How are companies supporting work-life balance in hybrid working?
Agreeing on clear work hours and supporting health and wellbeing will help to keep employees at the top of their game
With employees spending more time working away from the office, companies are trialling new ways to support flexibility while establishing boundaries between work and home life.
About half of employees in Europe and the U.S. now work from home or third-party workspaces. Many want to continue to do so at least part of the working week, JLL research shows, to cut back on commuting, minimise infection risks and balance home and work life.
“For many people, working from home has given them more opportunities to improve their quality of life,” says Flore Pradère, Research Director, Global Work Dynamics at JLL. “Yet despite all its perceived advantages, work from home has also resulted in longer workdays and “Zoom fatigue” from frequent long video meetings.”
JLL research involving 3,300 office workers across 10 countries found that 37 percent of employees felt their efforts during the pandemic were not recognised and nearly half of remote-working employees feel under pressure. Other studies report that nearly seven in 10 Americans and 40 percent of UK workers have burnout – with long-term consequences for their health, and their ability to do their job.
“Feeling well and motivated is the foundation of working well,” says Alison White, Workforce Management Consultant at JLL. “A good work-life balance ensures employees have time for activities that support wellbeing such as exercise and quality time with loved ones. However, it’s all too easy to be “at work” for much longer than is healthy.”
Rebalancing the workday
Senior management has a key role in establishing boundaries to protect employees’ work-life balance.
“It’s often assumed that people know how to effectively work remotely and set boundaries between work and home life,” says White. “But managers need to lead by example and provide encouragement to shut the laptop.”
Companies including Citigroup, HSBC and John Lewis have introduced “No Zoom Fridays” to give employees time to focus on pressing tasks. Others are setting core hours policies with flexible time built in around to help employees manage personal responsibilities.
Yet old attitudes around presenteeism still exist, with managers easily able to keep a digital eye on who is active online.
“Organisations need to trust that employees will work well from home,” White says. “It’s been a culture shock for some managers who were used to seeing staff every day in the office. With hybrid working being adopted, they’ll need to find new ways of managing, engaging and supporting team members effectively wherever they’re working if they’re going to attract and retain top talent.”
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With six in 10 employees prioritising work-life balance over salary, according to JLL, supporting personal time will be a critical part of increasingly prevalent workplace wellbeing initiatives.
One in four companies are considering scheduling offline hours during which staff don’t have to respond to phone calls or emails. Governments in Italy, Spain, France, and most recently Portugal, have enshrined the “right to disconnect” in employment law, with the European Parliament calling for other EU nations to follow.
Tech supporting wellness
Technology is proving to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can mean long working hours and online presenteeism but on the other, it’s helping people to become more efficient.
Personalised dashboards from Microsoft Teams and Cisco’s People Insights in Webex show how employees spend their workdays and highlight where they can use their time more effectively. Platforms for logging work hours help managers ensure employees are taking enough time off.
Some initiatives go a little further. A “virtual commute” feature in Teams will mark a clear start and end to each day by blocking off employees’ schedules to reflect on to-dos and progress.
More corporations are also now turning to wellness-focused wearables that offer people insight into the relationship between wellness and performance by analysing markers like sleep patterns and activity levels.
Yet while tech has a role to play, maintaining a work-life balance during hybrid working equally requires employees to adapt their own behaviour and work schedules to ensure they get the most from the different spaces available.
“Finding the right mix of home and office is the obvious answer,” says Pradère. “Flexibility is key to ensuring that employees can benefit from both ways of working.”
Kicking off new projects, for example, may be best suited to collaborative office setting whereas completing reports often need private, quiet spaces.
“As people return to the office, organisations have a chance to reimagine workplace culture and how they will connect and support their employees,” White concludes.
“People do their best work when they’re motivated, energised, happy and engaged, not tired and stressed. If home working is to be a significant part of hybrid working, we need guardrails between work hours and personal time – and companies need to make sure they not only introduce these but that everyone demonstrates their support for them.”