As I write this article, I do not forget that, yes, I am also one of the hundreds of thousands of Spaniards who, from night to day, have become teleworkers. That we have changed the office, the laboratory or the classroom for the living room, the bedroom or even the kitchen of the house. With no more transition or explanations than the sudden publication of a Royal Decree.
Telecommuting is nothing new. It is calculated that in the European Union 5% of the active population normally telework at least 25% of their working day (4% in the case of Spain). They take advantage of the temporal and spatial flexibility it offers them. And they do well.
On the other hand, in the circumstances of the current pandemic, it is obvious that telework has allowed many organizations (financial, administrative or educational) to continue with their activity and that thousands of people keep our jobs – unlike many others that temporarily (hopefully) they have lost it. I am also convinced that teleworking makes the long confined day more bearable, avoiding us being too attentive to the negative news that comes in every day without asking for permission.
However, we must also not forget that, despite these advantages, those of us who telework are more exposed to a series of risks and pernicious effects (psychological, social and health) that we will have to face.
The risk of self-exploitation
Were you teleworking last Sunday? Did you ever do it this week after 9pm? If so, there is no need to panic, probably many other people did too. When telework transforms spaces of private life into places of work activity, we are in danger of extending our journey to unsuspected limits, with a total lack of control over its duration. Teleworking can bring us new forms of exploitation. In many cases, self-exploitation.
The 7 most useful applications to implement teleworking
Not that I oppose or disagree with teleworking. On the contrary. I firmly believe in the possibilities and freedom that these new forms of work offer us. But from the field of occupational health we know that they also introduce new risks in our lives, especially since we are moving towards a 24-hour working society where a regular work schedule (from 9 to 18, for example) runs the risk of becoming a rarity.
Permanent activation and widening of the digital divide
In addition, teleworking can cause other inconveniences. Namely: permanent activation, increasing tasks and increasingly complex job demands, contamination of our family and personal relationships, loneliness and lack of support from other colleagues … Not forgetting the increase in the digital divide between socioeconomic classes – with or without access to technology – and generations – young natives who were born in this technological era in front of the older ones, “digital immigrants”, who had to migrate to these new territories.
All these risks can harm our health causing, in principle, stress (techno-stress) and exhaustion. Which then have implications for physical health (cardiovascular problems, musculoskeletal disorders from long hours at the computer, gastrointestinal disorders due to disruption of food rhythms) and psychosocial (depression, disruption of social and family relationships, isolation, loneliness) .
Prevent the risks of teleworking
The defense and prevention of these risks must go through a change in the way of understanding work, both by organizations and by ourselves. Teleworking is not simply replacing the office with the house (according to a 19th century industrial perspective). It must involve various organizational, legal and behavioral adaptations.
Some of the individual actions that we should implement could be:
- Change our conception of constant availability.
- Consciously limit work time by establishing and respecting break times.
- Control access to work groups on social networks.
- Separate physical workspaces in our house from other private ones.
Likewise, it would be useful to introduce changes in our social habits, such as increasing the time interval for consulting incoming messages, or developing coping strategies towards work and organizational demands. In other words, prioritizing activities and learning to say “no” without causing us problems of remorse or frustration.
At the same time, organizations and governments must assume their responsibility by promoting telework in a responsible manner, respecting rest days and days and advising and giving guidelines to employees to manage these new forms of work.
No change is immediate, but I am convinced that by modifying and adapting personal, social and work habits we will be able to practice these new forms of work in a healthy way. Forms that, unlike this state of alarm, have come to stay in our lives.
Francisco Diaz Bretones, Full Professor of Social Psychology. Head of the group and research WISE (Wellbeing for Individuals, Society and Enterprises),
This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original.