By Raffaele Filieri, Professor at Audencia
As some companies may consider using remote working to save on energy bills this winter, while at the same time many employees want to return to work to decrease their own energy use, a new study about the psychological stress it induced during the Covid-19 pandemic can help companies ensure the well-being of their staff.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced most individuals to work from home. This has fostered the growth of remote working and increased individuals’ use of digital technologies for both work and leisure. Until a few months ago, many employers and government bodies, have been extensively promoting remote working, albeit mainly for safety and security reasons. Remote work has also been touted as the best way for workers to keep mentally and physically well, helped by being able to work from home, or in any location, as long as there was access to internet connection.
Advantages and new uses during remote working
Many studies have shown that remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic has enabled workers to spend more time with their family, as well as reducing transportation costs and time.
Simultaneously, there has been an uptake of digital platform use for personal purposes. Working from home became the new normal for many people since the pandemic started.
This situation has generated a debate about the productivity and well-being of workers.
Remote working increases technostress and decreases well-being
A study published in the journal of business research investigated the effect of the excessive use of technology for both work, through online meeting platforms, and personal entertainment, through social media on technostress and psychological well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Technostress is a kind of stress experienced by an individual due to their use of technology. Technostress can lead to psychological as well as physiological reactions such as techno-exhaustion and reduced wellbeing.
In remote-working scenarios, people had to manage various digital platforms and applications while simultaneously balancing their work, familial, and social commitments. Furthermore, digital platforms used for personal and social purposes exposed users to excessive, contradictory, and confusing information that can also increase stress.
The findings of this study illustrate how both work and personal digital platforms induced technostress during the enforced remote work period.
However, the study results also show that employees with previous remote working experience coped better with technostress, whereas individuals who were not used to working remotely or from home may thus develop a heightened level of technostress as they were suddenly forced to do so.
However, even individuals with previous remote working experience have some forms of decreased well-being after some time. A remote worker (single) declared: During the Covid-19 lockdown and after, my productivity has increased as I no longer have to commute to work, and I can’t have casual chats with colleagues in the office. This increased my concentration and capacity to produce more in less time. However, I gained 15 kilos weight in two years because I had fewer incentives for doing any physical activity between work and bedtime. Furthermore, I felt increasingly detached from the work environment, my colleagues, and my company, which caused some stress.
These results contradict the wisdom that working from home is better for people satisfaction and wellbeing.
The Covid-19 situation also seems to have created a new after-hours working culture for some workers who feel ‘always on’, which has resulted in decreased mental and physical wellbeing.
Learning from past experience, as winter is coming
The findings of this study can provide managers with best approaches to take in this coming winter of newly re-opened offices after the pandemic, and in the provision of hybrid working modes, as both remote and on-site working are considered to fight against the deepening energy crisis and its effects this coming winter. It is evident that many companies have understood the downside of working from home and are asking employees to come back to the office, of which one significant example is Google. The lessening of covid-19 restriction measures has seen many companies define new hybrid working solutions.
The remote working mode has meant a reduction in face-to-face meetings, interpersonal communications, bonding, community building, and brainstorming, which can be fundamental, especially for innovative companies.
It appears that the working from home mode is not, after all, going to be the ‘new normal’ in the post-pandemic world. However, it has certainly expanded the options for giving more flexibility to workers, and can be a positive benefit, as long as a careful balance is maintained, primarily though providing hybrid models of working and taking the preferences and needs of each worker into account.