How Can You Encourage a Work-Life Balance for Your Remote Employees?
Changes in the workplace and the development of technologies like remote communications platforms and project management applications have facilitated the rise of virtual companies that don’t require brick-and-mortar facilities.
Recently, Twitter, SquareSpace, and several others have transitioned to a permanent remote work model.
It wasn’t just the COVID-19 pandemic that led to this shift, however, but it did accelerate it. Concern over employees’ work-life balance created a greater number of remote workers in organizations that once exclusively depended on the traditional office workplace.
Remote workers schedule their working and non-working hours strategically throughout the day. This flexibility allows them to attend children, appointments, tasks, and even recreational activities that would be disruptive if they had to address them in a traditional workplace.
Remote work flexibility, however, can come with increased responsibility . . . and more pressure. In most cases, remote workers are required to become self-starters, a skill set with which they have little experience. Even the best entrepreneurs and freelancers can admit to being their own worst employee.
The internal discipline of remote work can be a difficult part of the remote work learning curve. Then, too, some remote workers can swing the other way, failing to take the lunches and breaks required to avoid burnout. And, many work well into the evening because the office is always there at home.
An Unexpected Development
With the advent of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, lockdowns and quarantines took much of the choice out of the hands of organizations and workers. To keep their businesses running, they had to work from home.
Companies discovered that the only way they’d survive was to allow employees to work remotely. Companies resistant to the remote work paradigm feared it might provide workers too much autonomy, and they were surprised when it worked well.
It is undeniable that coronavirus has changed the way we work, and that it has placed substantial stresses on everyone, in and out of the workplace. In addition to concerns over avoiding infection, the potential for infecting others, and the pressure to stay on top of government mandates, the new remote worker is faced with radically changing the way they work.
History and Remote Workers
Workplaces changed in a number of significant ways from the 1970s on. With more single-parent families and professional women with children entering the workplace, many companies began to make provisions for less traditional lifestyles. Some began to work remotely.
Increasing globalization, too, required certain workers to be available for conference calls (and later, video conferencing) with colleagues at varying time zones. Remote work made the most sense for those taking calls at 4:00 a.m. or 11:00 p.m.
Another thing that came out of that period was an increasing acknowledgment by scientists and the medical community of the subtle interplay of mind-body dynamics, and the effects of stress on health. People became familiar with terms like “workaholic” and “karoshi,” the Japanese term for “death from overwork,” which is actually a significant problem in Japan.
As a result, employers and primary care physicians alike began to concern themselves with the work-related stresses employees face, and the imperative for maintaining a work-life balance. Workers can’t produce when they are sick or have a reduced capacity when they are tired or stressed.
6 Guidelines for Remote Work
So, just how does the remote worker go about maintaining work-life balance—or, more importantly, how does the employer go about encouraging workers to do so? With increased autonomy, it’s not as easy as implementing a new workplace dress code or time-off policy—so just what can the conscientious employer do to help their workers help themselves in this area?
Here are six guidelines for remote work that can provide a road map for workers and employers who may be new to the remote work protocol:
1. Craft a Policy
In the wake of the pandemic, many organizations found themselves having to quickly formulate policies and procedures for remote workers. These policies protect both employees and the company.
For employees who tend to overlook issues of work-life balance, including clear break time mandates, employers must give them permission to take critical relaxation time. Scientists insist these breaks keep workers functioning. Break time mandates also instill the idea that the organization is concerned with their well-being, and is dedicated to employee psychological, emotional, and physical health.
2. Create a Schedule
As many remote workers, freelancers and self-employed persons have learned, scheduling work activities as they would if they were traditionally employed is critical. The new remote worker often takes a while to figure this out, which leads to undue stress and frustration during the adjustment to remote work.
Including scheduling protocol or expectations in your remote working policy will help employees hit the ground running. It provides a solid foundation for structuring their time in a new paradigm. It also delivers the message that their well-being makes them a valued employee. Digital solutions, including online calendars, help to keep managers and teams apprised of workers’ schedules, vacations, and other pertinent information.
3. Organize that Workspace!
This may seem self-evident, but let’s be mindful that remote workers do not have the same sense of urgency about keeping an orderly workplace that they might have in a traditional setting. There are many office workers whose cubicles are immaculate no matter how heavy their workload is, yet their living rooms are haphazard.
Let workers know that it’s OK to set aside some of their scheduled time for housekeeping, or office keeping. After all, good organization contributes to better efficiency. Encouraging workers to go as paperless as possible—as many traditional workplaces are increasingly doing—also helps to increase efficiency and reduce distractions.
4. Planning and Preparation
This section might also be called “Getting ready for work.”
While the culture of remote work lends itself to rolling out of bed and shuffling directly to the home workstation (and some do just that), many have found benefits in retaining a pre-work routine that is nearly identical to the one used when they were working in a traditional setting.
Many remote workers have reported that getting up early, getting showered and dressed (right down to makeup), and having a good breakfast help them to cultivate a working mindset. Conversely, a lot of these workers say that rolling out of bed, grabbing some coffee, and going right to work in sweats and a t-shirt makes them feel like lazy slobs—a mindset that counters productivity.
5. Take Regular Breaks
As we’ve revealed to this point, some at-home workers struggle with the discipline to stay focused when working remotely. Others, feeling unmoored swing the other way, and can’t seem to disengage from work at all. They are driven by compulsion which can burn them out early. The company then loses a talented, driven employee.
Researchers have proven conclusively that regular breaks keep employees sharp, energized, and focused. Some remote workers even schedule chores, errands, and appointments throughout their workday so that they don’t have to attend to these on evenings or weekends.
6. Maintain Communication
Even for the dedicated introvert, working remotely can get lonely. As long as the coronavirus pandemic persists, remote workers will also have to deal with the social restrictions that remain in place. It’s important to remote workers to stay engaged with their teams and co-workers, as this maintains cohesiveness within these groups.
Most of the project management suites and messaging services used by organizations with remote workers provide for status updates. Workers should be encouraged to set their status when they’re at work so that teammates are aware they’re available. Many remote workers make it a practice of touching base with managers or key team members at least once a day, even if there are no pressing issues to address.
Easing the Shift to Remote Work
These are just a few ways in which managers and business owners can encourage their employees to focus on and balance both professional and personal growth. The remote workforce has exploded, and will probably continue to grow for some time. Many tips for working remotely continue to be offered by experts, employers, and psychologists. Following these basic strategies, as well as optimizing your business processes for remote success, can go a long way to help a new remote worker or team achieve an effective work-life balance.