Remote Work Challenges: Polarized Thinking and Its Effects on Productivity
Before the pandemic, working from home was such a distant dream—a privilege that only a few could enjoy. However, now that you’re given the opportunity to act in a remote working environment, you might think that things won’t work out for you. You only see challenges and limitations and find yourself procrastinating and avoiding your duties.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “all or nothing.” What you are experiencing might be polarized thinking. Considered as one of the types of cognitive distortions, it causes you to think in extremes. You may view yourself as a remote worker who is either an absolute winner or a total failure. If things go great, you may believe that you have the world at your feet. Otherwise, you view yourself as a loser.
Procrastination May Be a Sign of Polarized Thinking
According to the Avast Business 2018 Mobile Workforce report, the biggest downside of remote work is distractions. 45.5% of business staff reported that they easily get distracted when they work from home. Aside from that, 40.5% say that procrastination is one of the biggest challenges of this setup.
What many do not know is that procrastination is often caused by all-or-nothing thinking. Some people want to do everything right the first time. If they cannot do this, they put off their work until the deadline comes. As a result, they rush into submitting something of low quality.
What Is Polarized Thinking?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), a person with polarized (dichotomous) thinking tends to evaluate scenarios in polar opposites. They only see the best and the worst possibilities and struggle to consider things in between these two extremes. This is a type of thinking that is used to characterize individuals with major depressive disorder. They tend to see mildly negative events as extremely negative.
PsychCentral founder and CEO John Grohol explained:
“Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true.”
An example of polarized thinking would be considering yourself as a failure when you try something new. So, the moment your boss proposes remote work, you might think that you will not succeed in it.
Perfectionism can be helpful – but only to a certain extent. If a person has a black-and-white mindset, their thoughts may paralyze them and prevent them from taking on new challenges. For example, if the prospect of permanently working from home is presented to you, you might feel terrified.
The danger in this is that you may subconsciously materialize your negative thoughts. If you believe something to be true, your behavior and actions may align with it. You may intentionally ignore the positive and amplify the negative.
Can Polarized Thinking Affect Your Productivity?
There are two ways in which dichotomous thinking can go. For instance, it can cause you to take actions or experience moods that are not within the context of the situation at hand. The worst-case scenario involves anxiety and depression.
Let’s take a look at how polarized thinking may affect a remote work situation.
Let’s say you’re in charge of submitting timesheet reports of your remote team to the HR department. After sending the monthly report, one of your colleagues comes to you, saying that they’ve mistakenly bloated their billable hours. With polarized thinking, you might either brush off the error or take it too seriously. You might think that what they did was not a problem at all, or you might consider recommending terminating their employment.
However, to approach this issue reasonably, you should understand the nature of the mistake first. You should examine the error’s effects, why it was done, and how your colleague plans to fix it. Instead of taking it to extremes and reacting emotionally, you should figure out why the mistake happened in the first place. This way, you may find a better solution that will also prevent the error from occurring again.
Perhaps the reason why they’re getting their hours mixed up is that you’re still implementing manual timesheets. Such a system can be confusing, especially when you’re working remotely. Instead of blowing off steam, you might want to think of ways to make the entire process simpler and easier for your colleagues. For instance, you can automate time tracking and timesheet generation by using Traqq. This tool works both online and offline. What’s more, it lets you generate reports with a few clicks. So, it will remove the burden of calculating billable hours manually.
How to Get Rid of Polarized Thinking
If you think that polarized thinking is affecting your life and work negatively, you must get out of the habit. Lose the negative labels to do so. Dichotomous thinking will make you think, “I’m a fool and a failure.” You get into this thought immediately instead of simply telling yourself that you’ve made a fixable mistake. It’s irrational to use labels because they are ambiguous concepts that only lead to frustration, anxiety, anger, and self-pity.
You must also change the way you look at failure. Just because the situation didn’t pan out the way you wanted, it doesn’t mean the entire thing is botched. Remember that even the most successful people in the world fail. However, they do not look at mistakes as the opposite of success. Instead, they look at failures as stepping stones and learning resources that will take them to their goal. For them, failure means letting their fears and inhibition stop them from trying new things. For them, the opposite of success is resisting change and dodging all risks.
How to Eliminate Polarized Thinking and Cognitive Distortions in Remote Work
Now, what if you’re a manager handling geographically scattered employees? What if you notice signs of polarized thinking among your workers? As you can see from our examples, cognitive distortions can have a negative impact on a person’s life. A dichotomous mindset will lead your employees to replace reality with their assumptions, thoughts, and biases. Of course, even in a remote work setting, this can damage team dynamics, collaboration, and productivity.
So, what do you do to prevent polarized thinking from spreading in the workplace? Here are some tips:
Create Awareness Through Open Communication
Make sure that your remote workers are familiar with what polarized thinking is. The best way to do this is by providing appropriate training. Teach your workers how to identify dichotomous thinking and what to do with it. You can use scenario-based training or even show TED talks related to cognitive distortions.
Use the Triple Column Technique
Stanford University School of Medicine professor David Burns designed the Triple Column Technique as a way of creating a rational response to negative thoughts. This system will help your remote workers process their negative thoughts as soon as they come. It’s worth noting that this technique applies to various types of cognitive distortions or thinking errors. The second column requires the subject to identify the type of negative thinking that’s occurring. Meanwhile, under the third column, the person has to write alternative and more objective reasoning for the situation. Here’s an example:
As a manager, you must know that polarized thinking can be monitored and ‘cured’. You must explain to your staff that mistakes play a vital role in employee development. When failures are analyzed properly, the result is an improvement in overall performance. Let your remote workers fail safely in a learning environment. For instance, you can use diversity training to eliminate background-based discrimination.
Indeed, with enough motivation and the right techniques, you can avoid falling into a black hole of polarized thinking. However, do remember that the tips we shared in this article are not intended to clinically diagnose or heal any mental conditions. If you’re having paralyzing, significant, and negative thoughts, seek professional help immediately.
You must take measures to eliminate polarized thinking and its symptoms. Most of the time, it causes employees to work at extremes—they either obsess over a task or procrastinate to the last minute. The first step to getting rid of this habit is by monitoring how you work. You can use Traqq to keep track of how much time you spend on each activity/task. The tool will also monitor the apps you use and the websites you visit. This way, you can identify if you’re overworking or unnecessarily browsing the web.
You can access all of Traqq’s features for free. So, there’s no harm in downloading and using it now.