When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, companies reacted quickly by shifting their staff to fully remote working.
The primary method of doing this was to recreate as many features of the office as they could. This included increasing the number of meetings to make up for the lack of casual social interaction and bringing in new employee monitoring technology to keep an eye on employees.
However, research by Gartner shows that these efforts to virtualize the office actually had a negative impact on employees. They caused fatigue and eroded individuals’ work-life balance.
A survey of 2,400 workers found that employee monitoring made staff twice more likely to pretend to work. It also eroded the boundaries between work and free time by perpetuating the feeling that employees always had to be switched onto work.
The research also found that adding more meetings created a virtual overload; employees spending more time in meetings since the pandemic started were 1.24 times more likely to feel emotionally drained from work.
“When employees experience high levels of fatigue, employee performance decreases by up to 33%, feelings of inclusion decrease by up to 44%, and employees are up to 54% less likely to remain with their employer,” noted Alexia Cambon, director of Gartner’s HR practice.
The need for human-centric hybrid working
Instead of virtualizing the office – to the detriment of employees’ wellbeing and productivity – Gartner says that it is important that businesses now think about what their employees want out of their workplace.
This is particularly important as many companies are grappling with figuring out how to implement a hybrid working model.
First of all, Gartner recommends that businesses do not force their employees to return to the office. Gartner’s survey found that only 4% of current remote employees want to return to the office full-time and that mandating full-time office working could result in employers losing 39% of their workforce.
Instead, Gartner advises that employers ask individual employees what they want out of future flexible and hybrid working by allowing them to choose where, when, and how they want to work.
Another way to create human-centric workplaces is to focus on innovation by design.
Cambon noted: “Progressive organizations are relying less on innovation by chance, and more on innovation by design. Among employees whose organizations have high levels of intentional collaboration, 75% also report having high levels of team innovation.”
Finally, Gartner recommends that HR leaders need to focus on employee wellbeing. There remains a stigma around mental health concerns, particularly in the workplace, so Gartner says managers need to make meetings a safe space and lead with empathy.
This involves focusing on productive outcomes, rather than inputs. This means employees no longer feel like they need to pretend to be working and putting in ridiculously long hours to give the impression of being productive when in fact the opposite is often happening.