Government action needs to reset work-life boundaries in the new world of work

November 30, 2021

Remote working became the “new normal” as the world adjusted to handle the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. As we emerge (we hope) from the worst of it, employers, employees and governments are considering how best to manage this “new world of work”. Employers and employees alike have noted the benefits of remote working, with greater flexibility and work-life balance. But remote working is a double-edged sword. It has the potential to erode employer-employee boundaries, leaving workers struggling or unable to disconnect from work. If we are to keep the benefits of homeworking, carefully considered regulations are needed in order to re-establish work-life boundaries.

Some may argue that one of the few positives of the pandemic, has been the opportunity for employers to test out hybrid working models. For those able to work from home, many noted positive experiences about remote working. A survey from Aviva earlier this year found that 35% of employees felt that their work-life balance improved due to homeworking. Research also shows that for certain groups the benefits are even greater, for example disabled workers found that homeworking improved their mental health and helped them better manage caring responsibilities. Others have noted the benefits for women, for example research from the Harvard Business Review found that women with children were far more likely to want to work from home than men. However, on the flip side, employees have found that working from home removes some of the boundaries between work-life and private life. Aviva’s study also found that almost half of those surveyed (44%) feel that they are unable to disconnect from work, due to encouragement of an “ever-present culture” that puts them at the beck and call of 24/7 emails.

It is in this context that carefully considered policy and regulatory frameworks can be used, to help strike the delicate balance between the benefits and drawbacks of hybrid working. Portugal is in the news as one of the most recent countries to do this, with its ban on companies contacting staff outside work hours. It is part of a series of what are being called “right to disconnect” policies emerging across the EU and beyond. Another example includes Ireland, which this year passed legislation outlining codes of conduct for remote workers, including the right to not work outside normal hours, and suggestions on training for managers. Regulations such as these will form an important part of managing the new world of work, ensuring worker privacy and work-life balance.

Not everyone is following suit, however, with the UK’s Boris Johnson encouraging the nation’s stay-at-home workers to get back to the office. Statements such as these are disconnected from the current realities of hybrid working. They fail to acknowledge the now recognised benefits of homeworking, not only for mental wellbeing, but also for populations long excluded from office life, including disabled workers and primary caregivers. If we are to take forward the benefits of homeworking, and leave the drawbacks behind, then governments must act quickly to solidify work-life boundaries.

Author: Laura Coomber