Anecdotally, it would seem that we have all, in one way or another, been impacted by the Lockdowns over the 2020/21 period. Professionally our psychology has shifted in how we are able to fulfil our work role.
One of the many positive unintended consequences of Lockdowns, and remote work, is that we’ve become a lot more confident in our ability to use the available technology to get our work done (known as computer-self efficacy).
Not having IT or work colleagues nearby to ‘quickly help us’ with things we’re not sure of, helped us to figure out the tech for ourselves. Doing so empowered us with greater confidence to use the apps and tech we need to get our work done. As a result, we have become more productive in what we do and how we do it.
Although the technology was already available for much of the team to effectively and efficiently work in a remote/hybrid or flexible way, this way of working was often posited as ‘impossible’.
In 2014 the UK issued the Flexible Work Regulations, which allowed any worker (not just those with caring responsibilities) to apply for flexible working arrangements. This change in regulations garnered limited press coverage and, therefore, little awareness among workers. Even then, employers often based objections to flexible work on the overriding narrative that ‘working from home was impossible’, ‘it would lower productivity levels’ and ‘it wouldn’t be good for team cohesion, company culture and overall productivity delivery’ (etc).
Then the impossible became possible, and entire workforces were shifted to a remote working environment, within a short space of time.
If workers had all gone back to the office after those first 3 weeks to ‘flatten the curve’, very little would have psychologically changed in how work got done. The ‘old normal’ would have remained.
What has changed
Extended lockdowns meant we had to:
- Spend time and mental energy finding better ways to work from home
- Turn part of our home into a better working solution
- Develop physical and psychological strategies to juggle different work and home realms, personas and commitments
Effectively more hybrid
So, we’ve inadvertently done a self-taught crash course in how to work remotely. This means we have more choice in how we now ‘do hybrid’ more effectively. We’ve tasted the flexibility that working from home/anywhere gives us, but relish the community that in-office work gives us. Research by Stanford University showcases that 50% of workers want to keep it that way and see hybrid working as a big part of managing their work-life balance more effectively.
The downside of technology in remote work
Because a number of workers have set up a home-based work environment, there is more opportunity for workers to start their workday earlier and end their workday later. Although this may seem to increase overall productivity, it has limited benefits. Working longer hours increases energy output and reduces personal time and the time needed to psychologically transition between two life realms.
Workers have become more used to the concept of working while at home. The habit of ‘quickly checking’ emails/messages is a lot easier to indulge as we’ve become mentally more familiarly with working away from the office. The more we check and reply to work emails the more we set expectations of others that we are available after working hours. We reduce the ability to cognitively and emotionally recover from the energy required to perform our work role. We reduce the available time to spend on our own pursuits and time with our friends and family.
If a dedicated workspace isn’t available to visually separate working space from private-time space, workers are more likely to be constantly reminded of work after working hours. This can be especially true if a laptop or work mobile is left on and notifications can be seen/heard outside of office hours.
Going forward – technology for work
As technology continues to shift how we use and engage in our workplace, we need to become more mindful of how our use of technology is shifting our psychology about work. If we are more mindful of the impact of work-based technology in our everyday lives, we can take more proactive steps in either enhancing the benefits or curbing the negative personal and professional impact on our psychology, productivity and mental wellbeing.