The Downside of Teleworking

Technological advancements have significantly changed how we communicate and collaborate in our personal and professional lives. Videoconferencing tools now empower people to connect regardless of geographical distance. These tools have enabled businesses to save time and money and build stronger relationships with remote employees and partners. Remote collaboration applications allow us to work together more effectively and flexibly. Video conferencing tools have revolutionized communication. But it is imperative to examine the impact of these tools on work-life balance in the workplace, which is crucial to overall well-being and productivity.

In just a few short years, the conventional wisdom in corporate HR departments is that remote applications have allowed for more flexible working arrangements, giving employees a better balance between work and personal life. Individuals who have family commitments or commute long distances to work can particularly benefit from this flexibility. Videoconferencing tools can reduce stress and improve overall job satisfaction by enabling employees to work from home or other remote locations. Most employees won't debate those points. 

But there is a downside.

According to research, a far-reaching article from SHRM revealed remote employees work longer, attend more meetings, and maintain more communication channels.

In a survey of 2,800 workers conducted by Los Angeles-based staffing firm Robert Half, nearly 70 percent of those who switched to remote work because of the pandemic now work on weekends, while 45 percent say they regularly work longer hours during the week than before. Those with children were likelier to work weekends and more than eight hours a day than those without. This is likely due to the difficulty of juggling work and family responsibilities in the same environment. The lack of physical separation between work and home can lead to longer hours and weekend work. Those under 40 are more likely to work weekends and more than eight hours a day than those over 40.

"While remote work affords employees greater flexibility, it also makes disconnecting extremely difficult," said Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half. "Many people feel pressured to keep up with rising workloads and put in long hours to support the business and customer needs."

Robert Half's findings are supported by independent research. NBER reports that the average workday lengthened by 48.5 minutes in the weeks following stay-at-home orders and lockdowns across the US in March 2020. Meetings and internal e-mail activity also increased. The economists analyzed data from over 21,000 companies worldwide in 16 large metropolitan areas.

It should be noted that the results of the NBER study do not necessarily signify that people are working longer hours.

"It is unclear if this increase in average workday span represents a benefit or drawback to employee well-being," Evan DeFilippis, one of the study authors, said. "On one hand, the flexibility to choose one's working hours to accommodate household demands may empower employees by affording them some freedom over their schedule. On the other hand, the change in work schedule may result from a blurred distinction between work and personal life, making it easy to overwork."

The consequences of overworking could be dire to workers' health. It can lead to physical and mental exhaustion, increased stress levels, and difficulty sleeping. In some cases, workers may also experience a decrease in productivity due to burnout and fatigue. Non-stop working means your body continually works, stressing your organs, especially your heart, and brain. These can all seriously impact a person's health, including an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and depression. Sitting too long at your computer can lead to carpal tunnel, back and vision issues. 

Organizations must establish clear guidelines and expectations around videoconferencing tools to mitigate these potential adverse effects. This will help ensure that employees know the potential pitfalls of using videoconferencing tools, such as the risk of burnout. It will give them the tools and resources to use the technology responsibly. This may include setting boundaries for when employees are expected to be available for virtual meetings and encouraging regular breaks and time away from screens. Additionally, organizations should strive to balance virtual and in-person communication, ensuring that employees have opportunities to connect with their colleagues more personally and meaningfully.