The sudden shutdown of much of America’s downtown business cores as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic removed the daily commute for those employees who transitioned into remote workers almost overnight. Remote work was no longer an option; it was in many ways the only thing keeping business continuity. Sending their workers home and pivoting to virtual teams, instant communication, and video conferencing became the immediate response of every company that could.
However, in doing so, the pandemic upended the work/life balances of many. While employees generally report higher levels of productivity, more than 80 percent also admit that the pandemic is affecting their work lives.
This is through no fault of employees. Things might be different if employees chose to work from home, rather than have the decision forced upon them thanks to a worldwide pandemic. Unfortunately, in many instances the systems in place to support workers (like childcare) are also shut down. Parents now had to manage their children through remote learning. With people now working from their home offices, the boundaries between home and work began to blur. Recent data suggests that Americans are logging more than three additional hours on the job per day. Time commuting has been replaced with time working.
How does this imbalance affect employees and how can employers help? Acknowledging the issue is a first step, but companies should do more. Leaders should set clear expectations around work/life balance and communicate that to the enterprise. Also, IT and HR should collaborate to improve the digital experience for every employee, which can better assist workers in maintaining a healthy work/life balance.
Leaders Should Continue to Create Authentic and Meaningful Employee Experiences
When the COVID-19 pandemic happened it necessitated immediate shifts in the way employees work. One outcome over the past few months has been the blurring of boundaries of home and work — to the point where there’s almost no boundary. For example, data suggests that peak email traffic is starting earlier and web traffic is spiking between midnight and 3 a.m. in ways not seen before the pandemic. This can be due to the immediacy of communications, and the need not to be seen as unproductive while working from home.
Technology is the glue that binds together the global workforce, but sometimes it binds employees together too tightly. With push notifications and alerts invading their personal phones and spaces, employees are never that far away from the next office crisis. Employers should encourage “quiet hours,” when employees can feel free to ignore notifications or delay their response to another time. Email and smartphone notifications are tied to lower productivity, research has shown. Employees can set boundaries and transition times between work and home, but it’s also up to employers to honor those times and not reach out too late or too early in the morning. When employees don’t feel obligated to answer notifications right away, it can do wonders for both thor focus and their stress levels.
Many leaders have been successful at leading their workforce through this journey of navigating the new normal. But they need to do more and set the example of manageable work/life balance. As the pandemic crisis stretches on month after month, leaders need to continue pushing for more transparency and communication with their employees. Being open and honest about the health and strength of the business will continue to build and instill trust in your workers.
Communication is a two-way street. Leaders need to listen to their workers almost as much as they need to talk to them. Hear what challenges they face and ask how you can help.
Where IT and HR Collaboration Can Affect the Work/Life Balance
Even before the pandemic, many IT and HR business units were collaborating on how to improve the digital experience for employees. The pandemic has made the need for a superlative digital experience more immediate and pressing. With employees now working remotely, their digital tools are essential. Providing the right digital tools that work and integrate seamlessly with other programs and devices is another way companies can contribute to a positive work/life balance— nothing elevates stress more than tools that don’t work.
To create exceptional digital employee experiences, IT and HR should collaborate on programs and initiatives that best benefit employees. Practitioners agree; recent research says that 86 percent of both IT and HR professionals believe that collaboration is essential to delivering great digital experiences. One of the main ways IT and HR can work together is to give remote workers the tools they need to be efficient — 57 percent of IT professionals and 52 percent of HR professionals say this is a priority. With the right tools in their hands, employees will be more efficient, which in turn will positively affect their work/life balance.
Another area that will need close attention and possible reworking is the onboarding process. The pandemic has transformed how employees are coming into the workforce. There’s plenty of opportunity for improvement: 47 percent of IT and HR professionals rated their onboarding process as merely satisfactory. With IT and HR bringing on new employees remotely, the expectations about work/life should be laid out at the onset, so new hires know exactly what’s expected of them, both in the current conditions and going forward.
Employees are looking for things they can control, in this age when so much is uncertain. By providing employees with the right digital tools and giving them as much control as possible over their own paths and projects, you’ll be helping them make sense of what’s going on during the pandemic.
Communication has become essential in an age where employers and employees don’t see each other physically from day to day. However, communication should be done thoughtfully, with care given to reach out during office hours and not before or after. By practicing thoughtful communication, modeling positive behaviors and encouraging collaboration between IT and HR on the digital experience, employers can assist their workforce in regaining a sense of separation between work and home — even when work is at home.
Learn how VMWare can improve the digital experience for your remote workforce at vmware.com.
- Emmett, J., Schrah, G., Schrimper, M. and Wood, A. (2020). “COVID-19 and the employee experience: How leaders can seize the moment” McKinsey & Company
- Davis, M., and Green, J. (2020). “Three Hours Longer, the Pandemic Workday Has Obliterated Work-Life Balance.” Bloomberg
- Glaveski, S. (2019). “Stop Letting Push Notifications Ruin Your Productivity.” Harvard Business Review”
- VMWare (2020). IT and your employee experience survey
- VMWare (2020). HR and your employee experience survey
- Minnesota Department of Health (2020). Tips for work/life balance during COVID-19
More Thought Leadership from VMWare
- Executive Profile Q&A: Brian Madden: The Future of Work Is Here
- Supporting Employees as They Attempt to Maintain Work/Life Balance During a Pandemic
- Opportunities to Optimize the Employee Experience
- Jump-Starting Return to the Office Plans
- Delivering Exceptional IT Service When the Office Isn’t the Office
- Cloud Elasticity: Continuous Access to the Resources You Need
- Centralized Computing Power in a Decentralized Work Environment
- Preparing Employees for Day-One Readiness
- Leveraging Network Agility As Demand Shifts Into an Uncertain Normal
- Reviewing the Security Strategy in the New Normal: What to Watch For
- Rethinking Security Strategies for Today’s Distributed Workforce
- Cyberattacks Are Increasing — Here’s How to Stay Safe
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