Colin D Ellis (main photo) is a culture change expert and international speaker. His latest book is Culture Hacks: 26 Ideas to Transform the Way You Work is out now. In this guest post he says working from home is now the norm and that brings with it both benefits and challenges…
Remember those days when there was only one place you could work and that any kind of flexibility was seen as a ‘jolly’? It feels like a million years ago now, and yet it’s only been a year. A year since senior managers finally realised that standing in the way of remote working and flexibility was no longer possible and that trust had to be assumed not earned.
Of course, for many, the move to virtual working was also accompanied by being responsible for home schooling children to and it wasn’t until much later in the year (in Australia at least) that productive routines could be established and people could set themselves up for success.
According to Microsoft, prior to the pandemic in 2019 only 19 per cent of organisations that they surveyed had formal remote working policies in place, yet by mid-2020 this number has grown to 76 per cent and as the virus continues to linger, this number will grow still further.
On the face of it, this is fantastic news for those looking for greater flexibility in where they do their work. Yet, if employers and employees don’t formally agree how these arrangements work and if employees aren’t good at setting boundaries between work and home life, then a new set of problems could emerge.
Many office workplace health and safety issues are still prevalent in a home environment, yet they’re not as immediately visible. Employers have lost the control that they had in ensuring that workspaces were set up to ensure that employees weren’t in pain. Good quality chairs, desks at the correct height, an absence of hazards as well spaces where staff could ‘escape’ to when they needed to take a break from their work.
Employers will need to think carefully and empathetically about how they ensure that staff don’t suffer physical pain when they’re away from the office.
Additionally, there are many that suffer emotionally from not being able to be around other people. Again, organisations need to work hard to ensure that cultures are defined to keep staff connected to something that’s bigger than them and that staff make time to connect throughout their days. Researchers from INSEAD found that connectedness between team members had declined by as much as 40%.
For their part, employees need to become great at drawing a line between work and home life so that they get equal amounts of work, rest and relaxation.
Many of the teams that I worked with last year reported that they were working longer hours than they would normally and that presenteeism was now becoming a bigger issues that absenteeism.
One in seven Australians (between the ages of 16 and 85) will experience depression in their lifetime, and one in sixteen in any given year with social determinants (which includes work) being a big contributor to this.
Employees have a significant responsibility to ensure that they develop practices and habits that ensure that they can successfully distinguish between working time and leisure time, whilst at home.
Some ideas to encourage this include:
- Establishing your workspace in a place where you can close a door and walk away from it (if possible)
- At a specific time, each day, shut your laptop down and place it in a draw or out of sight. You can do likewise if you have a work phone
- Be disciplined around when your check email or else turn notifications off at specific times at the day so that you’re not getting distracted outside of working hours
- Write your ‘to-do’ list for the next day at 5pm the day before so that you’re able to sleep soundly
- (If you still have children at home) schedule in time when you’ll work and be realistic about the amount of productive time that you have in a day. If you have small children (<5) at home recognise that you may only have 1 or 2 productive hours a day and set expectation accordingly. Don’t work all night to try to keep up!
Great workplace cultures have effective employee assistance programs (EAPs) and home working policies to help employees to set themselves up for success, however, it is still everyone’s responsibility to draw the line between when work ends and when rest starts. Establishing a few simple habits will help you to stay on top of your mental health and your work at the same time.
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