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From home office to digital exhaustion: the future is hybrid!

14 min read

If you return to the office now, you might want to be prepared for it not to be quite like what you left behind before the pandemic. No question, some people will gladly return to the "old normal." Others will take advantage of the new opportunities and switch to home-based work once and for all. Yet, the vast majority will probably go for the middle ground - a mix of both office and home office.

The concept holds a future. However, you should bear in mind the dangers of digitalization, a trend that is now becoming increasingly apparent in society. People are exhausted!

New work models get the pandemic push

Office or no office... that's been the question of questions since the pandemic broke out. In the end, to protect workers' health and best contain the spread of the virus, there was even a home-office obligation, or rather a home-office right for employees - a regulation that some employers were somewhat critical of.

Many companies have also noticed, however, that productivity hasn't dropped at all after employees switched to their home offices, and that a remote concept can even save costs (e.g., for office space). Most certainly, however, they have noticed that companies that remain willing to embrace new work models over the long term enjoy a massive advantage in the applicant market. Man is a creature of habit and some have certainly become accustomed to the "temporary flexibility" they have gained. They are aware of the advantages that flexible working models offer and they also demand these advantages.

Hybrid Work Models
Hi Office! Bye Office! - Home office or office? Many people will say, "Both!"

Offices may well become a lot emptier in the future as companies establish new working models. The pandemic has provided the impetus, but will the concept actually become the standard? The current trend prompts questions, and many are looking to hybrid models for the answer, and for good reason.

With digital progress, change is inevitable

What we should not forget: Not so long ago, collaboration of the kind we have been practicing over the past few months would have been unimaginable. We are often unaware of how quickly digital progress is changing our world. Occasionally, it comes to mind when we get to talk about our early days on the job. It was just 30 years ago when the fax machine had its all-time heyday and took over offices. It can still be found in isolated cases, but even today you'll meet mostly amused looks once you tell people about having used it yourself in the past.

It is astonishing how quickly " the latest technology" becomes obsolete and then ready to become a museum piece. Technology has become fast-paced, and with it the entire society. Everything needs to proceed at a faster pace and in a more convenient manner. A look at the development of everyday office life clearly shows how much technology influences the way we work.

Today, it allows easy access to all important information, no matter where you are. Communication and collaboration tools like Stackfield facilitate teamwork and enable straightforward exchanges, via chat or video conferencing.

Where we are today, however, is still far from the goal. Holograms could soon replace videoconferencing, which has only just arrived in many companies. Automation processes and artificial intelligence (AI) could take hold in many places where humans still need to be on site today.

With progress comes opportunity, and with opportunity comes demand.

In the end, a fundamental rethinking and the radical change towards "wherever and whenever" is also encouraged by further technical progress, indicating the inevitability of the process. It can be assumed that in the not too distant future, face-to-face work will be the exception rather than the rule.

It can be observed that people are still ambivalent about the topics of remote work and home office. There are still problems, criticism and skepticism. In the future, we may do away with offices entirely or at least for the most part, but our next step is a rather hybrid work model.

Everyone can benefit from home office models - in theory

Home office brings many benefits to employees and employers. Many have just learned about these benefits, and as a result, three-quarters of employees say they would still like the option of working from home even after Corona.

Long commutes are eliminated and with them a considerable time and stress factor. Working hours can be arranged more flexibly and thus better coordinated with free time. Those who work many hours a day can, for example, have lunch together with their family. In addition, flexible time management, personalization of one's own workplace and privacy within one's own four walls make it possible to improve working conditions in favor of concentration and work efficiency. By eliminating many sources of distraction, productive phases can be used in a systematic way - provided that the implementation is right.

However, not only employees but also employers benefit from the new working models. Probably the most obvious benefit for companies is the cost savings that can be expected from a reduction in the amount of office space required. In hybrid models, for example, it would be possible to divide a workplace among several employees whose days of presence alternate. Companies based in one of Germany's seven largest cities could save between 6,500 and 9,000 euros for each workplace eliminated.

