by: By Chris Van Buskirk, State House News Service
Posted: Feb 23, 2021 / 09:34 PM EST / Updated: Feb 23, 2021 / 09:34 PM EST
FILE – This June 19, 2017 file photo shows a person working on a laptop in North Andover, Mass. The U.S. internet won’t get overloaded by spikes in traffic from the millions of Americans now working from home to discourage the spread of the new coronavirus, experts say. But connections could stumble for many if too many family members try to videoconference at the same time. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)
BOSTON (SHNS) – The pandemic and need to work from home blurred the line between professional and personal time, leading to a need for company leaders to promote transparency and honesty in the workplace, a group of Boston-based recruiting experts said Tuesday during a virtual panel discussion.
“Leaders need to be more involved and in-tune with what’s going on within their teams. In the past, I think a lot of people managers have prided themselves on not micromanaging,” said Digitas Associate Director of Recruiting Jamie Van Wart. “This is almost a time when, to some extent, you have to do that. Because you really want to know how much your employees are working, if they’re spread too thin, if they’re struggling. You can’t be as hands off as you were before.”
Van Wart, Wayfair Director of Talent Management Allison Keavey, and Accenture Senior Managing Director Pallavi Verma spoke during a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce virtual panel discussion on Tuesday focused on the pandemic’s impact on remote work, hiring, onboarding, and virtual operations.
Many sectors, save essential businesses, have asked their employees to work remotely in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. Meetings are now held over Zoom or Microsoft Teams, casual conversations among colleagues now increasingly take place over platforms like Slack, and employers are now faced with the dilemma of creating human interaction in the virtual workplace.
Keavey questioned whether the flexibility of working from home creates more “churn” because people are working at different hours of the day.
“We don’t have those natural breaks in the workday that we did before where everyone’s you know, traveling home or traveling to the office or getting lunch,” Keavey said.
Verma said she has encouraged employees at her company to schedule time during the work day to work out or go for a walk “because we all need the break.”
“People are in fact too exhausted and there’s no separation,” Verma said during the discussion.
For Van Wart, working remotely is all about setting boundaries between an individual’s job and the need for personal time. Digitas implemented a “no Microsoft Teams calls on Friday” policy to offer employees a chance to step away and recoup some of the exhaustion brought on by the onslaught of remote meetings.
“Companies really need to make sure they’re fostering an environment where associates feel comfortable setting those boundaries,” she said. “And, you know, being mindful of not contacting each other off-hours and just being understanding of that.”
How much of the burnout employees feel is caused by the pandemic versus something more fundamental to working from home? Verma says it’s both: the pandemic piece of the equation revolves around having to manage kids at home, homeschooling, and lack of opportunities to take a night off.
“The work from home piece, I think we’ll need to continue to watch when you go into the hybrid model about how people manage their schedules, and encouraging them to take the time and the breaks, right,” she said. “You can’t mandate certain things, but you sort of have to have those one on one conversations, to be able to say, it’s okay to walk away for lunch from 12 to one, or stop at five, if you need to go make dinner.”
At Accenture, Verma said many employees have a tagline on their emails indicating that they might be reaching out on off-hours and don’t expect the receiver to respond until a workday.
“Especially if you’re a leader, you don’t want to send it out to a bunch of people that work for you and all of a sudden they’re working over the weekend versus ‘No, I was just clearing my email over the weekend but you don’t need to respond right away,’ ” she said.