Is there a human consequence to WFH?

Apple has done great business during the pandemic, with enterprise use of Macs up 23% and record iPhone sales. But is there a human cost to working from home?

Apple, iOS, iPhone, Mac, iPad
Michael Simon/IDG

Apple has done great business during the pandemic with enterprise use of Macs up 23% and record iPhone sales. But is there a human cost to working from home? It looks possible.

Crisis in the work/life gap

To get some sense of the impact of remote working, I spoke with TRUCE Software, who shared recent data the company has published that provides a heat map to show us where we are.

The top-down claim? Remote working our way through the pandemic means we’re more hooked to our mobile devices than ever, with many putting in longer hours and a good number of people complaining about the erosion of work life balance.

Among other indicators, the research shows:

  • 62% of 1,500 U.S. workers are finding that their mobile phones or tablets play a key role in helping them be productive.
  • More than a third are using mobile devices more often at work than pre-pandemic.
  • 56% also think it is their right to use personal devices at work.

But what’s really critical is that 46% of the people surveyed claimed to be working more than they were a year ago; it's quite understandable why 56% of workers think it is also their right to use their own mobile devices at work.

The statistic I’m most alarmed about is that 23% of workers wish they could find a better balance between their jobs and their domestic life. While the pandemic rages on, most workers must also learn to manage extreme personal stress: lack of physical contact, absence of friends and family, and many who now mourn loved ones and face economic or employment fragility. This is creating a well of stress for many, leading to burnout as people simply run out of energy.

Outsourced human relations

There is no such thing as a perfect work/life balance, of course. And while some employers understand the stress faced by their workers, not all do: Switched-on employers who care about their staff provide employee choice schemes, target-related bonuses, personal support, subsidized Wi-Fi, and a judgement-free attitude toward sick days. Those who don’t, insist workers stay on camera all day and refuse to accept excuses for absence on the basis of child care or any other need, while indulging in fire and re-hire policies.

To a great extent, corporate responsibility around employee care in this environment has effectively been outsourced to employees themselves, even as productivity (and working hours) increase. And while Apple’s devices and third-party apps can help remote workers manage time more effectively, the need for all parties to develop new ways of working that don’t impact personal space remains challenging.

[Also read: An Apple-centric guide to effective (and productive) remote working]

This isn’t a platform-specific matter, of course: Windows or Mac, Android or iPhone, iPad or some other tablet, enterprise workers of every stripe face complex challenges as they juggle work and personal responsibilities. The pandemic has generated change across the business ecosystem. Take tech support, where zero-touch deployment, remote support, and digital on-boarding have become mandatory.

Quality counts

Apple’s most recent results show how it has profited from this change in the way we work. It's no surprise, given the cost and complexity of delivering tech support to some platforms compared to Apple’s own.

“Good, reliable workplace technology is no longer an employee-perk, it is a prerequisite,” CEO Justin Wells told me. “This is especially true for the generations who have recently entered the workforce and grown up with Apple devices.”

Huge investments have been made to maintain the 60% of enterprises that now plan to maintain support for remote working moving forward. Apple CEO Tim Cook said as much: “I don't believe that we will return to the way we were, because we found that there are some things that actually work really well virtually.”

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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