to pay me this months and I still have 2 more months paid leave before my retirement!!

so long story short (when have I EVER made that happen) I've had to ask a neighbour to stor nailgunning something once and that is it. But that is more than offset by the fact that my NHS ID gets me to the top of the Q in every supermarket except ASDA which is naturally owned by walmart.
posted by Wilder at 6:09 AM on April 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

More dirty dishes is really a thing. Also, I'm a pacer when I'm on the phone and it's annoying for my wife when I'm walking around talking to people and there's nowhere to escape. I don't do it on purpose, I swear.

For her the most annoying thing is she tries to do noisy things like vacuum when I'm away at work, but now I'm home at work, and then home not at work*, then home at work, etc.

*except now I have a computer on my desk tempting me to just do that one thing real quick, and "non-working hours" aren't as clearly defined anymore.

Just going to throw this one out there - people who are newly working from home like to talk about it because of the novelty. That does not go over big with people who would love to work from home, but don't have the option. Try to be sensitive to that.
posted by ctmf at 9:46 PM on April 29, 2020

Best answer: i feel as if my employer has appropriated ALL my time and my personal devices and totally invaded my privacy. From wanting to load all sorts of "work tools" on my cell phone, social pressure to "appear" on teleconferences (i live in an efficiency, can you give me a break?), to wanting to know how I spend my work day, i am having a nervous breakdown.
posted by divinitys.mortal.flesh at 9:54 PM on April 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

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