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Collaboration tools must support the wellbeing of home workers

Latest forecast from CCS Insight suggests that people will be working remotely more than two days a week, so IT will need to address this shift

CCS Insight has forecast that in 2022, more than half of all office-based employees will still work mainly from home. 

In a poll of 730 senior executives from mainly large organisations in the US and Europe, conducted in late July 2020, the analyst firm found that the coronavirus pandemic has made remote work a viable option and most businesses have equipped their staff to make this possible.

CCS Insight forecast that by 2022, one-third of large firms will cut their spending on office locations by an average of 20%, and will use the savings to provide home workers with better connectivity, security, devices and peripherals to support collaboration.

“Even as some office-based working resumes, the need for social distancing and limits on gatherings diminish the benefits of offices,” said CCS Insight in its findings of the C-suite IT investment survey 2020. “Home working becomes an expectation for employees and a critical condition during recruitment.”

Commenting on the survey, Nicholas McQuire, vice-president, enterprise research at CCS Insight, said: “At a high level, spending has shifted. Companies are looking at technology to aid recovery and growth.”

CCS found that business leaders expect 40% of their workforce to be working from home more than two days a week.

Wellbeing of home workers

As for the type of tools that will help home workers maintain productivity remotely, CCS noted that collaboration technology, and particularly video meeting platforms, have become mission-critical. Microsoft Teams now dominates the market and was deployed by 46% of businesses in the survey. Zoom has jumped to second place, used by 28% of businesses. Skype for business was the third most widely used platform in the survey.

During its Ignite conference at the end of September, Microsoft unveiled a number of enhancements to address issues relating to wellbeing and health for home workers, including a partnership with Headspace.

Megan Jones Bell, chief strategy and science officer at Headspace, whose wellbeing app and online content are used by more than 65 million people in 190 countries, said: “Mindfulness is a helpful way to step away from the anxious inner chatter we might feel as a result of stressful situations. It is essentially an inner pause button that allows us to step out of the ‘busyness’ trap and check in with ourselves.”

Guidance from the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on the use of computer monitors during work, stresses the importance of screen breaks. “Where the job unavoidably contains spells of intensive display screen work (whether using the keyboard or input device, reading the screen, or a mixture of the two), these should be broken up by periods of non-intensive, non-display screen work,” the HSE wrote in a frequently asked questions (FAQ) webpage on computer monitors. 

The FAQ stated that short, frequent breaks are more satisfactory than occasional, longer breaks. For instance, the HSE advised taking a five to 10-minute break after 50-60 minutes’ continuous screen and/or keyboard work, rather than a 15-minute break every two hours.

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Such screen breaks are also needed at home, where staff may be isolated and can only speak to colleagues via video-conferencing. 

Commenting on the importance of supporting staff in their home working environment, CCS’s McQuire said: “There is no question that concerns are mounting over the mental health and wellbeing of remote workers at the moment. Business leaders are now starting to take the area very seriously, especially as work-from-home strategies become permanent.

“We have long felt that features that track and promote wellbeing are going to appear in collaboration and HR applications in the near future as a result, and Microsoft deserves a lot of credit for being the first major player to take the first steps into this area.

“Whether these early features become popular or not doesn’t matter. What they show is that we will see a wave of innovation in the wellbeing area in the years to come, especially as businesses begin to deal with some of the real-world challenges now surfacing around long-term remote work.”

McQuire added: “What these, along with other advancements at Ignite, show us is that the Teams platform is much more than just a video and chat solution. It is quickly becoming a trusted hub for digital work as well.”

Monitoring productivity

But the growth of remote working and use of online collaboration tools has also seen growing interest among businesses to measure staff productivity. A recent YouGov Poll for trade union Prospect reported that 80% of workers feel uncomfortable using monitoring tools that check their productivity.

Only one-third (32%) of workers had heard of keystroke monitoring and camera-tracking technologies, while one-quarter (26%) had heard of electronic tracing. The poll found that two-thirds (66%) of workers would be uncomfortable with keystroke monitoring with nearly half (44%) would be very uncomfortable

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “Having your every keystroke or app usage monitored by your boss while you are working in your own home may sound like a dystopia – but there are precious few controls in place to prevent it becoming a daily reality for millions of workers across Britain.”

Employers are beginning to think about how their workplace will operate in the future, including a far greater prevalence of blended working and exclusive working from home. As the new reality takes hold, we will see more and more debates about the use of technology to monitor workers – and the evidence suggests the workforce are simply not ready for it.

McQuire believes business leaders need to get away from the obsession on productivity and assume that employees are more productive in the office than at home. At home, he said, the work day tends to be longer and people struggle with mental health issues.

He predicted that more collaboration tools, as well as human resources applications, will integrate wellbeing applications into their products to support remote workers.

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