A couple months ago—when the world wasn’t a completely different place, when rumors about the effects of COVID-19 on the modern workforce were just starting to swirl—there was actually a large of a cross-section of the population that was enamored with the idea of a forced work-from-home period. Despite obvious fears and the fact that there is an alarming reason for stay-at-home orders to be enacted, there was a widespread feeling of anticipation on the internet that almost bordered on excitement.
Hopeful lists of to-dos and potential hobbies were distributed across social media. Memes joked about getting caught up on years of spring cleaning.
“Isaac Newton developed the theory of gravity while in isolation! This could be your chance to make an impact on history!” boasted widely shared Facebook posts. (Actually, it turns out that’s actually true—Sir Newton was escaping a bubonic plague outbreak in London when he first came up with the theory. Also, it wasn’t the result of an apple falling on his head. Who knew, right?) Puzzles, cross-stitching supplies, and adult coloring books flew off the shelves as quickly as toilet paper. After all, we were about to have so much free time! What would we possibly do with it all, apart from lounging on the couch in our newly ordered tie-dyed loungewear?
It turns out, the answer is more work.
Why We Can’t Seem to Break Away
According to NordVPN, the average workday has increased by an extra three hours, making for 11-hour days, since the beginning of coronavirus shutdowns. It’s pretty clear why we’re focused more on work instead of less:
- There’s no separation. Even long-term at-home workers can attest that there’s a learning curve when it comes to figuring out how to separate your work from your personal life, especially when you don’t have a clear workspace to walk away from at the end of the day.
- There’s nowhere else to go. Rather than flitting out the door to pick up kids from school or get to a reservation on time, today’s average worker is stuck in their own home—and the laptop in the corner is always beckoning. Additionally, this can lead to more time-sensitive demands from employers, and fewer excuses to not bow to the pressure to fulfill them.
- Most people are working from home without child care, which means trying to squeeze work hours into any space possible while still parenting.
The lack of work-life balance is problematic for a lot of reasons. According to a recent Forbes article, “we take 26% of our work home with us increasing our chance of burnout due to overwork, and 40% use their computers after 10 p.m., reducing what’s considered optimal sleep quality.” Poor sleep and a lack of work-life balance can lead to exhaustion, depression, chronic illnesses, and burnout—all of which can have catastrophic effects on your employees and your business.
What You Can Do to Help
As an employer, there are some things you can do to mitigate the damaging effects of this longer workday on your workforce.
- Encourage your employees to set (and stick to) a work schedule. Urge every employee to set office hours where they’ll work and tell them it’s okay to completely check out and turn off their notifications when these hours are over. Of course, this advice only works when you are willing to completely respect those hours, regardless of how many last-minute problems spring up.
- Make time to chat. The typical office culture involves a decent amount of socialization and “water cooler talk,” a necessary social factor that’s missing when it comes to working from home. Consider extending the time limits on your video conferences and letting the conversation flow more freely.
- Throw out the typical agenda for your next meeting and take some time to ask everyone what they’ve been binging on Netflix, or whether they think Joe Exotic should be pardoned, before delving into the work-heavy discussion.
- Check-in regularly. Everyday stress levels are at an all-time high throughout the world right now, and regardless of your industry, that can have a significant impact on your employees and their productivity. Keep tabs on your workers and make sure they know you’re available to help navigate this difficult time. Creating an authentic connection with the people on your team is a great way to foster a happier, more wellness-centered community.
- Create fun. Plan activities that can boost company morale from a distance. You can have lunch delivered from a local restaurant (this counts as stimulating the local economy, too, so win-win!), or take advantage of the many digital tools on the market that allow for interpersonal connection through physical separation. At Verb, we’ve done our best to build up our team through weekly Zoom activities, including a live-streamed magic show, an interactive session with a relaxation expert, and an art activity for our tiny coworkers (the kids who are also stuck at home). Up next? The Great Verb Bake-Off, our first-ever chocolate-chip cookie competition. Our entire team has loved having a chance to interact and take fun, mental breaks. Get creative and see what you can come up with for your own organization!
Working from home has its disadvantages, but it also has its benefits. And since many industries have discovered that it is, in fact, possible to implement remote working policies, it’s extremely likely that they will continue in some form in the future. Now is an optimal time to consider how your company’s structure will adapt in a post-quarantined world. Will you encourage employees to work from home one day a week? Will you continue to utilize digital conferencing tools? Start writing it down, and be sure to keep these strategies in mind as you think about how your new policies will affect work-life balance.
Need help coming up with other solutions to work-from-home problems? We’ve got your back. Contact us to learn how Verb can help you operate your business from wherever you happen to be.