How to support healthy performance in a technology-based remote workforce?

We are all experiencing it: Remote working has advantages for integrating work and life demands but also creates challenges for health and performance. I like the flexibility of working from home but I miss my commute! The time to disconnect from work and some quiet time before taking charge of home life. I miss my colleagues! The chance encounters on the corridor that spark great ideas and further connections. I miss my office and the school grounds! The downtime over a cup of coffee or the walk along the beautiful riverside to decompress after a tough meeting. Now working from home, getting off the office chair to get some fresh air can be hard because long to do lists and endless virtual meetings demand my attention. Connecting with colleagues is not always easy now as I don’t want to go into yet another virtual meeting. I feel like my entire life now happens on the screen! It’s tiring and I can feel the impact on my state of mind and productivity!

Many working remotely feel the same!  Most of us in fact work even more than ever before. Our pandemic work days are 48 minutes longer and we have more meetings than ever before according to a survey conducted by Bloomberg. Many feel they are ‘online’ 24/7 with requests pinging up on the screen of smartphones and work devices, feeling unable to disconnect from work. This can lead to technostress (stress experienced through the use of technology) and low psychological well-being (combination of feeling good and functioning effectively) and ultimately impairs performance at work. Digital burnout is creeping in!

Even before the pandemic poor workplace well-being cost UK employers up to £45 billion a year. Many factors contribute to developing well-being problems at work (e.g., high workload, constant change). Technology is a key contributing factor. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers warned that increasing remote working practices can lead to low levels of well-being and performance. A recent study found that work patterns have changed during the pandemic. Contrary to the fear that people’s performance would drop during remote work in the first lockdown, remote workers where on average 10% more productive. Does this indicate a higher performance or people’s inability to disconnect and take time for recovery to sustain levels of performance without impairing their psychological well-being? Prolonged work leads to exhaustion and burnout. Healthy performance therefore is the ability to be productive at work long-term without impairing psychological well-being.

Rather than controlling whether their employees are not working when working remotely, leaders now need to make sure that they work effectively with technology (i.e., keep technostress low), so that employees are able to perform in a sustainable manner that does not impair their well-being (i.e., ensure healthy performance). After the Covid-19 crisis, particularly in knowledge intensive organisations (organisations whose main activity is based on the employment of knowledge, e.g., IT firms and management consultancies), most employees (i.e., knowledge workers) will work at least some of the time remotely.

Leaders will play a key role in creating a work environment that encourages healthy performance for them. We need to upskill leaders at all levels in the organisation in leadership behaviours that support healthy performance of an increasingly technology-based remote knowledge-workforce. How do you currently support your teams to work in a healthy manner? What are practices that we can take into the new normal to help us truly reap the benefits of hybrid working? I would love to hear about your experiences!

Dr Caroline Rook

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