During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, 46% of people in the UK were working from home. With a change to working from home, Google search data has found there has been an increased search interest in changes in working habits and coping with the uncertainty of the future.
UK Google searches around work habits has seen a significant increase since March 2020 for searches terms relating to working from home, including how this new way of working may impact your physical health and mental wellbeing.
Similarly, there has been an increased search interest in the future of the workplace, particularly during the summer months when we saw lockdown restrictions ease. Over the last year, businesses have had to adapt to a new way of working, which opens up the question about the future of the workplace.
So, what can we expect for 2021?
Remote working is here to stay
Remote working may be one of the most obvious changes to the workplace that has come out of the pandemic. As we enter 2021 many expect this trend to continue with 27% of the UK workforce working from home during November.
With a rapid uptake in remote working systems such as Skype, Zoom and Microsoft Teams businesses have been able to adapt to remote working on a wide scale. In some cases, working from home has allowed greater flexibility in the working hours of employees, which is considered one of the biggest benefits of remote working from an employee’s perspective.
The pandemic has proven that technology can enhance the way we work and has been one way for businesses to remain resilient in uncertain times. From staying connected and bringing teams together virtually over, Microsoft Teams, Skype and more to moving products and services online, we’re expecting this trend to continue well into the future.
As we enter 2021 some businesses will be looking at how they can continue to increase their resilience through embracing technology; whether it’s for business collaboration or keeping in touch with employees, technology has completely changed the way we work.
Awareness of Presenteeism
Presenteeism is when employees continue to work when they are ill, injured or suffering from another condition, which means they are unable to perform to their full ability. Presenteeism can be a mental health related issue caused by stress and burnout. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic 60% of UK adults have said their mental health has worsened during this time.
It is important that employers are aware of both the mental and physical health of their employees and can offer the appropriate support. That could be through an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or access to other mental health services.
Striking a greater work-life balance
Since March we have started to spend more time at home more than ever before. Whilst there is no clear indication of the average weekly working hours being less or more than before the pandemic, many employees are more aware of their mental and physical health and striking the right work-life balance to look after their wellbeing.
Workload has a strong influence on both mental and physical health. Since the pandemic employers have become more aware of the importance of managing workloads to help reduce the effects of stress and burnout.
It is important employees take time to switch off at the end of the working day to avoid burnout. Encouraging employees to take time to focus on both themselves and their families will help in promoting the importance of striking a positive work-life balance.
Employer wellbeing responsibility
Before the pandemic health and safety often focused on physical health, such as office set-up, risk assessments and providing safe equipment. However, since March there has been an increase in work related mental health conditions such as, stress, anxiety and burnout.
Recently there has been a greater shift in focusing on the mental wellbeing of employees, with 67% of workers agreeing that their employers have been supportive.
Whether your team are working remotely or in the office, it’s important to support their wellbeing.
How can we prepare for the future?
Change can sometimes be difficult particularly in a time of uncertainty. However, change can also be exciting and open new opportunities. As we enter 2021, Lauren Gordon, Behavioural Insights Adviser at Bupa, gives her tips on how you can make the most of workplace trends for 2021 and how best to look after your physical and mental wellbeing.
Exercise is a great way to stay motivated and increase your productivity levels. If you’re working from home use the time you’d usually spend commuting to exercise. Why not try a walk, run or a quick 10 minute HIIT workout to start or end your day. Also try getting active during your lunch break, it’ll help you feel more refreshed when you sit back at your desk.
Keeping your body active can help avoid injury if you’re sat at a desk all day. Getting active can be as simple as doing some stretches, even if this is from your desk. For example, chair yoga can help to ease your joints and reduce injury.
Eating a balanced diet is important to help you to stay fit and healthy as well as having a positive impact on your mental wellbeing. Whilst working from home it can be tempting to form unhealthy habits - such as increased snacking and eating lunch at your desk -there are lots of actions you can take to stay on track.
Keeping a bowl of fruit nearby makes it easier to make a healthier snack choice if you do get hungry between meals. This is also a great way of getting in some of your five a day.
Make sure you take a break each day for your lunch. Planning your weekly meals is a great way to make sure you are eating a balanced diet and preparing your lunch the day before can stop you from just eating bits and pieces from the fridge or cupboard.
Desk set up
It is important you create the right working environment whilst working from home. Whilst it’s tempting to work from the sofa or even your bed, but it can wreak havoc on your posture. You should try to work from a desk or the kitchen table if you have no dedicated office space available. Remember to keep your shoulders relaxed, elbows at 90 degrees to the table and your feet on the floor.
Without the office environment a lot of people often spend most of their day at their desk whilst working from home. It is important to taking regular breaks to help prevent aches, pains and eye strain.
Whilst working from home it’s normal to feel lonely or isolated, however taking the time out of your day to keep in touch with your colleagues is a great way to feel part of a team.
Making use of technology to stay social can help boost team morale, why not try a virtual coffee break, a quiz, even a teamwork out.
Keep a routine
Sticking to a daily routine can help you transition into work mode and find it easier to switch off in the evenings. Keeping a routine can also help to reduce anxiety during uncertain times. By creating a daily routine that works for you, you will start to form positive habits that will improve your overall wellbeing. This could be making sure you take time for your lunch or take a few moments out of the day to yourself.
Take time to switch off after work
It can be easier to work longer hours and take fewer breaks whilst working remotely. Taking time to plan a working week that helps you manage your workload but also allows you to take time to switch off and unwind in the evening is important.
If you’re working from home, pack your working equipment up at the end of every day. This can help you switch off.
For those days or weeks that seem particularly hectic, try talking to your manager about different ways you could break your workload down into smaller manageable chunks. At the end of the day make a to do list for the next day – knowing you have made a plan you can pick up the next morning your mind can rest easy.
Embrace the positives
Whilst this year we have experienced lots of change in our personal and work lives we have been able to adapt to the challenges we have faced.
This year a wider understanding of the importance of mental and physical wellbeing at work has been recognised. As we enter a new year it is important to continue to support the promotion of wellbeing in the workplace. There’s lots of useful resources available; for example our managers’ guide to supporting your team through COVID-19, or our tips on striking the right work balance.
- Office for National Statistics – Coronavirus and working from home in the UK: April 2020, www.ons.gov.uk, last updated July 2020
- Office for National Statistics – Coronavirus and the latest indicators for the UK economy and society: 17th December 2020, www.ons.gov.uk, last updated December 2020
- Mind – The mental health emergency: How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted our mental health? www.mind.org.uk, published June 2020
- Mental Health Foundation - Coronavirus: The divergence of mental health experiences during the pandemic, www.mentalhealth.org.uk, published July 2020