Home-working: how technology can improve staff wellbeing

By Rob Pocock, Technical Director, Red Helix
Technical Director Rob Pocock, discusses how different technologies and communication platforms can monitor and protect staff whilst working from home

Historically, home or hybrid working was only ever an option for a few members of an organisation and, even then, spending a day working from home would often need to be requested in advance and backed with good reasoning.

Fast forward to today and it is a very different story. A recent survey conducted by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that around 40% of working adults interviewed between 25th January and 5th February 2023 reported working from home at some point over the last seven days. A huge rise from the 12% reporting the same in 2019.

But as we move further away from the pandemic that forced these new working models upon us, a divide has started to form in how flexible working is viewed. For some business leaders, remote working options are seen as something that will increase productivity and they are not only keeping them, but want to support them with additional initiatives such as 4-day working weeks and unlimited holidays.

For others, including well known tycoons like Alan Sugar and Elon Musk, hybrid working isn’t something they want to see continued at all. They are concerned that it causes a disconnect from the job, damages the culture and camaraderie of the workplace, has a negative effect on mental health and stalls collaborative processes.

The truth is, that both are right. There is evidence to suggest that flexible working options increases productivity. But there is also evidence suggesting that remote and hybrid working leads to longer hours, more stress and a blurring of work-life boundaries.

This leaves business leaders in a tricky position. On one hand, they can continue to offer the desired levels of flexibility to potential employees as an incentive to attract new talent, but at the same time submit to a higher risk of burnout, attrition and a lack of collaborative processes. Or, on the other hand, they can put in place a full return to office so as to regain that office culture and improve visibility over their staff, but risk losing talent to other companies that offer a more flexible working model.

While neither of these are ideal there is, fortunately, a third option.

Flexible working with improved visibility over wellbeing

The majority of negative side effects associated with remote working can be attributed to a lack of visibility over staff actions and, consequently, their wellbeing. Employees (for the most part) want to impress their superiors and it can quickly become common practice for them to skip breaks or work an extra couple of hours to get the job done. But if this becomes a regular occurrence, the high workloads and poor work-life balance can quickly lead to burnout.

When in the office, managers can quite easily identify if a particular person has been consistently staying late or skipping breaks, but for those working remotely it can be harder to tell. There are, however, tools that organisations can use to identify these trends regardless of where they are working – and they are tools that many organisations will already have in place.

Tools such as security information and event management (SIEM) tools, or those designed to monitor network and application performance, work by ingesting logs and identifying any areas of concern before they become a bigger issue. In order to do so, they collect logs from any and all devices and applications being used by an employee – most of which is almost immediately deleted because it isn’t seen as important – however a lot of this could be used to help identify the signs of stress, overworking and burnout before they happen.

Ingesting the data from two-factor authentication systems, for example, can show when a member of staff is logging in and out and can quickly identify if someone is often working over their hours. Using such logs, and those created by internal HR systems, companies can see if an employee is putting through leave requests or taking recommended breaks throughout the day. Communications platforms can provide information on the number of meetings in an individual’s diary, whether they’ve left enough time in between and if they have enough hours left to focus on other tasks.

All this data is already there and available, it just needs to be centralised through log ingestion (which can be done through an in-house IT team if they have the resources available, or via a managed service provider if not). Not only can that information then be used to benchmark sustainable working practices and set flags for when to check-in with staff, it can be used to show which teams are potentially being overworked and where a company’s recruitment priorities should lie.

Ingesting logs to build company culture

An additional benefit that can be unlocked through the ingestion of SIEM or performance monitoring logs, is to identify ways of re-establishing company culture without imposing a full return to the office – by using the information provided through communication channels.

As an additional by-product of increased remote and hybrid working, the number of communications platforms has risen dramatically. Outlook, Slack, Teams, Google Meet, Monday and many more have all become established parts of the corporate world – and there is evidence to suggest that using too many of these at the same time is another factor that can fuel burnout.

By ingesting the logs generated by each platform, organisations can define which is most used by a team and which is most beneficial, then start to consolidate them. This means more internal communications can be kept in one place, encouraging collaboration, and reducing unnecessary spending on other apps.

On top of this, looking at the days in which people are spending more time working together and collaborating, companies can also identify which days would be best to set as office-based days (if working to a hybrid model). This means employees will be less likely to come to the office on quiet days when the rest of their team are away, helping to encourage the culture and camaraderie of a busy workplace.

A sustainable way of working

At the end of the day, whether advocating for the return to office or promoting workplace flexibility, business leaders need to be attentive to the needs of their employees. The last few years has seen an increase in ‘overwork culture’, with people skipping breaks and working unpaid hours – with UK workers alone putting in £26 billion worth of unpaid overtime during the last year.

And while a return to office may seem like the answer, allowing employers to keep a closer eye on their staff, people have grown accustomed to remote working and have pushed back against mandates to end it.

Companies need to find a different way to monitor staff wellbeing, and the answer lies in log ingestion. By using tools that many companies already have in place – and those that don’t should consider implementing – employers can use log data to detect and foresee wellbeing concerns or areas of additional support needed.

As an additional step towards maintaining staff wellbeing for remote employees, any companies that have already upgraded from VPN to Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) can then combine these logs with the ZTNA access controls to lock employees out after hours, or for certain break periods, if they are constantly found to be working overtime.

By using these technologies to monitor and protect staff, and to refine best practices around collaboration, organisations can start to restore their office culture and camaraderie while still offering a sustainable and flexible work model that benefits all involved.

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