By Nelson Furtado, Senior Business Phycologist at The Chemistry Group
Almost a year ago now, Covid 19 sent much of the workforce to work from home (very much from home rather than remotely) with no intentional design. Almost overnight, organisations had to radically restructure the way they interact with and motivate their workforce. Those working from home have been presented with the challenge of the breaking down of traditional work/life barriers as well as a fundamental shift in the way that they interact with colleagues.
Turns out working from home isn’t the same as working in an office. Sounds obvious, but sometimes the obvious can be taken for granted. Working remotely has presented enormous opportunities for some, but it is hard to get right. Especially if you don’t put an understanding of people first. Understanding how your people receive and respond to change is important in promoting resilience over time. It’s a brave new world and we are only beginning to find out what the long-lasting ramifications of this pandemic will be on working life.
Since lockdown first began in March 2020, The Chemistry Group has been working with our clients to help their workforces adapt behaviourally and organisationally to the challenge presented by this abrupt switch to WFH, while doing so we have also been collating research into the challenges and opportunities presented by the switch. You can read our key findings below:
Greater workloads and longer working hours
We found that over 30% of workers reported greater workload and longer working hours since lockdown began in March. This is supported by findings in a recent study that showed an average 48min longer in workday and more spill-over of work into non-working hours (DeFilippis et al., 2020).
The combination of a heavier workload and distracting work environment saw 43.3% workers experiencing work-life spill-over, 39.8% feeling too stressed to unwind after work, and 11.5% struggling to balance such imbalance. This struggle has been much more pronounced for some, workers with children for instance experienced more work life imbalance; while workers in supervisory roles also reported heavier workload and more spill-over.
Impressive workforce resilience
Despite these challenges, finding suggests the UK workforce displayed impressive resilience and coping mechanisms. Since the first lockdown, 82.7% workers have been able to successfully adapt their routine and 71% have been working effectively. Such resilience has been observed team-wise as well, with over 80% workers seeing their teams working effectively and adjusting their social interactions accordingly. This high level of adaptability (found also in another study by Bernstein et al., 2020) is particularly encouraging as it points to the existence of useful strategies that help workers adjust to this new norm.
Two-way clarity regarding expectations in a changing context is critical
Organisations can also facilitate in their workers’ adjustment by providing more clarity regarding expectations of behaviours in a WFH context. Our study found that in organisations with a formal WFH policy, workers felt more relaxed, experienced more self- and team-effectiveness, and were more satisfied with general communication and organisational support. This is perhaps because clear policies provide guidance for workers to navigate the flexible yet ambiguous WFH arrangement.
Clarity is also important for remote working performance, as many workers wish for more information from managers on roles (19.1%) and job-performance (22.7%). With useful manager feedback, workers can better understand how they are assessed, which in turn increases their satisfaction with the assessment. Workers are also advised to take the initiative to communicate with their managers to gain more clarity, which conveniently has the added benefit of improving communication and relationship with supervisors.
Boundary setting to encourages Work-Life Balance
Role conflict, role ambiguity and environmental stressors, such as excessive noise/distraction, emerged as the strongest significant predictors of those who saw a reduction in their work-life balance. 25.2% found that time they spend on family responsibilities often interfered with their work responsibilities and 33.4% felt the time they spent on their jobs prevented them from participating equally in household responsibilities. Boundary setting behaviours emerged as the best strategy for individuals to maintain this balance, which includes both physical boundaries between work and personal spaces, as well as temporal boundaries such as scheduling, and routine setting (e.g. turning off notifications, clearing away workstations).
Life-work interference, which is defined as the extent to which family or home matters will act as a distraction at work depends primarily on the individual’s work-environment conditions. This is most acutely felt by those with large households, or those who find it difficult to avoid environmental distractions like noise. This is evidenced by the fact that 59% of respondents stated that they were separating workspace and homespaces with clear physical boundaries, set against 79% who would prefer to physically separate the boundaries.
There seems to be evidence to suggest that this becomes less of an issue with age. While this effect is irrespective of the number of individuals in the household, other possibly important socio-economic variables were not controlled for in the study. For instance, given the strong positive relationship between age and wealth, the size and consequently the space afforded by an individual’s home is not accounted for, while it’s also quite possible to imagine that younger people with large households have younger dependants that demand more of their time and attention. This suggests that in the long run, a balance will need to be struck between home working and office hubs in order to maintain the benefits discovered by many in home working whilst creating optimum conditions for all colleagues to contribute to business success.
Adapting to working from home will have been different to everyone, as we move into another year of homeworking in the midst of lockdown 3.0 it’s important for all businesses to gain understanding of their team’s motivations to appreciate how they can still be their best whilst WFH.
Sample Demographic Information
Gender: 50.7% male, 48.9% female
Ethnicity: 71.4% white British, 20.9% BAME
Familial roles: 55.5% parents, 50.5% married
Industries: 14.9% professional/science/tech services, 14.5% education, 9.1% finance/insurance, 8% healthcare, 6.8% manufacturing, 33.6% others
Seniority levels: 28% associates, 35.6% managers and supervisors, 9.5% senior managers, 11.7% executive/directors
DeFilippis, E., Impink, S. M., Singell, M., Polzer, J. T., & Sadun, R. (2020). Collaborating During Coronavirus: The Impact of COVID-19 on the Nature of Work (No. w27612). National Bureau of Economic Research.
Bernstein, E., Blunden, H., Brodsky, A., Sohn, W., & Waber, B. (2020). The Implications of Working Without an Office.