Work from home: A digital presenteeism killing productivity and creating unhappiness, stress

The pressure to stand up and be counted while working remotely is affecting productivity and employee well-being.

Published: 07th August 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th August 2022 06:42 PM   |  A+A-

unemployment, job loss, stress

Representational Image. (File Photo)

Express News Service

The pandemic’s biggest disruption continues to be at the office. Tata Consultancy Services announced in 2021 that by 2025, 75 per cent of its workforce will work from home (WFH), while Infosys announced a hybrid work model for its employees. WFH has brought flexibility to knowledge workers such as programmers, physicians, architects, engineers, scientists, design thinkers, lawyers, editors and academics, who ‘think for a living', but WFH has a growing downside. It is digital presenteeism.

What is digital presenteeism? 

It’s the pressure felt by remote workers to appear online and be visible. Employees depend on visibility as a recognition factor to show bosses and colleagues that they are working hard. Now, digital presenteeism is forcing remote working professionals to arbitrarily answer emails and messages, attend more meetings than needed, and bombard shared work documents with extra comments.

In the process, they are adding an extra 67 minutes to their workday, which means working 5.5 hours more per week, according to a new study by Catalogue and GitLab, ‘Killing Time at Work 22’. It found that digital presenteeism is killing productivity and creating unhappiness and stress. Worse, employees cannot switch off from work.

The trouble is that people working remotely still function according to office hours rather than flexibly. Researchers argue that flexibility about when you work, instead of where you work, is more important. Old habits in new environments, abled by technology, aren’t doing the modern office any favours.

Worst affected by digital presenteeism is the junior staff who feel bound to reply to emails and queries immediately. They are stressed because they feel WFH is a privilege and, hence, they have to be available round the clock. The senior staff benefit from asynchronous work the most since they enjoy ‘async privilege’, like not being expected to be accountable to juniors. 

The study doesn’t consider the hybrid work model an effective method since the top leaders still go to the office, which pressures juniors to follow, fearing absence will affect future prospects and promotions.
Remote working has success stories too if done the right way. GitLab, an open-core software company, operating as a fully remote company since 2011, has enlarged its business.

It has 1,800 workers around the world who service lakh customers. In May, GitLab published its Playbook, which is a guide to sustaining and scaling a remote workforce. What are the recommendations to be an effective, productive and happy remote workplace?

First, hire a head of remote to handle remote working strategy, operations and employee experience a person who looks out for pitfalls and ensures that workers get what they need. The top qualification for the post is empathy a ‘people-first approach’ that trumps any technical qualification. Companies are advised to invest in asynchronous working, communication, culture and management while prioritising inclusion.

Asynchronous communications could be simple methods like recording a Zoom meeting and emailing it to all employees. Looping everyone in it will encourage all workers to be extra committed to the company while being in the know about every little detail. Creating a digital handbook that allows all employees to access critical company information when needed is important.

To create connectivity in a remote working company, have coordinated virtual 25-minute coffee chats. Organising local events for employees to meet and socialise will tighten the bond. 

At work and at home, absence can make the heart flounder.

What it feels like 
✥ Being under pressure to prove yourself all the time 
✥ Showing up for the sake of it
✥ Mental clutter 
✥ Digital amnesia
✥ Decreased productivity
✥ Getting overwhelmed with the need to be available at all times 
✥ Dissatisfaction with systems and processes 
✥ Exhaustion and burnout 

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