Teleworking and face-to-face work are not a world of whites or blacks, but of a very wide range of grays that have had their good parts and their bad parts, assuming a radical change for thousands of workers in 2020, through the restrictions due to the covid -19 and the adaptation of work environments to this ‘new normal’.
What is undeniable in this gradual adaptation is that family and work have thus come together in the same sphere, which has also entailed added tensions. The difference lies in the abruptness of the situation, which thus forced companies in which teleworking was not implanted to open a path to explore, especially in a worse economic scenario, where a high outlay also had to be made.
We are talking about something as seemingly obvious as office leases, but also about the adaptation of equipment or computers for domestic use, a shock for which one was not prepared and that was sudden. Gradually and well carried out, teleworking can bring advantages for both the worker and the employer.
We could cite a better reconciliation of personal and work life, more flexible hours, reduced expenses and lower costs, higher productivity and even a notable reduction in absenteeism from work. But, of course, these would be the positive parts in an idyllic setting.
The reality, transferred through the Covid-19 Global Impact study , by Cigna Salud España , a specialist in health insurance, focused on the corporate market (in more than 30 countries and with more than 169,000 associates under Cigna Corporation) brings light to these concerns, as an example of the potential risks of having work at home: 42% claim to be online on weekends, 39% say they have been working before the start of their shift and 19% consider themselves unable to disconnect even on holidays.
Face-to-face work or telecommuting? None: hybrid
That does not deny the obvious advantages associated with teleworking, according to Ana Romeo, director of Human Resources at Cigna, who cites people management as one of the most transformative elements. In this new context, “based on hybrid work environments and a greater use of new technologies” we find some characteristics that make working from home stimulating or beneficial, such as ” greater versatility, immediacy and flexibility, both for companies and employees. “.
However, we could say that all that glitters is not gold, since “it is also encouraging workers to be encouraged to attend to professional matters at any time “, which Ana Romeo describes as ” always on culture ” and which synthesizes in “the inability to disconnect from work effectively”, compared to face-to-face work.
For her, the change will come in trying to bring together the best of both worlds, being impossible to deny the advantages that face-to-face and teleworking have, since we are a social being by nature and that “spending a long time without having physical contact with colleagues can have adverse psychological effects and isolate people. “
He also cites other positive effects that face-to-face work has, such as that “employees enhance relationships with their colleagues and, also, engagement with the company.” In the same way, another inherent characteristic of this return is that “it favors the differentiation between the work and personal sphere, which, in some cases, facilitates disconnection and conciliation”, even being able to move directly to a physical plane: “by disposing of ergonomic tables and chairs, musculoskeletal ailments are reduced “, since a space designed for this is not the same, as it is – or should be – that of face-to-face work, as opposed to the improvisation of remote work.
Obviously, the telework profile also supposes healthy aspects for the worker, such as flexibility, which ” fosters a culture of trust between employees and supervisors “, which thus results in daily performance, Ana Romeo indicating that the advantages will go through a ” hybrid working mode “, based on” adequate connectivity and connection tools “.
Mental health at the epicenter of concern
According to his point of view, we are now opening a horizon with many possibilities where it is convenient for “Human Resources departments to review the leadership style and organizational culture “, and in which the creation of a work environment that promotes constant support is encouraged. , cohesion and commitment “.
In addition, the pandemic has accelerated another conversion in the worker’s own consciousness: ” Mental health care in the professional setting improves the employee experience.” We find data on this in the COVID-19 Global Impact prepared by Cigna, as 58% of Spanish workers demand a greater understanding of their personal situation, 55% ask for more support in mental health issues and 50% wait improved health coverage.
Thus, a new equation appears on the board, traditionally forgotten -not only in the work environment, regardless of whether we are talking about face-to-face work or telework-, which is that of mental health and is that telework, poorly managed, can increase stress or cause depression , or promote the so-called burnout , three factors associated with the world of work and which are not exactly the same .
Being aware that we are talking about a gradual return to the workplace, we are going to explain six keys so that those who have become accustomed to teleworking, return to face-to-face work in an optimistic way.
Six keys to a healthy return to face-to-face work
We are not going to indicate now the guidelines to create a safe environment in face-to-face work in relation to COVID-19 itself, since there are many examples that we have found, whether they are about capacity, safety distances, protocols or disinfections.
- Don’t deny fear. There is a subtle barrier between complaining about everything and pretending nothing happened. Both employers and employees must be clear that the situation can still be compromised, so it is not convenient to show that nothing has happened. Talking, having a fluent and honest conversation about possible reluctance will be necessary in both directions.
- Gradual re-adaptation. Regardless of whether the business intention is -or not- to recover full presence, it must occur in a staggered manner. Either with some workers or with a few days, but not a total return from the first day. This, at the employee level, is especially relevant to also disconnect from work at home. Therefore, we would not be looking for the first day to do absolutely all the hours of face-to-face work, but to divide the day or, as an option, to approach the office in advance to re-familiarize yourself with the space.
- Maintain the positive habits of teleworking. Considering the advantages that teleworking has been able to implement is a good way to create confidence in the worker, to show that their opinion is important and that they are listened to. Reason why two-way communication is necessary between both parties, even more so when the proximity in the face-to-face work can allow it in a more fluid way than by phone or email
- Have fun. Complying with the safety regulations that allow it, re-conceiving the work space as a place not without fun will be one of the keys, provided from the management, so that the return is not so harsh. We are not talking about turning it into a theme park, but we are talking about being aware that there may be workers who find it more difficult to return to the office. Therefore, it is advisable not to give up a relaxed environment as much as possible.
- Do not anticipate. Banishing negative thoughts will be a splendid way to get back to work. Let’s think when we were children and see the return as ‘seeing again’, just as we missed our schoolmates. Not falling into fatalisms or negative thoughts will be more than necessary, and that is why it is also relevant to give its importance to mental health within the organizational structure of the company.
- Stay grounded. Do not be optimistic, but not pessimistic either, but be aware of the changes and know that it will be an adaptive work in which we are all immersed (workers and employers) and that it will not change overnight. Now more than ever, suggestion boxes must be an important means of communication, provided that we are clear about certain minimums in terms of security, adaptation and a new normal.