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The workplace of the future must be employee-focused to eliminate fatigue

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Greenlight Digital considers how workplace etiquette is evolving and what that means for employees

“You don’t know how wearisome it is to breathe the air of four pent walls without relief day after day.”

Interpretations of quotes are pretty contextual. A few years ago, you could have reasonably assumed (correctly) that the above quote referred to working in an office. Now, after around 18 months of living in a pandemic, the same quote could just as easily refer to our own homes. What most people probably wouldn’t bank on is that this quote actually dates back to 1822 and is from Charles Lamb, a clerk at the East India House, working in what was considered the world’s second specifically-built office.

“Something about being on videoconference all day seems particularly exhausting, and the term ‘Zoom Fatigue’ caught on quickly.”

Dating this second quote will likely be somewhat easier for most. While it could have come from any number of recently published articles jumping on the latest buzzword, this one actually comes from the first peer-reviewed article aimed at systematically deconstructing Zoom Fatigue from a psychological perspective – for the data lovers among us, this one comes strongly recommended. But before Zoom Fatigue, ‘office fatigue’ was just as common, if not as popular a parlour topic.

So, what do both these quotes have in common? It’s quite simple – they show that from the inception of the office, consideration for the employee has never been a focus. I don’t imagine the term ‘work-life balance’ was thrown around much in the 19th century (tellingly, the same author of the quote above refers to working long hours, from 10am to 11pm – I expect many of us can relate, especially with 40% of us working longer hours since the start of the pandemic).

It’s important to realize how many of the things we take for granted are based on historical relics. It’s fairly common knowledge that the 9-5 work day was invented by Henry Ford in 1926 for two key reasons: the most obvious was to maximize production and efficiency in his factories, while the second was to make sure that his employees and their families had enough leisure time so that they would buy his cars for themselves. Why do we continue to base our modern work practices on what worked for factory owners the better part of a century ago?

As 21st-century marketers, we enjoy freedoms found in few other industries. We’ve not always faced the challenges seen in other industries, and while working from home may not be to everyone’s taste, by and large it seems to have been doable. Yet, like Charles Lamb 200 years ago, we’re still facing some morale problems that have little reason to exist today – the latest of which is Zoom Fatigue. And what has caused this? The refusal to move on from what worked for the last workforce.

The introduction of project management tools like Trello, Monday.com, smartsheets, or even just online shared docs have helped reduce the number of check-ins and catch-ups needed for a campaign or project to run smoothly. So, instead of considering if the next meeting needs to be a Zoom meeting, why not question if it needs to exist at all? Does it need to be weekly, or do our new tools mean it can be bi-weekly or monthly? Freeing up our colleagues and teammates can only give them more time to focus on work they really need to be doing.

So, as we move forward in our strange new world (please feel free to tick that one off your buzzword bingo card), consider how we can take the next leap to the future, instead of being beholden to the past.

Robbie Ashton is account director at Greenlight.

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