Describing the changes in the workplace over the last year as major upheaval to the norm is no exaggeration. The abrupt closure of offices due to COVID-19 ushered in a new age of remote work. Despite people being capable of productivity at home, they still face many struggles, and the adaptation to a work from anywhere ecosystem creates yet another level of stress.
After navigating the logistics—which was not an easy task—employers found that teleworking allowed office workers to remain productive, and knowledge workers to be even more productive. However, the Pew Research Center reports that many people—especially those under the age of 50 or parenting young children—find it difficult to work at home.
"Stress stimulates the immune system, which can be a plus for immediate situations. This stimulation can help you avoid infections and heal wounds. But over time, stress hormones will weaken your immune system and reduce your body’s response to foreign invaders,” explains Ann Pietrangelo in a 2020 Healthline article. “People under chronic stress are more susceptible to viral illnesses like the flu and the common cold, as well as other infections. Stress can also increase the time it takes you to recover from an illness or injury."
Workers who are stressed at work are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as cigarette smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, and poor dietary patterns. Workplace stress also has adverse effects on workers' mental health—and may lead to an increased risk of anxiety, burnout, depression, and substance use disorders. With these attendant health effects, workplace stress can significantly reduce employee productivity, and increase absenteeism and presenteeism, time off for doctor’s visits, and healthcare costs incurred by employers. Workplace stress is also linked to higher accident and injury rates, as well as higher turnover rates—both of which increase administrative costs.
The stress-inducing changes over the last year have leaders everywhere wondering how to help their employees thrive. Haworth’s team of researchers identified 3 priorities to reduce stress and foster resilience in the work from anywhere era.
In reviewing how improving organizational culture translates across the various places of work—the office, home, or third places—studies show that providing a high degree of flexibility in schedules and workplace, as well as allowing individuals to have control of their work environment enhances overall well-being. Implementing these concepts shows employees they are valued. The efforts taken by leadership in these three areas can reduce stress, improve mental health and well-being, reduce absences due to burnout, and potentially lead to higher job satisfaction.
Cultures that Bolster Resilience
When people work from anywhere, establishing and maintaining connections from different locations is one of the greatest challenges to maintaining a strong organizational culture.
As a leader, it is important to consider how your organization's culture is translated into different work environments. An office building embodies your culture and enables easy collaboration between employees, but collaboration can be difficult when people are not sharing the same physical space.
Employees come to work with a need for a sense of belonging, connection, and to feel like part of a greater good. What we know about culture is true no matter where people work—culture must be for both “we” and “me”.
In addition to the social benefits of connecting with colleagues, many innovative ideas happen from simply connecting with one another. Innovation occurs when people share ideas, build on one another’s insights and knowledge, and vet the feasibility and potential of ideas. It is more than brainstorming and whiteboards. Innovation happens when people create together. In this process, periods of collective preparation and learning help the whole group focus; periods of socializing support incubation and lead to moments of insight; and periods of group focus allow for vetting and verification.
About one-third of workers report high levels of stress. This can create a burden for employers in health care costs, periods of disability, absenteeism, job turnover, and poor productivity. In the era of work from anywhere, leaders must foster a culture of trust and enable employees to work in ways that best fit their needs.
To ensure your organizational culture fosters resilience, ask yourself the following questions:
Be Flexible and Adapt
Now that organizations are looking at the office as just one of three places to work, the overall design is even more important—as the office is the hub for face-to-face interaction. With people leveraging the flexibility of a new ecosystem, workplaces must be adaptable and flexible—strategically offering space to optimize individual and group work, as well as build social capital.
Spaces designed for different types of work give employees the freedom to choose the location that best suits their needs. Access to these different spaces enables focus and reduces stress. Combining a legible workspace with user-adjustable furnishings will nudge people—especially those who work in distracting open environments—to improve focus on work tasks.
When people spend more energy on their individual work and less energy on finding the best place to do their work—or fighting off distractions and interruptions—greater productivity occurs. Plus, improved focus is related to reduced symptoms of stress and a greater sense of well-being.
Restorative spaces allow people to decompress, and social spaces provide opportunities for connection and creating a sense of belonging. Spaces that can be quickly reconfigured from individual workspaces to collaboration spaces—and back again—allow teams to adapt their workspace over the course of the day in response to their workflow.
How do you know if you have enough flexibility and adaptability in the workplace? When people feel empowered to choose when and where they work.
Well-Being Factors that Support Resilience
We know that stress hinders well-being. When the pandemic hit, workers experienced new sources of stress as a result of unforeseen loss. People faced everything from the loss of daily routines to the loss of friends and family.
Reduce the Stress
Stress due to loss can be minimized by giving employees work resources that meet their personal needs. This can be tricky for leaders because each person experiences the workplace in their own way. Consider how a worker in their early 20s who lives alone experienced the pandemic compared to someone in their 40s with school-aged children. One faced extreme isolation and the other suddenly had many more interruptions throughout the workday.
Provide Autonomy and Choice
Some resource enhancements require capital—like workspaces and furnishings—but others require adaptability—like flexible work schedules and making adjustments based on employee feedback. When given the choice, people are drawn to places that make them feel comfortable and productive. Relieve the stress of trying to fit individual workstyles into the workspace by providing variety and communicating permission that each employee may choose what works best for them.
Giving people choices about the resources that support their needs makes them feel comfortable and productive. While no organization can offer unlimited resources, making a variety of resources available is ideal.
When your organization’s top priorities include a culture that focuses on group and individual needs, a high degree of flexibility, and an individualized approach to well-being, you have the elements vital for building a resilient workforce.
Discover more about the work from anywhere ecosystem.