As a generation, we’re experiencing a major cultural shift in how we work, and a psychological shift towards how we work together, too.
Huckletree’s State of the Nation: New Work Mindset Report launches this weekend with the insights and opinions of over 200 founders, startup talent and corporate minds across the UK and Ireland, which reveals the experiences and learnings of working from home and the shift in attitudes to returning back to offices.
- Over 80% of the nation revealed that they missed their work friends and colleagues.
- 40% of the nation feel that their relationships with their colleagues have worsened since lockdown, with only 19% finding it has improved.
- Almost half (49%) of people experienced burnout while working from home this year.
- More than three-quarters (79%) of the nation are looking forward to returning to the office, with almost 90% wanting to be in workspaces at least once a week.
79% OF US HAVE EXPERIENCED SCREEN BURN FROM WORKING FROM HOME’
“47% OF THE NATION TOLD US THAT SINCE THEY BEGAN WORKING FROM HOME REGULARLY, THEIR HOURS INCREASED”
That might sound like a real boon for employers up and down the country, and it is in some ways – in the short term. Across the innovation ecosystem, startups have had to leverage their already agile mindsets and methodologies to quickly forgo their set plans for the quarter, and then the year. These swift changes, coupled with vast swathes of the working population furloughed, has meant that the slack has to be picked up somewhere.
“People are working harder than ever,” said Taymoor Atighetchi, Founder and CEO of Londonbased stationery startup, Papier. “That’s driven by the fact that we as a business really ramped up the effort. We were working to protect the business, and we jumped at every opportunity we could. But that’s not sustainable, and for any team, you can’t sprint all year.”
When we first locked down, we also locked down many dimensions of our lives that were essential to how we self-identify, both at work and at home. Our empathy, comprehension and conversational skills were all tested as we saw less three-dimensional faces and more pixellated faces on Zoom. While hopping onto a family Facetime or team Google Hangouts was ‘normal’ practice, most of us have never had to use this medium to cover every spectrum of conversation – from quick hellos to complex problem solving – let alone for eight hours a day, eight months straight.
Digital communication tools have been the saving grace of many businesses during COVID-19, and it’s difficult to see how many would have coped had the pandemic hit 30 years ago. Zoom, Google Hangouts, Slack and the digitisation of events have meant that many have been able to pivot their operations online – but whilst business operations might be back on track, we need to consider its very real impact on company culture in the long-term.
Relationships with colleagues. We asked The Nation how they felt their relationships with colleagues had fared since making the move to working from home.
“40% TOLD US THAT THEY HAD BECOME WORSE – WITH JUST 19% SAYING IT HAD IMPROVED”
So, with the magic trifecta of Zoom, Google Hangouts and Slack at our disposal, where are things going haywire? First up: the limitations of technology. It’s relatively easy to run through a clear set of instructions over a video call (as long as you’re not on mute). However, try actively collaborating, with a number of voices throwing ideas into the mix and riffing off each other and things get trickier. We heard red flags including the difficulty of taking social cues from people virtually, with far too much time spent wondering “is it my turn to pitch in?”. This stop-start rhythm impedes free-flowing creativity and interrupts the essential chemistry and energy needed to really develop a pioneering concept or bold idea.
Leo Maclehose, Founder of MatchPint, the app that connects fans and pubs, said: “It’s difficult to gain any levity from the work from home format, there’s a collectiveness gained from working in the same space. During those longer nights, together, it feels like everyone’s putting their shoulder in as a team. It becomes less of an independent strain as the energy gained from being together as a team counteracts burnout. If you’re having to work long hours at home there’s no respite, but in a workspace, there’s a lot of respite.”
Aside from the effects of screen fatigue, communicating and brainstorming through the lens of a webcam has also meant we spend less time chatting about the small stuff – that essential small talk that’s not necessarily related to work, but is a key component in working out how best to communicate and maintain relationships with your teammates. To tackle this and maintain our strong bond, the
Huckletree Marketing and Sales team started morning standup sharing positive news with each other.
Another big question: if 40% feel their existing working relationships have suffered by becoming primarily virtual, how on earth do you go about building new ones? You can close a business deal or instruct someone over Zoom, but it’s far more difficult to create a real connection when you’re jumping from one Zoom room to the next. At Huckletree, we kicked off a series of Slack Donuts, randomly assigned pairings for virtual coffee meetups. Whilst it could never match eye contact and meeting face-to-face, it went some way towards bringing together teammates who might not ever interact in a working setting and was a touchpoint in keeping our team spirit thriving and connected from London to Manchester to Dublin.
Work Friends or Colleagues
We’ve known for a while that no mind is an island, but this year we’ve proven it. When we asked The Nation what they haven’t enjoyed about working from home, above all they highlighted the lack of socialising with colleagues and consequent loneliness.
