The pandemic has brought many changes not only to healthcare, daily life, or leisure but also to the organization of work. A significant number of organizations have had to change their usual working principles, as a large proportion of employees have worked or are still working remotely.
On the Vilnius University (VU) podcast, Mokslas Be Pamokslų, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Jurgita Lazauskaitė-Zabielskė, a psychologist at the Faculty of Philosophy of Vilnius University (VU), discussed how the world of work has changed over the last two years, what challenges organizations and their employees have faced and solved, and what qualities we must develop to adapt to the new working conditions.
We will never work the same way we did before the pandemic
The researcher points out that not only researchers or organizations but also European agencies in various policy areas talk about the fact that we will never work the same way we did before the pandemic. “What seemed possible but unnecessary or unnecessary until 2020 is now both needed and necessary. Even policymakers are very clear about it. According to them, we must get used to the fact that we will work remotely and in a hybrid work model. We should also discuss flexible forms of work: a flexible workplace, a flexible schedule, and there is a growing need for flexible employment contracts,” she said.
The psychologist also reminded about the figures provided by the European Commission: 37%, i.e., a little over a third, of jobs in Europe can be done remotely. This means that the rest cannot do their job remotely. “However, there are other challenges: digitization, the introduction of various modern technologies. Changes in the labor market are, indeed, intense and we see this from both European research and our own research experience. When we ask people how they would like to work, their answer is in a hybrid way. “Do you want to return to the office?” – “Yes, but not for working there all the time.” This means that offices, as a physical location, will no longer be what they used to be. They must be different, and they will be different,” said Assoc. Prof. Dr. J. Lazauskaitė-Zabielskė.
Remote work: the freedom to make better use of your time
Dr. J. Lazauskaitė-Zabielskė says the pandemic was a great opportunity to discover new ways of working and organizing work. “The organizations began to realize that it is not necessary to travel from Kaunas to Vilnius for a meeting. It saves time. One of the advantages of remote work is that you no longer have to go to or from work, which saves us an hour or two a day.”
Another advantage is that during a working day, people are free to make the most of their time. They can have a better work-life balance, although there are some challenges. “It is not as simple as it may seem at first glance. According to our research, many employees experienced exhaustion halfway through quarantine because they found it difficult to work and be with their families at the same time. The transition required a lot of effort. But those who managed to adapt are satisfied with working remotely and would not want to work any other way. According to research, about 60% of people in Lithuania are now used to working remotely and have acquired the skills it takes,” the psychologist said.
The challenge is not losing long-term work goals
One of the key aspects of working remotely and in a hybrid way is the increasing responsibility of the person when the employee, rather than the organization, is responsible for the work. “You get to decide how long you are going to spend in the meeting and how long you are going to work. If the organization does not track your logging-in hours, you get up in the morning and the whole day is yours,” says Assoc. Prof. J. Lazauskaitė-Zabielskė.
She remembers interviews conducted in various organizations last year, during the quarantine period.
“People named two biggest challenges. The first one was managing not to lose sight of the vision for the future and the long-term goal of the year, as everyone can lose themselves doing random tasks during a working day. We can take on a lot of small tasks and forget about goals and tasks for the year, not for today. The second challenge is to get feedback and support from colleagues and the supervisor. This can no longer be done spontaneously by talking about the works and their progress over coffee or when running into one another in the hallway. That opportunity has either disappeared completely or has been greatly diminished,” she says.
One of the most important skills is the ability to draw the line
The psychologist recalls her several-month study, which showed how employees’ motivation and energy changed during the first months of working remotely. This change was especially obvious to those who believed they could work remotely without drawing the line.
“We noticed an interesting phenomenon. In a relatively short period of time, the level of employee exhaustion has increased and motivation to work has decreased, especially for those who thought they could work and live at the same time, i.e., whose work-life boundaries were merged. For those who thought they could write an article, attend a meeting, and make soup at the same time,” she said. “In the beginning, these people were the most motivated and felt they had achieved the best results. Four months later, they were the least motivated and most exhausted. Those employees then began drawing a strict line between work and personal life. In other words, they had to make a distinction between time for work and time for personal life commitments. Because jumping from one role to another took a lot of energy.”
Assoc. Prof. J. Lazauskaitė-Zabielskė states that this is one of the most important skills that will have to be mastered in the future, the ability to draw a clear line so that we can regain energy and resources that we lost while working.
To ensure balance, the psychologist recommends daily taking time for any recovery activities. If not daily, then at least once a week is the minimum that everyone should do for themselves.
“Researchers have been thinking for many years and have come up with a variety of activities to do after work. For example, doing dishes: is it harmful or helps to get rid of work stress? Should we exercise? Or spend time with our children? Or engage in any hobbies? The answer is this: do anything that makes you happy and helps you regain energy. The type of activity is not important, as long as you feel free to choose the things you do,” she said.
It is important to discover meaning in what you do
When asked about the personal qualities that employees need to develop in the future, she pointed out that they are difficult to change. People just have a tendency, innate and acquired, to behave in a certain way in certain situations, to react, to feel, to think in a certain way.
“Of course, there are certain personal qualities that are more conducive to performance, results, and well-being, and those that are less conducive,” she said. “I think organizations are the ones that have to adapt in this case. When they have a certain candidate, they must look for a place in the organization for that person. You can find a suitable place for anyone. If a person is less outgoing and can’t serve customers, maybe they can do other jobs? The job of the manager and the organization is to see the full purpose of the organization and find the right place for each member.”
According to the researcher, both the organization and the employee need to discover a sense of meaning, it is one of the most important things in psychology. “It’s the answer to the question of whether what I’m doing is valuable to a certain person, to a certain organization, to anyone, to any environment. Unfortunately, answering that question is very difficult, especially if the work is simple, mundane, maybe not very clean, or even dangerous and harmful to health. It is really difficult to see the prospect that it will someday bring value to someone somewhere, so it takes a lot of effort.”
Managers struggle to notice and recognize the status of employees
With the change in the way work is organized, managers change one important challenge: getting to know and understanding their employees. Seeing their strengths, weaknesses, finding the right activities for them, knowing when to let them move forward, give more responsibility, or let them take a break.
“When it comes to remote work or a flexible form of work, the challenge is finding the way to do it properly and timely as managers are already talking about the fact that it is very difficult to feel people’s mood and attitudes without seeing them. What drives your employees? What do they care about? Are their motivations falling or growing, or do they already feel like they have grown out of a job? Therefore, we must look for new effective ways and means of communication, both in terms of the relationship with a particular employee and in terms of the relationship with the team, a group of people,” she said.