August 21, 2020
Remote Work and Work-Life Balance
Many organizations have reported that they will allow their employees to continue to work from home after the COVID-19 pandemic ends. A poll completed by Gartner, a global research and advisory company, indicates that 82% of employers plan to allow employees to work remotely some of the time, 47% will allow it all of the time, and 42%-43% said they would offer either flex days or hours.
An unexpected result of the sudden shift to a remote workplace is that the average number of hours spent working has actually increased rather than decreased, as some employers may have anticipated pre-pandemic. An internal study completed by Microsoft found that their employees were working an average of four hours more a week, sending more emails in the evenings, and stretching their work hours into the weekend. Another study conducted by Harvard Business School and NYU Stern School of Business concluded that people are were working an average of 48.5 minutes more per day compared with the pre-pandemic period.
It’s easy to see from these surveys that the boundaries between home and work can be easily blurred. A research study conducted by Meyers-Briggs reported that 10% of respondents felt that always “being on” and available via email and text to their colleagues and supervisors helped them stay in the loop and provided flexibility as to where and when to work. However, more than one quarter of respondents reported that their “always on” culture interfered with their personal/family life, and a fifth indicated that it has led to mental exhaustion.
Dr. Tsedal Neeley, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of “Remote Work Revolution,” offers the following ideas to help avoid burnout while encouraging a productive work environment:
- Encourage virtual collaboration by having team members discuss their norms and expectations. Discuss which topics are alright to talk about openly and which should be discussed offline.
- Create a written charter or “prenup” that spells out expectations and boundaries for a remote workplace. For example, adopting a time limit for meetings or agreeing not to use the private chat feature during virtual meetings.
- When appropriate, abandon the idea of a fixed work schedule. Dr. Neeley advises that managers trust their employees to self-direct their own work schedule . “Allow them to know when to work and when to walk the dog or teach the kids.”
- Allow remote employees to choose what tools are best for them rather than requiring uniformity. For example, some employees may lack bandwidth and will need to use a blend of audio calls, emails, instant messaging, or shared document sites.
On a personal level, employees should be encouraged to find a work-life balance that suits their individual needs. This could include keeping “work” and “home” areas separate, turning off devices when not working, or building in structured breaks during the day. The company’s Employee Assistance Program may have some other tips for avoiding burnout and stress while working remotely. Make sure to remind employees of the website and resources that are available to them.
Sources: Wall Street Journal, “Remote Work is Here to Stay. Bosses Better Adjust” Harvard Business Review, “How Different Personality Types Cope with the Always-On Culture” CBSnews.com, “Coronavirus Lockdowns are Making the Workday Longer”
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