All Work and No Play: Connecting the dots trends report – How the 9-5 model saps productivity

Companies are now torn between preparing for a full return to the office at some point, and committing to large-scale remote work. And they’ve generally used examples of employees adopting healthier lifestyles or working longer hours to plead their case for or against – usually with work-life balance in mind.

But before getting lost in this debate, businesses should first reflect on how much they’re endorsing company values and empowering workers – which our data links to job satisfaction and performance. The debate itself could also benefit from making a clear distinction between remote working, which is now widespread, and flexible working. As a practice, the latter has much room to grow and a lot of scope to influence the future of work.

Many companies are torn between returning to the office at some point, and committing to remote work. When pleading their case, they’ve generally used examples of employees adopting healthier lifestyles or working longer hours – usually with work-life balance in mind.

But working from home isn’t in equal demand across all industries. Companies shouldn’t look to the tech giants as trend-setters, and blindly follow in their footsteps. Don’t listen to hype and focus on the “what”. Understand the “why”.

Work-life balance is an elusive metric that can also be explained by flexibility in hours, as well as location. And while the pandemic has rapidly accelerated the remote working shift, it’s barely nudged the trend of flexible workweeks.

Another point that tends to be drowned out by today’s noisy working-from-home debate, is how tightly bound work-life balance is with culture. By encouraging employees to branch out, businesses will cultivate a passionate workforce, able to drive tomorrow’s success.

Freedom, balance, and a sense of belonging all contribute to a workers’ productivity and happiness. By prioritizing them equally, decision-makers will set themselves up well for when the post-COVID dust settles.

Accounting for the pandemic

Many were quick to adopt new hobbies and maximize family time at the start of lockdowns. But for some, these extra hours were used more “productively”: the number of knowledge workers saying they always work overtime has increased by 11% since 2019.

Commanding hordes of employees, and seen as trailblazers in their products, it’s easy to look to Twitter and Facebook as role models. But decision-makers are better off relying on peer companies for working-from-home insights, and listening to employees, as demand for flexibility varies significantly by sector.

Demand for flexible working is lowest among workers in the arts and entertainment sector. With the industry ill-fitted to remote work in many cases, employees have different priorities.

Industry examples offer useful guidelines, but companies should push some of the power to drive culture onto workers. Creating a cycle of feedback and crafting surveys with industry challenges in mind reduces the risk of being misled by discussions in the media.

Work-life balance isn’t clear-cut

Mistakes can be made when companies act before carefully weighing up their options. In order to hit the slippery metric that is good work-life balance, some have unveiled initiatives that include a restricted working week and weekend curfew.

Yet, those who feel they have a good balance are actually more likely to say they’re always contactable outside working hours, challenging the value of maintaining fixed boundaries.

One worker’s idea of good work-life symmetry is very different to another’s. Though not a general preference among white-collar workers, it’s been argued that working a few hours on the weekend offers a superior balance, and reduces the likelihood of burnout.

Despite being considered a freedom, remote work can create new boundaries – especially when businesses police hours to the extent that work-life balance is compromised.

Compared to 2019, office staff are 32% more likely to say they have broad permit to work remotely, but are only 5% more likely to report the same increase in flexible working hours. Decision-makers therefore need to consider which elements of their employees’ lives are most compromising their sense of balance, before making assumptions.

Balance, freedom, and culture drive performance

With working environments in flux, business leaders should ensure they’re able to replicate the spirit of the workplace and preserve recognition rituals in a changed environment – rather than solely focusing on whether workers can be productive at home.

Those with a good work-life balance are 82% more likely to say they feel empowered to make strategic decisions and pursue new opportunities than those who don’t; so getting this balance right is the key to unlocking business success.

A strong culture should continuously refer back to the vision and principles of an organization. Especially in large enterprises, or the absence of an office, a line of communication between C-Suite executives and employees should be maintained.

Company threads celebrating achievements also create a culture of recognition. This reminds employees that their work carries weight, and unites workers around shared goals.

It’s inevitable that remote working will be widespread post-pandemic. But amid this uncertainty, decision-makers are still able to drive productivity and satisfaction by loosening their grip on 9-5 workweeks; and by driving cultures of empowerment and open communication.

Author: Shauna Moran, Insights Analyst, GlobalWebIndex (GWI)

Download the Connecting the dots trends report here