A positive side effect: the vacant office space created by the shift toward home offices and hybrid work practices certainly offers the potential for relaxing the housing market.

And also the job market can be affected. While working relationships that are 100% home office-based break down the spatial boundaries of the applicant pool, companies that offer hybrid models can look forward to increased attractiveness as an employer in any case. Studies also show that employees who are offered home offices are happier and less likely to take sick leave. Not surprisingly, hybrid work models can also reduce employee turnover.

Why not a complete switch to home office then? Why hybrid?

Before the pandemic, home office concepts - at least in German companies - were the exception rather than the rule. At the current time, therefore, they are still quite new and, accordingly, not immediately fully implementable. Of course, numerous companies have equipped themselves with the necessary devices and digital tools for obvious reasons, and in the long term a complete changeover would probably be within the realm of possibility.

Why are companies nevertheless rather reluctant and why do some of them speak out so vehemently against anchoring a home office right in law?

It's all a question of trust...

New working models are actually always associated with a number of concessions that employers offer their employees. Employees are free to choose where they work, how they work and, for the most part, how they allocate their working time.

For all of this to work, trust is necessary. This is especially true on the part of employers. After all, you can't control what you can't see. If employers lack trust in their employees, the lack of control can trigger insecurity.

... and communication

But insecurity can also arise in other places, because communication is always the decisive element in successful collaboration. With distributed teams, however, it is team communication that is put to the test. Ensuring that everyone is actively involved in the exchange and that information really does arrive securely and unambiguously is a challenge that should not be underestimated.

Companies need to think carefully about how they can ensure fluid exchanges, including more investment in digital tools.

If a company lacks trust and communication, it also misses the base that makes remote work possible in the first place.

Trust and communication issues are not the only hurdles to overcome, however. While the experience of recent months has highlighted the benefits of working from home, it has also revealed quite a few problems that employees have sometimes coped with better and sometimes worse, depending on how things are implemented internally. Accordingly, many employees are also looking forward to returning to the office - for the following (often psychological) reasons:

Digitalization and home office - for many it simply creates stress

While some don't know where to start, others don't know where to stop. In the worst case, both applies and then it becomes really difficult to break out of this vicious circle again. In fact, in the home office it seems that employees are increasingly working overtime, briefly answering that one mail in the evening or catching up on what has been delayed for various reasons (e.g. due to problems with technology or communication). Others deliberately try to get more done to protect themselves from the prejudices of colleagues or the management in the office - you wouldn't work properly in the home office anyway.

The home office is supposed to help achieve a better work-life balance. However, if you don't pay attention, don't follow rules and don't draw boundaries for yourself, you run the risk of turning work-life balance into work-life integration - in the most negative sense. As a result, work life blurs more and more with private life until private gatherings and plans are no longer assigned any priority, thoughts only dwell on the to-do list, and phases of recovery finally fail to materialize completely. What should be actually Burnout prevention, may become a dangerous Burnout trap very fast.

A stress factor that can further promote this development is a lack of social interaction, an advantage that would naturally be provided by colleagues in the office.

  • The regular exchange at the coffee machine disappears. However, it is situations like these that have a positive effect on the sense of togetherness every day
  • The empathy disappears. However, the desire to build personal connections and to be in an environment where one feels comfortable - simply to be perceived as a person - is a basic human need. If emotional intelligence is lacking, misunderstandings occur. Positive energy and motivation are lost. In the worst case, this can even lead to depression.
  • Feedback comes too short and the small talk with superiors falls away. Easily you get the impression of being forgotten, overlooked for promotions or not valued. Especially in the absence of feedback and poor communication in relation to their own work lies (job) insecurity.

The social isolation, which employees often complain about in the home office, can develop into a major problem for the human psyche and the latter is already strained due to "digital stress" anyway.

