“You work from home? How do you get anything done?!” It’s a popular stereotype that remote workers don’t get as much done as in-office workers. In reality, though, the opposite is true.
A recent Stanford study, for example, found that telecommuters work one full day shift per month more than their in-office counterparts. It seems that most people thrive in the absence of regular work-life distractions like noisy offices and too-frequent meetings.
But therein lies the problem. Remote work affords greater but flexibility, but also makes it gradually harder to distinguish between work and life.
When you work from home, there’s no commute to separate your career responsibilities from your non-work ones. Nor is there an office building to traipse out of at 5 PM. As a result, remote workers are often prone to work-life imbalances. Indeed, according to Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work, 22% of remote workers found “unplugging from work” to be their biggest struggle.
Productivity boosts aside, being burnt-out is always harmful in the long term. Managers leading virtual teams need to be mindful of the unique work-life balance challenges that come with remote work. Only then can they deal with them effectively.
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Even regular workers struggle with how to leave work stress behind when they leave the office each day. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that remote workers often struggle even more with overwork.
When your job relies almost entirely on being plugged in, being a workaholic is almost a foregone conclusion. If your office is literally one room away from your bedroom, it’s much harder to tear yourself away from your work. Since work and home are now so hard to distinguish, you end up being mentally and emotionally overworked. On top of that, the fuzzy boundaries between work and home mean that work stress comes with you everywhere.
Right from the get-go, establish a common understanding of how available you need your remote workers to be. Take into consideration the nature of the work, differing time zones, and attendance for specific time-sensitive events like daily morning meetings. Something as simple as setting expectations for response times to emails can go a long way.
Encouraging remote workers to have a dedicated workspace at home can make a big difference in helping them to draw a clear mental line between work and life. This doesn’t require having an entire room dedicated to “office space” at home. It just has to be a place where they do nothing else but work, just as they would in the office. At Automattic (creator of WordPress.com), for example, employees are each given $2000 to build a home office.
In contrast, working from your bed at home, for example, blurs the boundaries between work and home more than necessary. Having a space for yourself where you do nothing except work helps to draw mental boundaries between work and life.
Despite running a higher risk of being overworked than their in-office counterparts, remote workers are also more prone to feelings of isolation than loneliness. According to Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work, loneliness is the second biggest worry of surveyed remote workers (after the difficulty of unplugging from work.)
Additionally, because of the lack of face to face contact, remote workers tend to feel left out from office cultures. The cumulative lack of engagement that this might precipitate in the long term is a genuine cause for concern.
It should go without saying, but virtual team managers must be much more on-the-ball than usual about staying in touch with their remote workers. Conversations about loneliness and isolation, though, are unlikely to occur without having a strong rapport and sense of psychological safety between managers and employees.
For that reason, managers need to be highly proactive in having regular informal check-ins with virtual employees, to build trust.
Remote workers are no different from regular employees in that career growth is still one of their top priorities. Being isolated deals a huge blow to employee satisfaction since it often makes them feel like they’re not learning or growing enough on the job.
Hence, managers need to dedicate just as much time and energy to facilitate meaningful job-crafting for remote workers so they can better support long-term growth. This may require a greater investment on the part of managers, but it ultimately is a win-win situation for everyone involved.