There is no doubt that the Corona crisis has accelerated the digitalisation of work and made working conditions more flexible. Large corporations such as Bayer, Deutsche Bank, Zalando and others have already decided to considerably reduce the number of business trips, even “after Corona” (whenever that may be), and instead want to rely more on virtual meetings. A recent study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering confirmed this: Almost 90 percent of 500 German companies surveyed want to at least “critically examine” the necessity of business trips in the future.
The home office is also here to stay, and even if it may not be used by a large proportion of employees after the crisis, many companies will, however, consider the opportunities that mobile working conditions offer. But in view of constant zoom meetings and the isolation that can go along with working from home, what about employees’ health? The Center for Disability and Integration at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland (CDI-HSG) has investigated the impact of working from home on employees and how companies can mitigate its negative effects.
Working from home is a “double-edged sword”
CDI-HSG director Dr. Stephan Böhm calls working from home a “double-edged sword” and points to earlier studies of the Center that have revealed that flexible work hours and locations can have positive effects on health: Work life and personal life can be balanced more easily and employees feel less stressed, have fewer sleep problems and less emotional exhaustion. “This is then also positively reflected in taking less sick leave in the long term,” says Böhm.
However, if flexible working conditions are implemented incorrectly, their positive effects can be cancelled out. “A very important aspect here is the demarcation between work life and private life," cautions Böhm. “There is more and more of an overlap. Constant accessibility plays a role here. It is harder to switch off, there is also a kind of technological stress - I have to keep myself fit somewhere in terms of new developments, also of a technological nature. Maybe I'm also afraid of losing my job through automation and rationalisation, and that's a stressor caused by digitalisation that should be cushioned.”
Work life and private life have to be clearly demarcated
The CDI-HSG recommends that this should be done at the individual employee level, but that different strategies should be applied to different types of employees. There are two main types: “the segmenter” and “the integrator”. While the segmenter makes a strict distinction between work and private life, the integrator finds it enriching to combine these two areas.
While this is not a problem per se, integrators should make sure that they are fully present in the different roles and tasks distributed throughout their day, and segmenters should define and clearly communicate the working hours and availability in their home office.
Are your employees “segmenters” or “integrators”?
“At team level, it is important that clear rules are in place regarding accessibility, availability, but also regarding communication channels,” advises Dr. Miriam Baumgärtner of the CDI-HSG. “And there is also the social aspect of a team. It is definitely important and meaningful for a team to meet physically on site once a week, for example, for a team meeting because otherwise tensions or interpersonal conflicts are much more difficult to resolve.”
It generally applies that companies should maintain and strengthen the positive aspects of digitisation even after Corona, so that employees have the opportunity to better balance their professional and private lives.
Result-oriented culture instead of a presence-based one
“It is important that companies move away from a culture of mere presence and create a culture of results or a culture of performance. In other words, that each individual knows what is expected of him or her, that there are also goals that each individual sets for himself or herself and that he or she is assessed on that basis,” adds Baumgärtner.
She also points out that companies should focus on the strengths of their employees, i.e. know the strengths of each individual employee for the team and the company, and move away from rigid job descriptions. “Only then can one manage to keep employees motivated and healthy in the long run,” sums up Baumgärtner.
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