Working from home is the new norm, so let’s find ways to make our jobs easier

As workplace culture continues to evolve in the face of the pandemic, employers need to ease the burden on their employees — who may feel as if they never leave the office.

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More than 60% of U.S. employees with jobs that can be done remotely are currently working from home by choice, a new Pew Research Center survey shows.

More than 60% of U.S. employees with jobs that can be done remotely are currently working from home by choice, a new Pew Research Center survey shows.

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Working from home has become a constant for millions of workers around the world since the coronavirus pandemic upended our lives nearly two years ago.

More than 60% of U.S. employees with jobs that can be done remotely are working from home by choice, a new Pew Research Center survey shows.

These workers didn’t opt to WFH because they are afraid of getting sick. They actually feel more productive and like being able to maintain a robust work-life balance, the survey revealed.

But since the initial lockdowns in 2020, working from home has also meant that some employees are putting in more hours. One study showed Microsoft employeeswere logged on 10% more than before the pandemic, while another report found remote workers in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada and Austria were spending an extra 2.5 hours on the job.

That extra time takes a physical and mental toll.

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Anyone clocking more than 55 hours a week has a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of heart disease compared with those who work 35 to 40 hours, according to a 2021 study by the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization.

Workplace culture has permanently changed and will continue to evolve. And companies will need to find creative ways to ease the burden on workers. Many of them, sitting on their couch or at the kitchen table, may feel as if they never leave the office.

Recently, the Belgian government said it will start allowing its workers to request a four-day work week with longer shifts.

Belgians will also be able to choose — with their bosses’ permission — to work more during one week and less the following one under a series of labor-related reforms. They also won’t have to answer emails or take calls after signing off for the day or on weekends.

Scotland, Japan, Spain and Iceland have conducted or proposed trial four-day work weeks, and the United Arab Emirates became the first country in the world this year to adopt a four-and-a-half-day work week.

While a truncated work week may not be feasible in the much larger United States, it isn’t far-fetched for smaller companies here to explore that option.

Buffer, an 84-person social media company that went remote in 2015, first started a 32-hour, four-day work week for most of its employees in May 2020. What started out as an experiment to ease pandemic-related stress ended up as a permanent and successful model.

Ninety-one percent of Buffer employees who work the four-day work week reported they have been happier and more productive, and 84% of the workers said they were able to get all of their work completed in that time period.

On Fridays at Buffer, there are no scheduled meetings, email communication or discussion on other social platforms — a concept that aligns with ”the right-to-disconnect” legislation implemented in many countries.

It is hard to imagine many American bosses would be OK with their underlings dismissing phone calls and emails on off hours. The news industry, for one, certainly relies on near-constant accessibility to its journalists and similarly expects institutional spokespeople, especially those working for government entities, to be on call 24-7.

Immediacy is essential for many jobs, undoubtedly.

But not all professionals have to be plugged in at all times to run a well-oiled machine. If possible, managers should be open to implementing times during which their employees can check out. The less glued to our devices we are, the better.

‘Full return is dead’

Not all companies have to use the same strategy to make the lives of their workers easier. In some cases, simple gestures like allocating money for home office furniture or a new laptop can go a long way.

Social butterflies who miss seeing their colleagues at the water cooler or in the lunchroom keep asking, “When are we going back?” And coming together as a workplace, even a couple of days a week, can help build camaraderie and a real sense among employees of “We’re all in this together.”

Hybrid workplaces are an option. But the reality is, some workers will never report to the office five days a week ever again.

As Stanford University economics professor Nicholas Bloom told NBC, “The idea of a full return is dead.”

There’s no need for a fortune-teller to see there are more sweatpants and hoodies in our future than suit jackets and starched shirts.

Employers must find more ways to make working from home comfortable.

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