By Margarita Verde
It’s no secret the pandemic has been pivotal in modernizing the traditional practices of the Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) industry. Construction has been known as a “stubbornly analog industry,” but COVID has pushed it to digitize and integrate in order to adapt. One of the newly-embraced changes is the option to work either from home or in the office—an important shift that provides distinct benefits like time savings, but it also can have disadvantages like loss of work-life balance.
As the pandemic continues to evolve, some employees are returning to the office, but many businesses are adopting hybrid or remote work instead. A hybrid model divides work time between home and the office. In contrast, a remote work model allows employees to continue working from home full-time.
The Benefits of Hybrid Work
One major benefit of hybrid work is time savings. Metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and Orange County experience heavy traffic during rush hour that can turn a 15-minute drive into 45-minutes or more. For commuters who take public transportation, there are days where it is unreliable due to factors like delayed wait and arrival times. In 2018, the “average American commute grew to just over 27 minutes one way,” which was “a record high” according to the U.S. Census Bureau. ² The average American spends over 14,000 hours a year getting to work. With the newfound free time created by remote or hybrid work, a better work-life balance can be achieved. Employees can see family and friends more, delve into their hobbies, and remove the stress of commuting and traffic.
Hybrid or remote work also positively impacts physical and mental health. Long drives to the workplace have numerous implications, most notably is their adverse effects on physical health. Lengthy commutes and travel times have been linked “to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and early death.” After studying 4,300 commuters traveling over 20 miles to work in Texas, a recent study found that “the longer the drive, the higher the driver’s blood pressure.”³ Sitting in hours of traffic can also affect mental health. A 2008 joint Swiss study by the University of Basel and the University of Zurich which spanned 19 years of data concluded that “people with longer commuting time report systematically lower subjective well-being.”⁵ Time savings through remote or hybrid work contributes to lessening long-term mental health effects.
The Downsides of Hybrid Work
Many good things come with remote and hybrid work, but it also has a few disadvantages which accompany it. Dedicating equal time between work time and personal interests is imperative for a healthy work-life parity. Being able to leave work at the office and relax at home is one of the most tangible ways of balancing one’s professional life and personal life. According to a CBS News report, although remote and hybrid work come with great benefits, “on the other hand, the change in work schedule may be a consequence of a blurred distinction between work and personal life, in which it becomes easy to overwork due to the lack of clear delineation between the office and home.”¹¹ One way for employees to combat this is to follow a set schedule. Allocating time during the day for breaks helps to prevent overworking, for example, walking away from the workstation for every few hours. Another is utilizing status signifiers to give clear indication of when you are available or away. Work-life balance can still be achieved with the help of useful tips and tricks despite remote and hybrid work becoming the norm.
Another con to remote and hybrid work is that it has made the work day longer and more stressful during the pandemic. Research from the National Bureau of Economic Research has shown that, “in cities that experienced virus-related lockdowns, workers spent nearly an hour longer on email than they did before the crisis.”¹¹ Employees worked an average of 48.5 more minutes throughout the day, and this has led to burn out, less sleep, and increased work-related stress. The long hours due to the pandemic can be mitigated by adhering to a set schedule with clear start and stop times for the work day. Consider using your phone’s ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature on your mail app and setting your status to ‘Offline’ on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. With remote and hybrid work being the future of many industries, knowing how to reclaim work-life balance and maintaining stress and time is more important than ever.
There is also the added Zoom fatigue from frequent online meetings. Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab released a study identifying four main causes for stress and fatigue from Zoom.¹² Increased eye-contact, seeing yourself during Zoom calls, increased awareness of nonverbal cues and feeling tied down during the meeting are the main factors.¹² To help alleviate Zoom fatigue, consider keeping the camera off for some meetings or changing the call view so your camera is not showing on your screen.
The New Normal
The AEC industry has long resisted change in favor of traditional and analog ways of collaboration and business, but the hybrid model is on the rise as a result of the COVID pandemic. Applications like Slack, Asana, and Zoom have allowed for streamlining projects as well as increasing communication and teamwork between project partners and clients overall. As the AEC industry works to welcome and adapt to the remote or hybrid business model, it will ultimately affect those who choose to stay, to move on, and entice prospective team members.