As the impact of COVID-19 continues to spread across the world, the majority of businesses and organisations, including Cigna, have shifted to remote working. Whilst this ‘trend’ has risen by 400% in the past decade, for many, the transition to virtual meetings and a digital workplace has been one filled with new stressors and challenges, especially during a growing pandemic.
There is no doubt that along with the anxiety provoked by a potential deadly virus, we are also dealing with the fact that many workers have been plunged into home working for the very first time. For some they may already have experience of flexible working, but few of them will have worked full time from home and few of their managers will have led their staff in such a situation either.
It can be difficult to separate work life from personal life, especially when they both take place in the same area. While working from home, we unintentionally spend more hours at our desk, which can get a bit lonely without the commute and the company of co-workers. Many may find themselves becoming far less active - especially those that typically structure their day around their commute, perhaps by walking or cycling.
How can we achieve a work-life balance during lockdown?
Remote working can bring lots of business benefits, such as increased efficiency, lower operating costs and higher productivity. However, employers need to be mindful of the additional challenges it can bring. Many employees now have new personal responsibilities such as childcare, concerns over elderly or vulnerable family members and difficult working environments. So, perhaps the overarching question should be, how can we as individuals strive for work-life balance during this unprecedented time?
Some tips include:
- Routine – implementing and sticking to a daily routine is key when maintaining a work-life balance. Get dressed, go for a walk, and prioritise your jobs. If you normally go to the gym, supplement your gym routine with at home bodyweight exercises or strength training
- Designate a workspace – find a suitable working space away from the main home area and your bedroom, if possible. Once you’ve completed your workday, resist the urge to check in with any professional obligations until you begin work again
- Take regular breaks and exercise – every 25 minutes or so get up, stretch and breathe. Perhaps walk up and down the stairs or pop outside to move your body. Use this time to ensure you are also drinking water
- Schedule in socials – We all need to talk to others, even when physical contact isn’t possible. Use technology like Zoom or Skype, so you can see how people are and interact in a more personal way. Consider booking weekly calls with friends and family so you have regular catch ups to look forward to
If employees have young children, they will have an extra layer of responsibility to add to their daily work plan. Encouraging flexible working patterns to help balance home working with parenting commitments is a good way to support them, especially if they need to focus on complex tasks. It’s important to deal with any HR issues with understanding and empathy, as employee well-being should be a priority right now.
According to our latest 360 Well-Being Survey, 64% of global workers admit to working in an “always on” environment. They constantly feel the need to access work emails, attend work calls or check mobile phones for work purposes out of normal office hours, and this will be heightened as we adjust to working from home.
Now more than ever, employers need to look after employees’ health and well-being to avoid employee burnout, boost morale and increase productivity from those who may be struggling with long working hours at home. It’s important that employees feel supported, and that a culture is built that encourages people to open up about how they’re feeling. Perhaps even increase the level of support provided to staff and adjust the resourcing plans accordingly.
If you’re an employer who isn’t used to remote working, it can feel a little daunting. Here are a few ways to support and care for your employees during this unprecedented time:
- Use technology to keep office morale up - Use technology – try using instant group messaging and phone or video conversations, and stay connected with people through social media and video conferencing apps
- Communicate - Stay in touch and talk regularly. Check-in often, even just to ask how people are doing and if you can help. Companies need to check in on their teams at home, and individuals need to check in with their colleagues, and for those who are struggling, share how you’re feeling; talking about any stress can really help
- Encourage people to work within the hours they should - If you see someone online out of hours, make sure they understand that they’re not expected to do that
- Reward and reassure people - Make sure they know that they’re just as valued wherever they might be.
Technology is a great tool to enhance communication but it’s important to know the limits
Whilst technology is undoubtedly helping keep us all connected right now, it’s important to know the limits in order to maintain a positive work-life balance. The average smartphone user touches their phone more than 2,500 times a day. The cultural norm and often the compulsive use of technology makes it more difficult for many to 'switch off' psychologically from work, therefore more effort must be made to encourage employees to disconnect. With 87% of managers admitting to having their work phone on them outside of office hours and when on annual leave, management needs to step up and set a good example for staff by being the first to step away from an ‘always-on’ mindset. Other measures could include restricting after-hours access to work systems, creating a more structured rewards programme or imposing limits on how long employees can access their work emails. There is no one size-fits-all approach and each business will have to assess what options work best for them.
It takes time to get used to the new normal, so give yourself time to adjust to your new work life
Society as a whole needs to better understand the impact of working in an always-on culture and how this impacts stress levels and mental health. Having occasional out of hours work and small amounts of stress in our lives is normal, but rather than accepting chronic stress as the new ‘norm’, businesses should look to create healthier and happier workplace practices to better protect our mental well-being.
A global lockdown may not be what any of us planned for Q2 this year, but employers can help their staff feel valued and supported during these times - and ensuring they maintain a positive work-life balance is a good place to start.