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UK workers struggle to unplug from ‘new normal’ at home

As the country enters month three of enforced working from home, research reveals that as personal devices and app overload blurs home-work life, concerns arise over productivity and the mental state of the workforce

British employees working from home due to Covid-19 are overloaded with digital tools and it’s impacting their ability to switch off, according to the findings of a new study by cloud communications platform provider 8x8.

The research surveyed 1,000 people working full-time from home since the pandemic hit, and as well as highlighting technology usage and productivity, raised concerns about the mental state of the workforce as the country enters month three of enforced working from home. It also highlighted the continuing need for employers to ensure staff at risk of burnout are properly supported.

A majority (62%) of those surveyed said that they are now using more digital apps and tools in their jobs. Just over two-fifths (42%) used between 6-15 different apps and platforms during their working day, while a small minority use between 16-20 (2%) or even more (1%).

Yet the difficulty separating work from home was being driven by a majority using personal devices (67%) and personal communication apps (55%) for work purposes, so said 8x8 it was no surprise that almost a fifth (18%) claimed they are putting in longer hours since the move to home working.

There was also a knock-down effect to this. The survey also found that essentially, almost half (42%) of British workers feel more stressed and overwhelmed than when in the office, blaming too many apps, a blurring of the lines between work and home life and difficulty unplugging.

A blurring of the lines between personal and professional life (40%) and an inability to unplug from the “always on” virtual working day (38%) were among the most commonly cited reasons for increased anxiety levels among the UK’s home workers, while over a third (36%) believe they are using too many different tools for workplace communication.

That said, two-fifths say working from home in the last couple of months has positively changed their perception of how productive they can be and over half (55%) believe their employer will offer more flexible working after Covid-19, and 7% think they will even go a step further and introduce full-time remote working. While the majority (58%) of respondents either never or rarely worked from home before the pandemic, there now seems a growing desire to change the status quo with 74% indicating they want more flexibility.

Read more about home working and Covid-19

Assessing the findings that emerged from the research, 8x8 head of IT Morgan Watts said that in the rush to equip teams for remote work, businesses may be guilty of overwhelming their employees with too many different new tools, or failing to clearly outline what is and is not approved for use.

“[As] the saying goes, ‘tidy desk tidy mind’, and this is as true in the virtual office space as it is in the physical,” he said. “Businesses can help clear digital desktops by minimising the number of platforms employees are expected to use to collaborate and discourage personal communication apps for work purposes. This clear line of separation will make it easier to shut down and encourage a healthier work-life balance at a time when it’s needed most.”

Watts also suggested that with no end in sight for home working, businesses should now be considering long-term solutions that not only keep their staff productive, but also secure. “This digital tool overload can increase the threat of cyber attack,” he added. “Working from home introduces cyber security gaps but ensuring a streamlined system of less, strictly approved tools will mitigate risk by shrinking the potential attack area.”

And on a brighter note, the research revealed signs of more caring for colleagues in lockdown. The study showed that nearly a third said that co-workers are taking more time to check-in on how they are feeling while a quarter believed that co-workers were now more likely to offer to help to one another.

A similar percentage said that they had talked more as a company about mental health and wellbeing and even though teams are physically apart, the usage of remote working tools like video meetings has made many workers feel closer. A fifth felt that they now know their co-workers better on a personal level.

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It's not so much I find difficulty switching off.... but that my employer expects me to read emails and work during my down time. I even get emails complaining I have not read other emails, or worked when I am on annual leave!
Apparantly this errant behaviour is going to be "discussed" on my return.
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