Hybrid work models are the middle course

Not everyone wants to stay in the home office entirely, then. Likewise, not everyone wants to go back to the office. Managers see many advantages, but also some weak points. The logical consequence is simply to retain both, to varying degrees depending on the company and personal preferences.

Hybrid work models combine the advantages of both - working in the office and working in the home office. At the same time, they also make it possible to actively counteract the weaknesses of each work model and balance them with the benefits of the other.

All dangers cannot be circumvented via this middle course, however, because a new widespread disease has developed in our society that does not stop at employees in hybrid work models because it can be fostered in all areas of our lives. Remote workers, however, seem to be particularly susceptible...

Will new ways of working lead to digital exhaustion?

What is the digital world of work - and not just the world of work, but also the digital flood of information that hits us after hours - doing to us? "Digital exhaustion" is sometimes dubbed a modern disease, and it has almost become a public illness along with the pandemic.

Digital exhaustion
Digitization is supposed to make a lot of things more convenient, but why doesn't it feel that way? Digital exhaustion has become a widespread disease.

A large part of our society spends eight hours a day sitting in front of a screen to work (overtime excluded).

We always write about how harmful multitasking is for productivity and one's ability to focus, which can also reflect negatively on an emotional level. However, the fact that multitasking has already become an expected necessity with the incessant digital progress only becomes apparent when we think more carefully about our own workflows. We are given a variety of constantly evolving tools, the use of which not only results in a constant sprinkling of information, but also forces us to continually improve ourselves.

These tools, combined with the mobile devices on which we use them, also enable us to be available 24/7 - not only professionally, but also in our personal lives. In the process, the amount of information we absorb every day has increased fivefold.

Digitization makes work and daily life more convenient in many situations, no question about it. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that we have it easier overall, because life is also changing: digitalization is creating new challenges that we are all confronted with. However, work models based on remote work can further intensify the following stress factors:

Information overload: A major stress factor, as already addressed, is the exponentially growing amount of information we have to absorb on a daily basis. Feels like we are overwhelmed from all sides. The more tools in use, the more information is available.

Complexity: Home offices lead to increased complexity of workflows, even those that were incidental in the office, such as brief consultations. Complex tools needed to collaborate with the team in the first place also require a certain level of expertise, and depending on the tool and prior knowledge, some people feel overwhelmed by it.

Consistent availability: Home workers are constantly available. A phenomenon that is not quite understandable, because after all, even office workers own cell phones and laptops. Similar to the "inability to call it a day", this is probably also more of a problem of "setting boundaries properly and respecting them".

Performance tracking: What did we find out just a moment ago? You can't control what you can' t see, which is why employers need trust? Technology often makes it possible anyway. Even though constant performance oversight shouldn't happen, some employees still feel constant pressure to perform better, work longer, and be available all the time.

Technical Problems: It's paradoxical, but digital stress also occurs when the tools that threaten to overwhelm us are unavailable. After all, the success of work depends on the availability of home office tools.

What are the consequences?

Those who regularly face problems like these in the home office, ergo, are susceptible to digital stress, can expect psychological and physical consequences:

  • severe exhaustion and stress, and consequently, a weakened immune system
  • high temper
  • lower performance
  • declining job satisfaction to the point of anxiety and depression
  • job insecurity
  • sleep problems

Why not just cut back when things get "too digital"?

Of course, you might now say, if it's all so bad for your mental and even physical health, why not just give it a rest from time to time? Why don't we just take a break and free ourselves from the burden? Digital detox would get us out of our misery.

Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. In 2021, smartphones, tablets and the like are no longer simple accessories with cool gimmicks. A more apt description would probably be "artificial extension of our own arm". Digital assistants now support us in many everyday situations. We check the opening hours of the doctor's office, check the route when we are traveling, look up prescriptions. We receive and send messages, and can be reached by both our boss and our circle of friends at any time and in any place.

