'Overwhelmed' workers are struggling to switch off from the remote office

Home workers in the UK are struggling to adapt to remote-working life, citing an overabundance of workplace-imposed communication tools and a breakdown of interactions with colleagues.

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While working from home has become the new norm for many, the sharp, sudden shift from well-worn routines to new ways of working has brought its fair share of cultural, technical and behavioral challenges. UK workers aren't exempt from this, with new research suggesting many lack motivation, are struggling to switch off and grappling with loneliness amid the continued lockdown.

Two separate studies published by tech companies have illustrated the difficulties many of us have faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic .

SEE: Life after lockdown: Your office job will never be the same--here's what to expect (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

In a survey of more than 2,000 UK workers by Slack, 55% said they felt their productivity and motivation had slipped while working from home. On average, Slack's study found that UK workers were clocking in 48 minutes later than usual, while 36% said they were taking more breaks than they did in the office.

Predictably, workplace interactions have also taken a hit as a result of employees being removed from their office huddles. In Slack's study, 84% of respondents said communication with colleagues had been impacted since the lockdown, with 68% finding it difficult to communicate effectively with their teammates.

The consequences of isolation are being felt more strongly by some: 25% of UK workers reported feeling lonely when working remotely, and 34% said they didn't make as much effort to get washed and dressed as they would when going to the office. In fact, 6% went so far as to admit they only dressed from the waist up when working from home.

Additional research from enterprise communication platform 8x8 might go some way to deconstruct the struggles faced by UK employees in the new remote-working landscape. Its survey questioned 1,000 people who had been working from home full-time since the pandemic hit, and highlighted issues around the mental state of the workforce as it endures yet more weeks of lockdown.

According to 8x8's study, the use of personal devices for work are largely to blame for the anxieties cause by remote working.

SEE: Top 100+ tips for telecommuters and managers (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The blurring of the lines between personal and professional life (40%) and an inability to unplug from the 'always-on' virtual working day (38%) were among the most cited reasons for increased anxiety levels among the UK's home workers. Because of this, 42% of those quizzed by 8x8 said they felt more stressed and overwhelmed than when in the office.

While providers of workplace collaboration and productivity software have scrambled to support businesses and their remote workforces, the plethora of tools pushed on employees is proving too much for some. In 8x8's survey, more than a third (36%) felt they were using too many apps for workplace communication; 42% of respondents said they were using between six to 15 different platforms during their working day, while 2% reported using 16 to 20, or more.

Compounding the problem is that most people are now using their own smartphones and laptops to work from home: 67% of respondents said they were using personal devices for work purposes. Similarly, 55% said they were using communication apps they would usually use for personal reasons for work.

SEE: Study: Working from home means more time on computers, but workers aren't more productive (TechRepublic)

Morgan Watts, head of IT at 8x8, said it was important that businesses establish a "clear line of separation" between work life and personal time, starting by cutting down the number of apps employees are expected to use, and discouraging personal communication apps for business use.

"In the rush to equip teams for remote work, businesses may be guilty of overwhelming their employees with too many different new tools, or failing to clearly outline what is and is not approved for use," Watts said.

"The saying goes: 'tidy desk, tidy mind', and this is as true in the virtual office space as it is in the physical…This clear line of separation will make it easier to shut down and encourage a healthier work-life balance at a time when it's needed most."

Adjusting to the new landscape

While it's clear that people are still struggling to adjust to the new work of working, studies have shown that employees have responded to lockdown with a renewed sense of compassion. Co-workers report taking more time to check-in on each other, 8x8 said. Meanwhile, chat and video apps have proved invaluable to closing the geographic divide between friends, family and loved ones.

Apparently, those daily video catch-ups are bringing us closer to our colleagues, too – a fifth said they felt they knew their co-workers better on a personal level since the lockdown began.

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