Since early 2020 the notion of ‘normal working practices’ has changed dramatically for most of us. But with one recent survey claiming that 90% of HR managers have noticed signs of burnout in their workforce, are leaders and managers taking employee wellbeing as seriously as they should?
Many roles – health professionals, delivery drivers, essential shop workers, warehouse staff and many others – continued to operate within much the same environment, but with drastically different procedures. For others, their personal and professional lives were merged when they were required to find a way to work efficiently and effectively from home.
Research articles (such as this one, this one, and this one) reflected on the perceived benefits for employees: the hours saved by removing the daily commute; flexible working to meet family and business needs; increased attention-span due to fewer distractions; improved productivity and efficiency… For some, this has been a positive experience and on reflection, some will wish home-working to be their new norm. For others, this has been a very difficult time. We each live in a unique, dynamic environment and the physical blurring of home and work has created new family dynamics and pressures.
It has, for all of us, been far from straight forward.
And now with the removal of ‘work from home’ advice and face masks, the conversation has turned to new working practices – namely hybrid working – with various definitions emerging. Work from home, work from the office…work where and when you like, work where and when we tell you to. After nearly two years of restrictions, this is a daunting time for many who haven’t been in the office for long periods of time.
Yet still we see business leaders assessing productivity against the costs of office rental and overheads and considering whether home working could be the new, cheaper, norm. Some acknowledge that there are challenges to be addressed: connectivity, IT compatibility, workspace suitability and access to resources.
So yes, the logistics can be overcome, but are leaders considering the more pressing human issues of interpersonal communication and employee wellbeing?
Admitting we are struggling can be hard enough when we are in a familiar working environment with trusted colleagues close by. Phone conferencing and virtual meetings have proven to be an efficient way of meeting, but the natural ebb and flow of conversation is easily lost: talking over one another is unavoidable yet uncomfortable, and can lead to stilted discussions. People may be reluctant to be honest, to challenge or share difficulties they are experiencing.
Looking at a screen full of faces, it’s difficult to read body language and emotions. The water cooler moments are lost. We can’t make a coffee and have a chat, listen and offer support. It’s much harder to spot the subtle signs of worry or stress. We can’t pop to another’s desk and ask for help. The support mechanisms some of our most effective employees relied on have now changed dramatically.
Wellbeing has never been more important. As leaders, how do we maximise the effectiveness of the physical home working environment and ensure we safeguard our employees’ wellbeing? How do we support staff? Here are a few ideas:
There are numerous areas we need to explore and it’s vital that leaders work with their teams to identify which factors are specifically affecting them. Then the co-creation of a coherent plan to support individuals and teams to work, collaborate and develop effectively, is essential to help businesses to successfully navigate the journey out of lockdown.
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