“89% TOLD US THAT THEY MISS THEIR WORK FRIENDS: THE MOST ONE-SIDED RESPONSE ACROSS OUR ENTIRE SURVEY”
Off the cuff, ad hoc interactions help to break up our day, allow us to share and resolve stresses of the job and crucially, make work more meaningful and happy. Take this away, and carefully built workplace cultures and identities begin to erode. Work becomes just that: a function to perform. We begin to exist just to complete the jobs and tasks set out on a given day, lacking a purpose-led identity – something that is crucial to much of the workforce.
For early-stage companies, companies fundraising or for those who live alone and have been working from home, the lack of a social aspect to the working day is even starker.
‘49% OF US EXPERIENCED BURNOUT WHILE WORKING FROM HOME THIS YEAR’
Working from home has blurred the boundaries of where we eat, sleep, work, play and relax. We’ve found ourselves walking the tightrope between domesticity and professionalism. With no physical separation between the two, it’s become all too easy to log on before the working day properly starts, and difficult to shut down once it’s ended. With the latest Tesco delivery waiting in the kitchen, we miss out on those quick trips to the shops that help to break up the working day.
Constant work, lack of social breaks and a feeling that you’re never really apart from your job have begun to take its toll on the workforce. Simply put, it’s been far harder for people to separate their work and home lives when both are happening in the same place. We’ve lost the art of disconnection at work – and burnout is looming large.
49% of The Nation said that they have experienced burnout while working from home. That’s big, considering we’re only talking about a period of half a year.
Working from home hasn’t meant we’ve waved goodbye to the stresses and strains of the office. With social outings and holiday opportunities limited over the past months, we’ve lost our means of unwinding and re-energising. Many employees haven’t felt able to take a proper break, and this has taken its toll on half of the workforce. It’s rife, especially when compared to the fact that just 20% more people had experienced burnout previous to lockdown (Fig. 2).
An inability to switch off was one of the most common struggles for many, and we’ve seen this in the comments left on our survey. Finding that time in the evenings to recharge is such an important factor in maintaining a healthy working life, and that’s not something that a number of people have been able to do since working from home. Even among the 59% of people who felt they’d been more productive at home, 43% of them still felt they’d experienced burnout since lockdowns began.
Jean Phillipe Doumeng, Executive Director for Business Development and Partnerships, Babylon Health said “This year, our mental well-being and resilience has been tested. The more we work from home for sustained periods of time, the more we’re faced with ‘isolation’ seeping into our work lives. This is creating a complete new version of burnout. We’ll see more people jump onto online counselling and healthcare apps to help cope and navigate the uncertainties, and I imagine more companies will need help in how to recognise the signs of employee stress and fatigue.”
It’s this absence of a physical barrier between our work and personal lives that’s been the root cause of burnout since the beginning of the first lockdown. 55% of The Nation told us that returning to their pre-COVID routine would decrease their chances of experiencing it.
There’s been a cultural shift in how we communicate with each other. We’ve talked about this before in this report (and we’ll talk about it again) but you can’t completely alter the structure of human communication and relationships and expect there to be no adverse side effects. After half a year spent staring into the seemingly endless void of Zoom meetings and Slack messages, we wanted to know if The Nation recognised screen fatigue as one of these side effects. 79% of The Nation told us they’d experienced screen fatigue since the initial lockdown (Fig. 8). It’s a common experience – being unable to escape screens during working hours or break up their days without them. How many of us watched Netflix during our lunch break or jumped on a Zoom call with our friends straight after work hours? It’s endemic in our day to day.
The situation looks more stark held up to the burnout figures. 85% of the people who said they’d experienced burnout while working from home also said they also suffered from screen fatigue. Similarly, 87% of people who said they didn’t maintain a healthy work-life balance when working from home said they also experienced screen fatigue.
It’s clear that the prominence and inescapable nature of screens weighs heavy on our wellbeing.
“No two people will necessarily experience burnout in the same way,” says James Naylor of Livitay workplace wellness platform, “and it can impact everybody differently. It can also be hard to define it when you experience it and I can only speak from my personal experience. For me there were early symptoms – I was a bit more irritable and would generally feel more anxious. At this point, I didn’t really notice it myself but I’m sure the people around me did. I started to realise when I started to feel more fatigued, would struggle to sleep in the evening and then only wanted to sleep during the day.”
The big learning
1) Experiences and expressions of burnout are different for everyone, skill yourself up on the signs and educate your team on how to recognise them – as many may be operating at 100% burnout and are entirely unaware. Offer support services, mentors or a buddy for your team members, and make sure your people have access to mental health and wellbeing services.
2) The watchout is that working from home experiences can drive a new type of isolation, and depending on sector and role, a long-term slowing in productivity and creativity, which can fuel a greater sense of isolation. Out of sight does not mean out of mind, and what works one week may not work the next. Offering access to home and an office or shared workplace base is an easy start and means team members can move back and forward as projects ramp up or as personal circumstances shift.
3) If you’re an employer be aware and proactive about beating burnout, don’t wait for the houses to come crashing down before you step in to do something. Open dialogues, transparency and giving employees the headspace to be able to escape work both during and after working hours is essential. With 49% of us experiencing burnout while working from home, this issue is something that is happening right now and is at risk of worsening during the winter months.