Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Apple, Amazon, Salesforce, Cognizant, Infosys, Wipro. From the UK to the US, Japan to South Korea, and India to Australia – the recent weeks were very strange for tech professionals across the globe, with IT companies rolling out mandatory work-from-home policies amid the spread of Covid-19.
While remote work was common in some sectors including content, telecommuting and IT to some extent, with The World Health Organization declaring that that coronavirus has officially reached ‘pandemic’ status, a shift to the ‘home office’ may now become the new normal for tech professionals.
Needless to say, working from home has several benefits. It offers employees greater autonomy to do their work, and greater flexibility that supposedly leads to greater job satisfaction, coupled with lower turnover and increased commitment to the organization. Ironically, work from home can also give employees sleepless nights and loneliness often comes as a baggage, find studies.
When work is already at home
A new study found that employees who work from home are more likely to experience disturbed sleep. Remote workers were 4 percentage points more likely to deal with physical issues while sleeping and 15 percentage points more likely to experience mental distress than employees working in an office. (Read the full study here)
The research shows that it can be more difficult for remote workers to establish clear boundaries and a proper work-life balance, which can make it harder to disconnect when the workday ends. These employees don’t have to deal with bringing work home, but that’s only because the work is already at home. Mental health issues among remote workers continue to rise while they deal with the side effects.
Losing sleep means more than just health risks. Productivity can be held back due to focusing on treating and managing ailment symptoms. For example, mental distress costs American workers and businesses 13 days of productivity per year—social anxiety and depression being the most impactful consequences. So working professionals must take a step back and evaluate how their careers affect their physical and mental health, say researchers.
Other research from time to time have mentioned feelings of isolation, loneliness as well as the lack of social support in this remote working milieu. Some said a lack of feedback from line managers and senior colleagues gave them no benchmark to judge progress, which led to increased feelings of anxiety and a concern as to whether they were “up to standard.” All these lead to acute stress – resulting in lack of sleep and rest.
Psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson in their research papers said, When it comes to work, there are two kinds of stress—the good kind and the bad kind. They observe that stress can be productive up to a point, and then it results in reduced productivity. Being unable to report being stressed is detrimental, as pressure will eventually outweigh an individual’s ability to cope over time. In contrast, one recent study found that colleagues who spend just 15 minutes socializing and sharing their feelings of stress had a 20% increase in performance.
CXOs can lead the change
The right kind of communication is the key to overcoming the trials and tribulations of virtual working. Employers need to put the right structures in place, such as scheduled video calls and regular team-building meetings, to build rapport. Leaders need to lead by example and create a culture where those outside the office feel valued, especially during a crisis, which has already caused a trauma among employees, their families and loved ones.
Brian Trahan, managing director of The Center of Phenomenological Leadership, a management consulting firm based in the US, calls for harnessing technology and creating a “virtual water cooler” for those working at home.
“We need to create a “virtual water cooler.” Schedule regular video meetings, have everyone enable video for better interaction, and give them a chance to talk. Set up a chat channel for your team, or have them set one up. Don’t assume that there will be a carry-over of the interpersonal relationships fostered while on-site,” Trahan said in an interview with Boston Globe.
Be sure to be available via Slack, Teams, or whatever collaboration platform your organization uses. Leaders should be present as questions and issues will occur and team members will look for guidance and assurance. Provide crucial information that keeps your workforce safe and informed, he said.
Sleeplessness, according to some researchers needs to be overcome at every cost. Employees working from home need to think about what makes them productive, happy, and successful in everyday life, and try to replicate this in a remote setting—whether this means taking a walk at lunchtime, doing a light exercise and a healthy diet, ringing a friend, or reading your favorite book.
If the future of work is heading toward more remote or virtual working, then it’s not something one can avoid. Instead, we should implement ways of managing the stress associated with it while enjoying the benefits.