In 2017, the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica introduced the concept “eco-anxiety” or “climate anxiety” to “a chronic fear of environmental doom.” This persistent burden is reinforced by several factors, which could include catastrophic weather events that may be attributed to climate changes, policy debates regarding the proper actions to take based on climate science, and even advocates attempts to educate and spark collective action to confront the crisis.
Now, we’re seeing indications of a similar kind of “digital anxiety” about online security and privacy emerge, particularly in remote workers.
An F-Secure survey of 7200 internet users in nine countries conducted last year year found that 6 in 10 respondents (60%) report they increasingly find themselves worrying about online security and privacy even if nothing is wrong.
That share rises to two of three (67%) for those who reported doing working from over the last year. Remote workers report higher levels of feeling overwhelmed by online life than others. As a result they’re also avoiding new technologies, and changing their online habits in greater numbers.
The sort of “digital anxiety” exhibited more frequently by remote workers seems similar to climate anxiety.
The more time one spends online for work or other purposes, the more that person is likely to come across both news about cyber crime and advice how to prevent it. And given that online crime has, in some respects, become more common than many offline crimes, , the chances of being a victim of a cyber scam or attack remain high.
For many internet users who spend many or most of the waking hours online, a warning from an internet security solution or an email phishing filter aren’t necessary to summon a sense of dread. The anxiety is ever-present.
While caution can be helpful when using a device for work or leisure, persistent unease can be an unnecessary drain on mental resources—especially during a global pandemic when many if not most people are dealing with ever-present concerns about life-and-death on top of the normal worries of life.
Remote workers are perfect candidates for Digital Anxiety
At the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, hundreds of millions of people rushed into working from home—many for the first time. Nearly 7 out of 10 US full-time employees worked from home at the peak of the pandemic in the US.
And with the rise of remote work came the decline of boundaries between work and home. One study found that 70% of professionals who moved to remote work due of Covid-19 said they worked weekends. And 45% said they regularly work more hours than before the transition.
For much of the workforce, at-home employment will be far more than a short-term solution to a global pandemic.
These so-called “knowledge workers” work primarily at a desk on a device, generally analyzing data and creating content rather than an making physical goods. This kind of “white collar” work typically requires stronger computer skills. Thus, it makes sense that these workers are more likely to be aware of how online threats to their security and privacy can affect them. And if they aren’t their employers are doing their best to make sure they will be.
Fighting digital anxiety with the basics and boundaries
Creating a productive work-from-home office starts with a few security basics. Since many remote workers have to operate as their own IT and security team, here are few steps they should take to remove most risks they face.
- Make sure both your own and work devices have up-to-date operating system, programs and security software. Cyber criminals love out-of-date software, which leaves security holes opened to the word. Sealing those holes as much as possible with automatic updates and security tools provides the best basic security available.
- Harden your home network by changing home router and Wi-Fi passwords to strong and unique passwords. The use of bad passwords is another invitation for cyber crime. And this bad habit unfortunately extends to the devices used to bring internet into the home. Replacing weak passwords with strong ones should increase users confidence in their networks and devices.
- Secure your privacy with a VPN. This secured tunnel for data is a necessity on most corporate networks. If you don’t have use one on your home devices, consider doing so now.
Ironically, the people most likely to experience digital anxiety are also most likely to know and employ these above tips. But that suggests that online security and privacy is not enough.
Working from home is a recipe for potential anxiety. It requires a blurring of boundaries that may have once existed in many employees lives. It raises the stakes of any cyber security mistake by tying the consequences into your livelihood. In addition, lack of a clear divide between work life and homelife encourages that worries of the day to bleed into the night, and vice versa.
Relieving these fears requires some faith in security basics listed above. But it also requires an effort to maintain from boundaries between home and work.
Here are a few steps you can take that will not only help increase your security and privacy, but also increase the ability to separate work from everything else.
- Avoid oversharing your screen during online meetings. Many people cover their webcams when they aren’t in use. With remote work, screens are as likely to be broadcast as people are. Close out any private or unwanted windows before any meeting where screenshares may be necessary.
- Avoid using your work email for registering to services of your personal interest. Resist the urge to invite spammers and, potentially, scammers into your work inbox. This will also reduce the amount of email you have to process and assess for security risks during work hours.
- If your employer’s email system has a way to report phishing emails, use it. This helps secure you and your entire company. It also creates a good habit to think about any email before engaging.
- Avoid using your work-related devices for recreation. Clock out of your devices when you’re done with work. This can benefit your cyber security—and your mental health.
- Set clear boundaries for down-time. Don’t let work creep into your private life by setting clear times when you stop. It’s easy to answer messages through the evening or over the weekend. Limit this by ignoring your work device(s).