March, 2020 and the Covid Pandemic created a global lockdown. Businesses, employees and consumers faced uncertainty with respect to income and availability of necessities and panic buying ensued.
When the dust settled, realization dawned that the economy could continue to operate in most scenarios with workers working remotely. Team conferencing tools like Zoom and Slack saw a surge in demand and for more than a year, the world moved without moving. Goods and services were offered and consumed while employees continued to work from their respective homes. All of a sudden, the virtues of working from the comfort of one’s home, began to be extolled – the flexibility of work hours and the reduction of stress were important factors. And Companies started outdoing each other with respect to extending the time period for their employees to work from home.
But a year and half into the pandemic, with the restrictions still on, Companies have started witnessing the Great Resignation – employees quitting en masse, citing burnout.
Wait! Burnout? How’s that possible? Wasn’t remote work supposed to be a stress eliminator? After all, what can substitute the comfort of the home?
Yes, but reality ended up being a lot different.
The core issues:
Remote working led to flexible work hours – employees could choose their own work schedule. This was great in the beginning but it led to longer work hours. 9 to 5 evolved into 9 to 9 and slowly that ended up as 7 to 11. When working in a team environment, you need at least a 4 to 6 hours of overlap with your co-workers to accomplish stuff. So more flexible the schedule, the more extended the work hours to enable catching up with the schedule of others. Employees suddenly realized that their work day just didn’t seem to end. This ultimately led to the burnout.
But burnout is not the only factor behind the Great Resignation.
A bigger factor is isolation.
Imagine a typical day in the office pre-pandemic. You walk into the Office and look around you – a score of hellos greet you in a chorus – it’s a bright start to your day.
You’re soon immersed into a project that has a tight timeline. Just when you’re feeling overwhelmed, one of your colleagues walks up to you and asks – “coffee time?”
As the two of you walk up to the break room, you share what has had you overwhelmed. Your colleague shares a few pointers to get out of the gridlock you’re in and a few sips into the cup of coffee, you feel you have a path forward.
Lunch break finds you in the break room in a bigger company of your colleagues. The camaraderie and the engagement is what keeps you connected with your employer.
And now imagine a typical day in your Home Office during the pandemic. You’re at your desk at 7:00 AM. Nobody around you to bring you up to speed with respect to what has happened while you were sleeping. Your engagement with your colleagues is strictly work related via a Zoom or Slack call. You know your colleagues are as overwhelmed as you, so you don’t want to waste their time with small talk or why you’re feeling overwhelmed. All of a sudden, the only interaction you have with your work colleagues is work related. This isolation has led to melancholy which in turn has led to individuals rethinking if all the burnout is worth it.
The conclusion – time to quit and get a break. The end result at an Organizational level – the Great Resignation.
So, is there a solution? A way out?
Yes – but the solutions will only be able to contain the problem, not resolve.
Some basic rules have to be implemented around remote work – flexibility needs to be managed. Teams should ensure that at least there’s a 4 hour work hour availability overlap across the team. That could be 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM or 2 hour slots during morning and afternoon.
Along with the 4-hour overlap, the start and stop times need to be set as well – like don’t set up meetings before 8:00 AM and no later than 6:00 PM. In other words, a clean delineation between work and non-work. So, across the team, the work day starts no earlier than xx and ends no later than yy.
The fundamental question to answer though is, will the employees/team members agree to this or prefer to keep the schedule super flexible which will eventually lead to burnout?
The second, equally important item is virtualizing the coffee and lunch chats. Informal Chat rooms with Zoom/Slack need to be created where employees are frequently chatting through the day, with their co-workers about non-work stuff. In short, the Break Room needs to be virtualized.
Maintaining camaraderie with the team is a critical factor with respect to employee retention and keeping the team together.
On top of this, team meetings and get-togethers need to increase in frequency. Even though virtual, having face time with team members in a relaxed setting can work wonders on several counts.
When looked at with respect to all the factors in play, remote work though a convenient option, is not going to be a permanent one. The work habits and schedules will change post pandemic, but just like we’re not going to be in the Office hundred percent of the time, we’re not going to be remote hundred percent either.