Dr Carolyn Axtell: Remote working requires regular wellbeing conversations

As a result of restrictions during the pandemic, more people are working from home and are using online meeting platforms to collaborate with others. There are some efficiencies and benefits related to this way of working as people don’t have to travel between meeting rooms and can flip from meeting to meeting at the click of a button. No commuting is required, so the time saved can be used for work or leisure.

However, the lack of natural breaks between meetings and potential for extended working hours can lead to work intensification and exhaustion. Online meetings can also be more cognitively demanding due to more stilted turn-taking, technical problems and trying to simultaneously follow verbal and text-chat conversations. Therefore, the need for breaks is arguably greater.

Pre-pandemic, the ability to work from home was associated employee satisfaction and wellbeing due to the flexibility and autonomy afforded over location and scheduling of work, and the ability to manage the boundary between work and non-work more effectively. However, during the pandemic, this feeling of autonomy has not been so evident for many, given the lack of choice about location of work. Boundary management has also been challenging for those juggling home schooling and work within the same space and time.

Another challenge of homeworking during the pandemic has been isolation and lack of access to support. Social support is another key contributor to employee satisfaction and wellbeing. While access to support was problematic for homeworkers even before the pandemic, it is even more important under current circumstances where opportunities to gain support via other social interactions are limited.

Organisations therefore need to be aware of these issues and encourage employees to take breaks, provide opportunities for social support and allow greater flexibility for those juggling work and non-work pressures during these times.

Dr Carolyn Axtell is a senior lecturer at the Institute of Work Psychology, Sheffield University Management School