Research shows that on average there seems to have been very little slacking – but how is working from home affecting our brains?
Inews reports that before the global pandemic, working from home evoked images of wearing pyjamas all day on the sofa, or perhaps downing a midday pint with a lavish lunch in front of Homes under the Hammer. In most companies, only a brave soul would ask their boss to work from home without a clear reason for doing it.
However, while the success of home-working since March has varied across different companies and organisations, research shows that on average there seems to have been very little slacking.
In fact, people are spending 48.5 minutes more at their desk each day, according to a report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Part of this is down to the fact that humans are creatures of habit, according to counselling psychologist Dr Jonathan Moult, who spent over twenty years as a lawyer in the City.
“People who committed an awful lot to their work in workplace before coronavirus upheaval will probably continue in much the same vein,” Moult explains. They may be commuting less, but this just gives them more time to crack on with work.
“I’ve noticed with the people I talk to that they’re finding it just as difficult to meet non-work commitments, finding it just as difficult to get away from work as ever they did.
So although the context may have changed quite profoundly, perhaps people’s behaviours will be in that sense quite similar. They continue to ‘over work’.”
Working a little longer isn’t necessarily bad for the mind, and some people simply enjoy a bit of extra time to be productive. However, it’s important to look at why it’s happening.
“A lot of work can be a defence against anxiety,” says Moult. “It’s an astonishingly difficult time, and when we feel we can’t do anything about the pandemic, we might feel we can do something about work, at least. It gives us the feeling of having more agency, more autonomy.”
We may also be spending more time at our desks because of the old problem of presenteeism. Or, in this period of remote working,
“We’ve already had people working longer hours in the office for years and years,” says psychologist Dr Alan Redman, “but we’re now seeing an updated version of that for the home; this idea of always being ‘on’.”
Of course, the pandemic has also heightened anxiety about job security. “There’s a need to demonstrate commitment to work,” says Redman, “but at home this can be heightened because people’s jobs are on the line and it’s harder to be seen to be working.”
Most bosses are not checking whether someone has left their desk for a cup of tea, or may not mind how long their staff work as long as the work gets done, but there has been an increased sale of spyware and surveillance software being bought by employers to check productivity.
“For some workers,” says Redman, “the anxiety around being seen to be available is based on a real threat.”
There’s also the fact, says Moult, that our boundaries between home life and work life were already being undermined by having work
emails on our mobile phones. While sitting in our home offices (or at our kitchen tables, or makeshift desks), we are less likely to be able to really switch off from work, so many of us just keep going.
The Office for National Statistics has shown that since April, 46.6 per cent of people in employment have done some work at home, and of those, 86 per cent did so as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Although many people have felt some benefits from home-working, it’s too early to know how these months of seismic change will have impacted us long-term.
The office does have “loads” of benefits, says Redman. Video meetings are no substitute for in-person meetings when it comes to the benefits of small talk, and it’s important to remember that when we’re in an office, we are not working one hundred per cent of the time, so we shouldn’t be doing that at home either.
Tea-breaks, some form of socialising, and a chance to let the brain percolate are all important – and don’t need to be done at a desk.
(Story source: Inews)