Author: Mirjam Varik, psychologist
Hybrid and remote work is here to stay. Inevitably, however, it has both positive and negative aspects, which both employers and employees should keep in mind. In any case, this means a transformation of existing work habits.
But what could be the potential dangers of remote work and what could be done about them? In this article, we talk about the main positive and negative effects and what new habits need to be established in the context of remote and hybrid work.
In the article we take a closer look at:
1. Increased autonomy increases job satisfaction
2. Flexibility can compromise work-life balance
3. Promote healthy habits
4. Promote contact with colleagues virtually
Depending on the nature of the work and the employer, hybrid and remote work can increase the perceived autonomy of the employee. Autonomy is related to greater job satisfaction and, in turn, to reducing the effects of work stress.
But what is perceived autonomy in the work context?
Autonomy is the ability to influence one’s own work. How the employee perceives autonomy tells to what extent he thinks he has control and freedom of choice over his work tasks. This includes, for example, the ability to influence your schedule, the order of work, make independent decisions, choose the most suitable way to do work, and much more.
Autonomy can significantly reduce the negative effects of work stress, especially in mentally demanding jobs. Examples of such positions are managerial positions and jobs that involve emotionally demanding tasks.
Consequently, it is logical that autonomy is also related to greater job satisfaction. However, low job satisfaction can contribute to the development of burnout, anxiety disorders and depression. Chronic (work) stress increases the risk of developing depression, burnout, chronic fatigue syndrome and also cardiovascular diseases.
When working in a home office, it is necessary to pay special attention to work-life balance, as both work and home life take place in the same environment. By doing work from home, time and resource consumption is reduced, as doing work does not require leaving home, and flexibility increases, as activities take place in the same environment.
Flexibility allows, on the one hand, to fit other activities into working time, such as household duties, sports and others. On the other hand, the line between work and free time can become blurred.
For example, if an employee has normally worked from nine to five, now he is also doing tasks outside of the scheduled working hours. This is a higher risk point if the workload in the corresponding position is usually high. If when going home from the office you can draw some kind of mental border between environments and try to distance yourself from unfinished work tasks, it is more difficult in the home office, where work tools are a few metres away.
The use of virtual communication tools in a new way also creates a situation where there is often a pressure to be available to colleagues or superiors all day. This is especially so in the context of teams crossing time zones.
However, all of the above contribute to overwork. It has been found that a high workload is associated with an increase in absenteeism, burnout, depression and anxiety disorders, and various complaints related to physical health. Also, in the form of excessive work volume or pace, it is a psychosocial risk factor, for which the employer is obliged to implement appropriate measures to prevent related health damage.
DEFINITION: PSYCHOSOCIAL RISK FACTORS
Work-related health risks can be divided into two – some affect our physical health, others affect our mental health. Mental health is affected by psychosocial risk factors, the health effects of which are manifested through the stress reaction. However, the stress reaction can lead to both physical and mental health problems. The existence of the problem is proven by several studies.
In order to avoid possible health risks, rules regarding working hours could also be established for employees in the home office. This does not preclude flexibility, which is one of the significant positive aspects of telecommuting, but allows the employee to step away from work tasks without guilt.
If absolutely necessary, in some cases it would be worthwhile, for example, to restrict access to work-related programs. Also, a separate room or table could be set aside for work at home, if possible. When you finish work and leave your office or desk, you can mentally draw a line for the working day, so to speak.
If difficulties with switching from work life and integrating work into home life can increase the level of work stress of people working full-time in a home office, then a hybrid work format could be preferred.
Pay attention to:
– Establish rules regarding working hours for employees in the home office as well.
– In some cases, it is worth limiting access to work-related programs.
– A separate room, table, etc. could be set aside for work at home.
The employee may also need additional support in terms of healthy habits. Working on a computer late at night can negatively affect sleep and result in the inability to fully recover from the day’s work. Clearer rules for working hours can also be helpful here.
Taking breaks as needed (important both in the context of risks related to working with a screen and in the context of preventing work stress), changing work positions (working while standing and sitting at the computer) and healthy eating and exercise habits could also be promoted.
It is also important here for the employee to be informed about why the above-mentioned aspects are important in the context of maintaining working capacity.
Pay attention to:
– Working on the computer late at night can negatively affect sleep.
– Promote and inform why taking breaks, changing work positions and healthy eating and exercise habits are important.
In the case of remote and hybrid work, it is more difficult to create, so to speak, coffee corner situations where co-workers continuously talk about private life topics as well as work-related wild thoughts. In remote work, a situation often arises where all contact is strictly about work and there is no place to create social connections. To avoid isolation, new virtual habits must be introduced.
During breaks, it is also possible to establish contact with colleagues in a virtual rest corner, which can be, for example, a zoom video call with your favourite colleague. Such short, impromptu contacts help prevent mental health risks resulting from social isolation and support the employee’s subjective well-being.
Before hybrid and telecommuting became popular, the psychosocial risk factor of working alone was more associated with on-call, cleaning and other after-hours jobs. Now the average office worker is also exposed to this risk factor.
In addition to informal contact with colleagues, the efficiency of information flow and the perceived ability to get help or support when needed also require special attention. If the possibility of direct contact can promote the flow of information and the feeling of involvement when working in an office, it may be necessary to introduce new habits when working remotely. For example, hold separate meetings for employee suggestions and feedback, have regular one-on-one conversations with the manager, and the like.
Virtual meetings can also encourage greater involvement of employees who are unable to speak up due to the anxiety associated with social situations.
Pay attention to:
– Create a virtual relaxation corner
– The efficiency of information movement
– There is a chance to get help
Considering the events taking place in the world, all employees, regardless of the work format, should have the opportunity to consult a mental health specialist if necessary. The company’s culture could emphasise the comprehensive well-being of employees and prioritise the necessary steps to support employees’ work ability.
Author: Miriam Varik, psychologist
An occupational psychologist who has completed the competence training of an interdisciplinary occupational health specialist. In my daily work, I help support the working capacity of employees both in individual receptions and as part of risk analysis by mapping psychosocial risk factors in the work environment and advising employers.