Since the start of the pandemic and the rapid shift to remote working, people have been working longer and longer hours to make up for time spent recovering from distractions and interruptions in their home environment. Research shows it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back on task after an interruption – and that was before the pandemic.
Just think of the distractions at home: the doorbell, the needy pet, the noisy flatmates; not to mention the pile of dishes that needs doing in the kitchen. And until very recently, children needing homeschooling at the same time that you needed to work. It’s no wonder people are working longer than ever and reporting increased levels of burnout and stress.
Growing work-life imbalance
Research published by Harvard Business Review last month shows that in 2020, burnout reached epidemic levels: 89% of respondents said their work life was getting worse, and 85% said their well-being had declined over the past year. The key predictors of burnout, exhaustion and cynicism, are at record levels.
Now that a cautious path out of lockdown in the UK has been outlined, everyone is talking about the return to work, and what this might look like over the next few months. While a date hasn’t yet been set for offices to re-open, one thing is for certain: things won’t go back to the way they were.
The changing face of the workplace
Although that has the potential to be a positive thing – Who wants to go back to commuting and spending 8 hours at an office desk, 5 days a week? Steps need to be taken to support employees through this changing working model. Finding ways to remove the time pressures and distractions that are leaving so many people exhausted.
With greater flexibility and new opportunities., the potential for increased remote working to boost well-being is obvious. But how can we ensure that the negatives don’t outweigh the positives?
Is hybrid working the way forward?
It seems that for many, the future of work will be hybrid. Both employers and employees seem to be signalling that a blended approach will be favoured. This could see employees coming into the office for 1–2 days a week, and working remotely the rest of the time. On the face of it, it’s an approach that would see employees come into the office for work that requires collaboration and face to face time, and work remotely for tasks which require concentration and focus. As such, it seems to make sense.
But how easy is it to focus when working from home? Since launching Pluto in December, we have spoken to hundreds of people about their experiences of working from home. Over 50% told us that distractions and an inability to focus in their home environment was their biggest issue. The problem is just as serious for young professionals as it is for working parents.
In the post-pandemic future, deep work and critical thinking will be more important than ever. But 18.3 million people in the UK don’t have a private workspace at home. They can’t just close the door on distractions and noise. If people can’t focus in their home environment and working from the office is no longer an option, where are they supposed to go?
New solutions for a changing infrastructure
Existing solutions to support working outside the home, such as coffee shops and coworking spaces, don’t solve the problem. They can be just as distracting, and unsuitable for focused work.
Nobody wants to go back to the old days of sitting on a train for 10 hours a week, or sitting at the same desk from Monday to Friday and barely seeing their kids. But if employers want to address burnout and mental health issues among their workforce, they will need to do more than just “allow” remote working for a few days a week.
Much more attention needs to be given to the environments required for different types of work, rather than a one-size fits all approach. A workforce isn’t just a homogenous group. Greater consideration needs to be given to individuals’ personal situation and ability to work effectively away from the office.
There is no denying that a more flexible approach to work will benefit everyone in the long-term. But a broader view of what is needed to support employee mental health and wellbeing will benefit everyone in the new world of work.
Luke Aviet is the co-founder and CEO of Space Republic the creator of Pluto.
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