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Remote working has been one of the main business continuity strategies employed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but researchers have shown that remote working results in increased fatigue for employees, something which needs to be taken into account and managed. This is according to research led by London South Bank University (LSBU) and published in the paper ‘Self-Control and Self-Regulation as Mechanisms Linking Remote Communication to Employee Well-Being during the Covid-19 Pandemic.’, by Rivkin, Moser, Diestel & Alshaik (2020).

The study looked at the levels of energy depletion experienced by employees engaged in remote working and their increased need for daily recovery time, taking into account various digital media applications used to complete a range of work tasks.

The research shows how remote communications can harm employee wellbeing at work, if left unmanaged.

The researchers conducted a daily diary study surveying a cohort of 102 UK employees working remotely across a ten day period during full national lockdown.  The survey results report an 80 percent (80 out of 102) employee response rate with a 67 percent daily response rate. Levels of exposure to remote communication were assessed by asking participants how many minutes they had spent each day using: text-based media (texting, emails), video conferences (Slack, Skype, Zoom, MSTeams), voice-based media (phone calls), social media (Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat), collaborative platforms (Slack, Workzone, Blackboard, Glip).

The research shows:

  • Remote working generally leads to increased tiredness for employees and a need for longer recovery time compared to on-site office work;
  • Communication via video calls is more tiring to deal with than other forms of digital communication, such as emails, texts, or chats, as video calls  require higher levels of self-control and regulation of emotion;
  • Daily fluctuations in different forms of remote communication between employees is detrimental to the overall well-being of the workforce.

Based on these findings, the study recommends that employers should:

  • Be aware of employees’ need for adequate time to recover from the demands of remote working;
  • Give their staff additional breaks and stipulate no working beyond core hours;
  • Encourage employees to shut down digital devices such as laptops and work phones, outside core working hours, in order to maintain a healthy work-life balance;
  • Support and encourage healthy recovery time following remote working, for example, through extra-curricular activities such as sports, family time, off-screen activities and by creating workspaces at home, where possible;
  • Provide support to employees who already have extra demands on their time and resources, due to: caring and family responsibilities; pre-existing health issues.

Read the paper (PDF).

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