PROFESSOR Luigina Ciolfi is Professor of Human-Computer Interaction at the School of Applied Psychology, University College Cork.
Prof Ciolfi has co-authored a book entitledabout how knowledge workers manage flexible and “always on” work lives, including working from home. Written pre-pandemic, its lessons have obviously taken on greater significance with the mass migration to working from home.
Reacting to the new Code of Practice published by the Government that ensures employees have enhanced rights to disconnect from work outside normal working hours, Prof Ciolfi said:
"It is a very positive development, recognising the increasing expectation of “always on” availability that is often put on remote workers. While remote work has become a global phenomenon during the pandemic, this trend has been ongoing for some time, leading to significantly increased workload and negative impact on the wellbeing of remote workers and their families.
"There is a need for workers to feel that they are entitled to rest and offline time and that it is acceptable for them to disconnect. This of course might mean a change in culture for many organisations, and the need for an approach to management that is more aware of these issues.
"The mention of how exceptions might need to be made in relation to global business is welcome, as it recognises that flexibility is a trademark of certain professions and sectors. However, there it will be important to consider how flexibility is valuable for other professions too: for example, remote workers who have caring and family responsibilities - such as supporting children’s schooling - might benefit from the fact that they can work at times of day that are not considered standard working hours.
"Imposing that workers interact online at certain times and disconnect at others might curtail the benefits of flexibility. Extensive research, for example, shows that women significantly benefit from flexible working arrangements that enable them to choose their working hours. With this additional protection in place, employees and employers must make sure that the right to disconnect will not affect the benefits of work flexibility, but enhance them.
"This might mean developing new ways for people to communicate with colleagues and clients their working patterns, for example , and also developing digital tools that allow for greater customization of notifications and their pausing, patterns of external communication through, for example, automated responses, pre-scheduled emails, etc., and of how one’s availability is shared with others."