The problem here is that all of this has become the new normal. That much is not only convenient - or at least seems to be convenient - but is simply taken for granted. We are trapped in a social order that is not so easy to oppose. Anyone who does falls off the grid.

What employee likes to tell his or her boss that you won't respond to messages after work because you want to spend time with your partner and enjoy it, too? What entrepreneur manages to just let work be work, when every glance at the smartphone brings to light new urgent and important news. Who ignores the news from friends or family because they want to take a little time out from their screen?

Digital detox would indeed get us out of our misery. But many have to downright force themselves to do so, and then they try to recover from digital stress with a guilty conscience.

Companies must take action!

Hybrid work seems to be the new reality. To make it work in the long run, companies must also address the downsides of digitization and actively address the issues workers face in all of this.

The fact is, leaving it up to people themselves to decide how to deal with new ways of working - fully or hybrid - and with digital stress - which is really and truly there - doesn't work. It doesn't work because where social norms set the tone, people are consciously or unconsciously constrained in their decision-making power.

So what can companies do to reduce digital stress, solve the problems that arise in the home office, create resilience and optimally support hybrid ways of working?

1. Creating a basis with communication and trust

Communication and trust are, as mentioned, the prerequisites without which home office as well as hybrid methods cannot be implemented. Companies should ensure that an active exchange continues to take place and that information reliably reaches all employees. Employees must be made to feel that they are perceived as a valuable part of the team, regardless of where they work from.

Regular feedback and conversations at eye level are the focus, because the concept presupposes a good and appreciative relationship between employees and leaders. Employees need to know what is expected at all times. But they also need to know that their employer trusts them to do the work independently and on time within their own framework. Anything else triggers insecurity.

Looking at it another way, this also gives employees the opportunity to openly address problems and uncover the need for optimization. After all, you can only find out what works if you ask.

2. Provide technical equipment

For hybrid ways of working to work, it's important to ensure that everyone has the necessary equipment and access to all important information, both smoothly and securely. For hybrid models, it is important to understand exactly what resources are needed at what time in the office and home office.

3. Provide the necessary tools - but safely

Of course, the necessary technical equipment also includes a suitable tool that supports the collaboration of distributed teams. In doing so, attention should be paid above all to security, especially when working remotely.

This is where Stackfield comes in, with all the important tools for team collaboration, German servers, and secure end-to-end encryption.

4. Taking the individuality of employees to heart

It is particularly important to also take the individual wishes of employees into account - as best as possible. People are different, they make their individual contributions and they make individual demands on the environment in which they can work productively. That is, after all, the purpose of the matter and agile working methods are also based on this. At best, this is also reflected in the office, with different workstations that can be adapted to the diverse work areas and work styles of employees (e.g., private and quite offices for situations when people need to focus and conversations between other colleagues would be disruptive). Ideally, a company manages to create the optimal space for each employee.

5. Set clear rules for remote phases

To prevent employees from not taking their breaks in the first place, working permanently until late in the evening or despite illness, these situations should be actively addressed. Clear rules regarding working hours and break times have a supporting effect. It is important to credibly demonstrate to the workforce that recovery periods are taken seriously and that excessive overtime is not desired.

6. Strengthen team spirit

Hybrid working patterns usually do not lead to complete isolation of individual employees, as home office phases alternate with office phases. Nevertheless, it will usually be rare for the entire team to get together, which is why it makes sense to invest in team building, organize joined-up team events and support common break times.

During lockdowns, many companies have shown that this can work wonderfully even remotely.

For hybrid models to work, digital stress must also become an issue

The new world of work is inseparable from digitization. This is reflected in the advantages and disadvantages of digitization, many of which can be transferred to the business world without reservation. For hybrid working models to work, it is necessary to take advantage of the benefits of digitization, but also actively deal with its dangers.

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Lena Wimmer
About the Author:
Lena Wimmer is Product Marketing Manager at Stackfield. She is passionate about American literary history, great content and cinematography.
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