There has been a lot of hype in the media since the start of the pandemic about a “new normal” for work or the “new ways of work” that will be permanently embedded in our organisations and that employee engagement and productivity will be maintained. We have heard these voices before, but after research clearly illustrated that enforced and total work from home take a significant toll on mental health and employee engagement and retention, we have begun we believe to look at distributed work in a more nuanced way.

At CCG, we are not so sure that the unbridled used of technology to get work done is good for organisations and employee engagement and initial data and research seems to support this.

Working remotely is not always an easy endeavour. Space away from the office and your team might provide a valuable opportunity for reflection and creative design. Simultaneously, a generalised distributed work pattern for most employees all of the time seems to carry with it certain disturbing results:

  1. Many people complain of working MORE when they work from home..  There are numerous well researched articles that report on high levels of employee anxiety, exhaustion and burn-out, both because of current events and concern about job security and wealth destruction. Employees who are required to work from home often tend to feel alone, unable to engage and share professional insights and experience with colleagues, and therefore increasingly alienated, isolated, and alone. All of these factors have a negative impact on employee engagement, organisational culture and then ultimately impact on the ability of an organisation to deliver on its strategic mandate.
  2. To make matters worse, screens are not helping us. So much time on our screens in Zoom, Hangouts or Teams is exhausting for many people.  We now seem to be understanding the science and psychology of why that is: when we sit in front of someone, especially someone we don’t know well, our minds pick up on literally thousands of datapoints related to that person’s body language, facial expression, tone of voice and words used to build an understanding of their mood.  Over a screen, especially when we are working with new colleagues or clients that we don’t know well, many of those cues are blocked and we have to use a lot more energy to understand what the person on the other side is feeling and thinking.

These factors are increasingly eroding employee engagement. We have heard repeated stories of employees quitting before they have ever even met their team lead or colleagues! So how might we positively and proactively respond to this challenge?

What follows are some practical and easy tools and tips:

  1. Keep to a regular schedule as much as possible
  2. Get dressed every day as you would for work
  3. Designate a space in your home that is for work and try to maintain that boundary (this supports productivity and creates a sense of separation between work and home life)
  4. Schedule breaks, ensure you enjoy this special opportunity to spend intense time with your family and ensure that you have time for fun.  If you live alone, think about how to connect with others via the telephone or videoconferencing on your cell or computer (but cap time spent on screens)
  5. Reach out to employees regularly (at CCG team members speak to one another at least once a day)
  6. Build a communication protocol or schedule for when the company, divisional or functional head speaks to his or her team and develop a way that this communication pattern cascades throughout your organisation

Distributed work and flexible work hours that are designed by industry and to support different task and operational functionality, are extremely positive cultural norms that are increasingly being introduced into our organisations. What we would caution is not going overboard and losing ourselves (and our people) in the process.