Digital presenteeism now a pervasive cultural pressure

digital presenteeismDamaging habits from the office have been imported into remote work, with a pervasive culture of digital presenteeism taking hold, according to a new report Killing Time at Work from Qatalog and GitLab Inc. The research also claims to reveal a new phenomenon which the authors have dubbed ‘async privilege’, with C-suite execs taking advantage of new freedoms to work on their own schedule, but not providing those same opportunities to junior members of staff.

With the rapid rise of remote and hybrid work, many managers can no longer see their team physically present in the office. Knowledge workers are now worried their work won’t be recognised, with more than half (54 percent) saying they feel pressure to show colleagues and managers that they are online and working during certain times of the day.

In many cases, this also means working extra hours. On average, workers said they spend an additional 67 minutes each day (on top of their regular working hours) making sure they are visibly online at work, equivalent to more than 5.5 hours each week.

This culture of digital presenteeism likely comes from the top, with 63 percent of workers holding the view that management and senior leadership within their organization ‘prefer a traditional culture with employees in the office’. Another 54 percent also said their colleagues are stuck in old habits, making it hard to shift to asynchronous working.

Bosses’ tendency toward presenteeism is likely to be counterproductive, with an overwhelming majority of people (81 percent) saying they are ‘more productive and create higher quality output when they have more flexibility over when they work’.


No trickle down effect

Despite the proclamations of a ‘new way of working’, only a third (33 percent) of knowledge workers said they work asynchronously* ‘Often or Always’, indicating that the ‘9-5’ is still a reality for many, even if they are working remotely. However, the figures also revealed a startling difference between senior and junior members of staff.

Almost three quarters (74 percent) of those in the C-Suite said they work asynchronously ‘Often’ or ‘Always’, compared to 48 percent of those at Vice President or Director level, 32 percent of those at a Manager or Consultant level, and 24 percent of those in Analyst or Administrative roles.

While technology made remote and asynchronous work possible, it also facilitates digital presenteeism, with workers finding a host of ways to show colleagues they are still present in the digital workplace, from sending emails or messages, to adding comments on Google Docs.

How workers signal to colleagues they are online and working:

  • Send or reply to emails – 70 percent
  • Send or reply to messages on messaging applications – 53 percent
  • Set my status on Slack or Teams to ‘Active’ – 52 percent
  • Joining team video calls – 51 percent
  • Adding or replying to comments on document editing tools – 29 percent
  • Updating shared project/task management tools – 23 percent
  • Sending emoji/GIF reactions on messaging applications – 22 percent

Knowledge workers are also contending with a barrage of notifications, making it hard to switch off. On average, workers now receive notifications from six different applications, and almost three-quarters (73 percent) said they reply to these notifications outside of their working hours, with 30 percent saying they do this every day.

Flexibility to choose your working hours has quickly become one of the key battlegrounds for attracting and retaining talent. Two-thirds (66 percent) of workers said they would resign from a job if flexibility was limited, and 43 percent indicated they would consider a lower-paid role if it gave them greater flexibility over their hours.

This should be no surprise considering the improvements to quality of life that it can bring. Three-quarters (74 percent) of workers said increased flexibility over when they work had allowed them to spend more time on hobbies, volunteering, or side hustles. In addition, among workers who said they work asynchronously ‘Often’ or ‘Always’, 65 percent said this had a positive impact on their wellbeing, compared to just 6 percent who said it had a negative impact.