The conversation around remote working appears to have shifted in the six months since COVID-19 forced office workers to pack up their belongings and retreat into their homes, where we have largely remained since. While initial reports highlighted how resilient businesses and employees had been to change, more recently the focus has shifted to the impact that ongoing isolation and disconnect from colleagues is having on employees’ mental health.
Burnout has become an increasingly pressing issue, with workers struggling to remain motivated and productive as home life and work life blur into one. According to a recent survey of more than 3,000 workers by anonymous professional network Blind, more than two-thirds (68%) of professionals are feeling more burned out at home than when they did while working in an office, while 60% report working more hours than they were pre-pandemic.
SEE: Wellness at work: How to support your team’s mental health (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Mounting evidence suggests that remote working is starting to have a detrimental impact on employee productivity. According to a separate study of 189 office-based UK workers by enterprise software company SmartWay2, 63% feel less productive working from home full-time, and fewer than half (45%) believe they are just as productive working from home as they are in the office.
Recent research from Microsoft echoes this sentiment. A survey of 9,000 managers and employees found that, while remote working has freed us of the everyday office disturbances that get in the way of productive work, the disconnect from our workplaces is having an impact on our creativity and sense of purpose.
As a result, businesses are finding it more difficult to innovate: according to Microsoft, in 2019 more than half (56%) of leaders thought that their companies were innovative with their products and services, compared to just 40% of respondents in 2020. Apparently, without a shared space to bounce ideas off colleagues, coming up with new ones has become more difficult.
An anonymous Blind user working at Microsoft said: “I have been working day and night for the last year now. I have reached a point where I am unable to finish simple tasks because I keep procrastinating. I did this hard work for a promotion and just got one.
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“To my surprise, the extra money is no longer making me happy. I cannot take OOFs [out of office] because the product I’m working on right now is at its crucial stages. I have no time and energy to spend with my spouse. This is the first time I am experiencing something like this. What should I do?”
Employees are also experiencing anxiety about the professional consequences of burnout, and the impact it’s having on their ability to perform well at work. A Blind survey respondent working at Google said: “Before COVID, I was a high performer at work, but currently I’m just not productive which just adds more stress from work (so far I don’t think any one noticed, but I know I’m not performing, and surely it will become obvious to others soon enough).
“It has been 7 months now with no chance to recharge, with the stress level steadily going up as I see how I’m falling behind on work, and even falling behind on house maintenance.”
SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
The new normal is blended
For the most part, employers seem to be conscious of the remote workers’ worries: 51% of Blind respondents felt that their bosses were understanding of their mental health needs while working from home. One positive to come from the current situation is that it has encouraged employers to pay more attention to the wellbeing of their workers, which could mean that employees will have more of a say in how their work schedule is organized around their personal lives in future.
The general consensus appears to be that, when all this is over, a hybrid mix of remote and office-based working will dominate, and is indeed the preferred working style for the majority of employees. According to SmartWay2’s survey, 91% of people expressed a desire to split their time between their home and the office going forward. Yet less than 1 in 5 (18%) expect to go back to the office before Autumn 2021.
Steve Vatidis, Executive Chairman of SmartWay2, said: “These results show there is no simple ‘one size fits all’ solution. Employers are under pressure to grant greater autonomy to their workforce. But they still have a lot of work to do to convince their teams of the productivity benefits offered by showing up at modern workplaces which are COVID-safe.”
He added: “Organisations that can provide a COVID-safe working environment, combined with flexibility of scheduling for when workers come into the office, will be at a distinct advantage for managing the upcoming period of change.”