The 11-hour workday: Productivity booster or destroyer?

Virtual does not equal vacation. Remote workers are working harder than ever. A recent NordVPN Teams study paints this picture. A selection of countries from North America and Europe shared their average hours worked per day, pre-pandemic and then in March/April 2020 across the board this number increased by at least one, and as high as four hours per day. While some countries have subsequently reported a decrease in hours per day worked, Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. are three countries where remote workers continue to clock in an average of 11 hours per day.

Why employees are working longer

The 11-hour workday: productivity booster or destroyer? The daily commute and watercooler chats have been abolished. So why are workers putting in more hours than ever before instead of benefiting from these supposed gifts of time? Additional requirements around communication and ineffective meetings are two primary reasons.

Effective communication is essential for effective virtual teams. However, clear and detailed communication requires more time and effort as compared to a typical face-to-face conversation.

We’ve never had more communication channels at our disposal. Email, websites, intranet, communication platforms, text messaging, video chats, forums, wikis, phone calls. Employees may feel obliged to have a constant presence on all channels, even during off-hours, just  to prove that they are working and contributing. All these channels are a lot to keep straight, and can be overwhelming and stressful.

Ineffective meetings are another way that time gets gobbled up and keeps employees from focusing on important tasks at hand and disrupts their productivity flow. It is easy for meeting attendees to be disengaged, or multi-tasking offscreen.

Meetings are a necessary reality of the virtual workforce. However, the onus is on the meeting host to take the time to properly assess whether a meeting is in fact required (don’t be the one responsible for that two-hour meeting that could have been an email).

If a meeting is needed, the host should be respectful of attendee time by being intentional about preparation and ensuring the meeting is executed as efficiently as possible. Read more on how to deliver the perfect virtual meeting.

Implications for remote workers

In a Gallup poll, almost one-third of remote workers reported feeling burned out at work very often or always. Having a poor work-life balance has been shown to have adverse effects on mental health and sleep quality.  A constant overtime schedule has also been linked to a host of health conditions including increased risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. In terms of its impact on someone’s health, being sedentary for long periods of time has been likened to smoking.

Ironically, several studies have proven that productivity actually decreases with longer work days. Our brains are wired to only be able to truly focus for a few hours at a time; any more than that and workers are apt to make mistakes.

Organizations that prioritize specific employee contributions rather than the number of  hours logged, can create an environment that fosters productivity and will come out ahead.

We’re still in a pandemic which is an incredibly stressful situation. Employees may have the added pressure of aging parents or childcare issues to contend with. Pile on to this, feelings of isolation and disengagement, and employee resilience can take a significant hit. On the flip side, meaningful and rewarding work can be a positive intrinsic motivator when employees feel engaged, connected, and supported.

Creating a new work-life balance

This 11-hour work day trend doesn’t need to take hold at your organization. Facilitating more effective communication, reducing the number of unnecessary meetings, and focusing on employee contributions are a good first step. Being committed to fostering healthy and productive employees can help ensure an optimal work-life balance and produce positive outcomes.

How is your virtual team measuring up? Take our complimentary virtual team performance survey today, and find out.