During the first UK Coronavirus lockdown in March 2020, it was estimated that around 40% of us worked from home. Many of us made the transition from the office to our dining room tables with trepidation and a little excitement at the prospect of not having the daily commute for a while. Throughout the ups and downs of Covid-Britain in 2020, we began to realise that working from home would become our new normal. Not only was coronavirus intent on staying around for a while, but we soon realised that the excessive travelling and expensive offices could be replaced by laptops and video calling from our front rooms.
I for one am in support of that – at least to the extent that we’ve realised we can help save the planet with less travelling, and we can save ourselves time and the daily grind of the commute. However, there seems to be an enormous downside, which no one is talking about, and which I fear will swallow many great employees, if we don’t put measures in place – and super-fast!
The picture that I’m drawing from close friends, family and colleagues, tells me that all is not well at the home-offices of the nation. Instead of taking the additional time from the lack of commute to breathe, reflect and plan, people are logging on at the time they would normally have started their commute, if not before. The commute might be a grind, but it does allow thinking and personal time before the workday starts, and when it ends. This now seems to have been lost.
Teams, Zoom and all the other instant-access technology, now means we are all accessible for the entirety of the workday. It’s become commonplace for people to insert meetings (read, their own agendas) into others’ diaries; resulting in stretches of 8 – 10 hours of meetings, with no breaks for food, fluid or comfort. And that’s not the worst of it; I hear many stories where people put meetings in routinely for 7am or 7pm, without asking if that’s convenient and without considering the other 8 – 10 hours of meetings, already scheduled for that day. The excuse? ‘Everyone’s diaries are full up with meetings during normal work hours’! Has anyone considered how the average employee working from home will get time to do any actual work?
Also gone for home workers, are those few minutes of downtime during the workday, where we might stop to chat with a colleague or become engaged in something a little outside of our normal activity; or perhaps those chance meetings, which give us time to think differently, or just take a breather. The sum of all this is an inhuman approach to work.
I say inhuman, because long hours with little or no chance for breaks, no thinking, reflecting, or planning time, constant meetings, and hyper-accessibility, all add up to burnout over time; especially on top of the difficulty of lockdown we are all enduring. Does this describe your organisation and if it does, how can we protect our people and ensure everyone continues to give our best to our work?