There’s a lot of hype on social and online media at the moment about a “new normal” for work or the “new ways of work” that will be permanently embedded in our organisations and that it will be good for employee engagement. We have heard these voices before, but now that many of us have been ordered home, the shrill cries of support for wholesale distributed work seemed to have reached a fever pitch.
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.
In an earlier post we alluded to the fact that working from home is not always an easy endeavour. Space away from the office and the team might provide a valuable opportunity for reflection and creative design. At the same time, a generalised distributed work pattern for most employees all of the time seems to carry with it certain alarming results:
- Many people complain of working MORE when they work from home and especially during this period when there seems to be so much to do (especially for certain functional areas). There are numerous global articles that are increasingly reporting on high levels of employee anxiety, exhaustion and burn-out, both because of current events and concern about job security and wealth destruction but also because our social support systems (both private and professional) has been blocked during the social distancing regulations imposed on much of the world. Employees therefore feel alone, unable to download and share, 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.
- 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. Worse still, we believe that this trend will deepen as people tire of lockdown, especially in countries with severe restrictions like South Africa. So how might we positively and proactively respond to this challenge?
What follows are some practical and easy tools and tips:
- Keep to your regular schedule as much as possible
- Get dressed every day as you would for work (get out of those pyjamas!)
- If you have children, try and maintain their routine (as hard as this is!), at least with respect to meal and bedtimes
- 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)
- 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)
- Reach out to employees regularly (at CCG we speak to one another at least once a day)
- 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 through your organisation
- Try and think of fun ways to stay engaged as teams (some of this might be funny and even silly: challenge someone to bake a cake and film themselves doing so)
- It is imperative we stay connected during this time, both in terms of professional work and in terms of the time we spend on building and maintaining relationships with one another
Distributed work and flexible work hours and patterns to support different task and operational functionality, field studies, and professional choices 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.