Employees who work from home are spending longer at their desks and facing a bigger workload than before the Covid pandemic hit, two sets of research have suggested.
The average length of time an employee working from home in the UK, Austria, Canada and the US is logged on at their computer has increased by more than two hours a day since the coronavirus crisis, according to data from the business support company NordVPN Teams.
UK workers have increased their working week by almost 25% and, along with employees in the Netherlands, are logging off at 8pm, it said.
NordVPN analysed data from its servers to see how private business networks were being used by employees working remotely.
Separate research shared with the Guardian by the remote team-building firm Wildgoose found 44% of UK employees reported being expected to do more work over the last year, with those at mid-sized firms most likely to report an increased workload.
The surveys also showed home workers taking shorter lunch breaks, working through sickness, and more workers being “always on” as the split between working and leisure time is blurred.
When asked what their company could do better to address burnout or stress while they worked from home, 55% said it would help if their employer kept communication and work expectations within working hours.
Company owners were also struggling, with nearly two in five saying they had suffered from depression, anxiety or exhaustion over the past year.
NordVPN’s figures, first published by Bloomberg, show that in January workers in the UK and US were typically logged on for 11 hours a day – up from nine hours in the UK and eight in the US before lockdowns began in March 2020.
Workers in Canada also increased the number of hours they were online from nine to 11 a day.
Video: Consultant Nitin Arora at the end of his shift (Birmingham Mail)
However, the number of hours worked by people in Denmark, Belgium and Spain have fallen back to pre-pandemic levels.
“Online working hours across some European countries have started to stabilise with employees having had the opportunity to return to the office in some capacity,” NordVPN said. “However, employees in the UK and the Netherlands are working until 8pm, regularly logging off later than usual to wrap up an extended working day.”
The data showed no significant drop in the use of business virtual private networks (VPNs) at lunchtime, which the firm said could indicate people taking shorter lunch breaks while working remotely.
The Wildgoose managing director, Jonny Edser, said: “While we’ve all grown used to home working as the pandemic has continued, it continues to present huge challenges in maintaining the right work/life balance.
“With increased workloads and a worrying trend of working through sickness, people’s jobs are becoming ever more blurred with their home lives at a time when it’s crucial the two can remain distinct from each other.”
Emma Stewart, a co-founder of flexible working consultancy Timewise, said during lockdown forms of flexible working, in particular part-time work, were being forgotten.
“The working day is at risk of losing its barriers and there will be real impact on mental health and wellbeing,” she said.
A third survey, this time of freelancers, by the recruitment website Worksome found employees were also reporting doing longer working days since the Covid crisis.
Worksome’s chief executive, Morten Petersen, said for many people “switching off of our ‘work mode’ when we work and live in the same house, flat, or even room, has become extremely difficult.
“The temptation to answer emails late into the night has become even greater.”
Ceri-Jane Hackling, the managing director of Cerub Public Relations, said she and her colleague were generally working at least an hour to an hour and a half extra a day.
“If we’re in the office there’s a start time and finish time which we generally adhere to unless there’s something very urgent, but at home and if you’re busy you don’t notice the time and you haven’t got colleagues to remind you to go home. As we’re not able to see friends or go to the gym there’s no impetus to leave either. All my exercise classes and social events are on Zoom so I don’t have to leave at 5.30pm to get there so it’s easy to just carry on working.”
She said she had found herself booking more meetings than she would have previously because she no longer had to travel for them, but online meetings were often taking longer “and because they’re easier to log into, more people are involved”.
“Other people’s circumstances also impact us so the working hours of some clients and contacts needing to home school are different to ours so tasks that require input from different people take longer or we find ourselves replying to emails out of our usual hours in order to meet deadlines.”