As COVID swept across the world and people’s lives were ground to a halt, new ways of working became widespread.
What most deemed a dream, became a reality almost overnight, as millions of workers moved from the office to a more comfortable work-from-home scenario.
Many soon realized what could’ve been dream-like had nightmare-inducing elements: tight deadlines, increased workload, constant pressure, and a life-work merge that seemed impossible to escape.
As lockdown restrictions cease to be and people return to would-be normality, there’s a question looming around: how are we going to work moving forward? And, more importantly, how can we make it better?
Right results for the wrong reasons
In early 2020, almost every employee was delighted to work from home.
More time to rest, more comfortable clothes to work in, and more flexibility to perform tasks were common possibilities – that turned out to be as distant as normality was during peak pandemic times.
Employees soon found out the grim realities of the work-from-home environment: having to be available at every waking hour, no time for the family, and mandatory vigilant software.
Productivity rose -as studies show employees were working two more hours than before lockdown began- but workers burnt out twice as quickly too.
Stats show that the number of people working from home increased during the pandemic by at least 10%.
Mental health, family, and work all under one roof
The other side of working from home came from employers and upper management. Those in charge of managing deemed it necessary to re-invent ways to control -instead of managing- their workers.
Bossware became a clear-cut example of draconian measures during lockdown times. As the vigilant eye of managers was away from their office workers, they turned instead to control their every action through personal computers.
Different pieces of software allowed employers to watch, study, and even time how employees used their computers, even during personal hours. These new measures added unnecessary pressure to an already unhealthy life-work relationship most workers had.
Employers expected everyone to be available during mornings, afternoons, and late nights; in contrast, many workers who asked for furlough due to childcare-related reasons were swiftly denied or downright ignored.
Life after COVID
Right now, most employees are walking on shaky and unreliable grounds. They are halfway through a transition nobody prepared them for – and it’s a different course from the one they went through when lockdowns began.
While transitioning from working at the office to working from home came quickly and with no warning, going back to the office feels like a slow, almost lagging ordeal.
Upper management is trying to find the right office-home balance as more than half the workforce has realized they suffered from an unhealthy life-work relationship that needs to change.
Some people have decided not to wait – and move on with their lives on their own.
Working from home to furlough to freelancing
Perhaps as a response to poor treatment coming from upper management, more than one-third of the workforce has changed jobs in one way or the other.
Former employees -having enjoyed working from home- have decided to use their old skills in new ways, citing freelance work or moving towards a start-up as a goal. While challenging, this new frontier could offer a healthier life-work relationship for those who dare to take a step in this direction.
This change could come as a result of inadequate work practices that invaded people’s homes. A worrying number of young parents (almost a quarter of them) claimed their employers were unsympathetic when it came to childcare – even if it happened outside working hours.
Can we do better this time around?
As employees make a decision on whether to return to the office or craft their way into a permanent work-from-home situation, everyone -no matter the part they play- must ask themselves what changes are we going to make moving forward.
Even though it’s too early to call it, several employers seem to be moving in the right direction: almost 70% of business leaders have decided to look into private medical insurance. Most of them are also interested in finding a balance between work and home.
This new mindset could trickle down into a better understanding of mental health – and a better work-life balance for employees as well.