Technology is amazing! It has the potential to make all our lives easier in so many ways – saving us time and money in both our personal and professional lives. The connectivity it gives us is, for many, is literally a life saver – allowing us to maintain relationships with friends and family who are miles away. We have an incredible amount of data on pretty much everything we do, which allows us to constantly analyse and improve on what we are doing. As CTO at SocialChorus, I’m passionate about the advantages tech can bring, but I am also keenly aware of the issues it can cause when not managed in a way that enables remote workers to have downtime.
For some people, ‘switching off’ from work has always been an issue, but with the growing move towards remote and hybrid working, the lines between work and home life are becoming increasingly blurred. We are seeing a growing prevalence of employee burnout.
Employees pushing themselves to this level of mental exhaustion is not something that any employer should be encouraging. When we are overloaded with information and unable to disconnect, our decision-making ability is impaired. Over-stressed employees are also more likely to take sickness absence, and ultimately, retention will be impacted – costing the company more money.
Beyond the impact on the bottom line, business leaders also have a moral responsibility to ensure, and promote, a healthy work life balance for their teams. When managers do not have control over what goes on outside of the office, how can they ensure remote workers are taking those all-important rest periods?
Here are 4 ways to respect the boundaries of remote workers:
- The use of technology must be deliberate, time bound, and have a purpose. We are all guilty of ‘quickly checking’ emails or messages, and before we know it an hour has passed. With hybrid or remote working, there is a real risk that what used to be quick 2-minute office chats are now half-hour virtual meetings. Before requesting any form of meeting, assess whether this is the most appropriate format, and if there is a less time-intensive alternative. The same applies for sending messages out of hours. Either don’t do it, or schedule it to send during work hours.
- Seasoned remote workers and front-liners are well versed in the need to force rigidity into their daily structure, ensuring that there is sufficient time off to unwind. This is something that those new to the practice need to adopt. Established start and stop times may feel uncomfortable at first but it will demonstrate that personal time is respected and protected.
- Seek out opportunities for technology to promote virtual boundaries. Building natural boundaries into the use of technology, rather than having to select to turn off notifications for example, would set a real precedent in protecting employees’ mental health.
- Trust. This is perhaps the one thing that can have the biggest impact on an employee’s ability to disconnect. Unfortunately, with remote and hybrid working, so many people feel compelled to stay online to ‘show’ that they are working. This new form of presenteeism is even worse than the traditional one – as there is simply no getting away from it. Trusting that your team will deliver regardless of when or how long they are online will go a long way towards building a virtual working environment in which employees can feel safe and empowered.
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Another factor which must be considered is that despite the potential pitfalls of hybrid working, it is often viewed as a perk, but one that is predominantly applied to those who were previously office-based. Frontline workers deserve equal treatment in every aspect – from engagement and communications to perceived advantages. Failure to allow for this and ensure an even playing field has the potential to cause a further divide between the two groups – at a time when the focus should be on unifying the whole workforce.
This progression towards an increasingly remote and flexible workforce has lots of potential benefits. It’s a game changer when it comes to recruitment – no longer are businesses restricted by geography when it comes to getting top talent on their teams. It can enable all of us to work in a more fluid and dynamic way, adapting quickly to business needs. And it can allow for a much better work-life balance if the organisational culture is right.
Managers must lead by example and demonstrate to their teams that it isn’t just OK to turn off notifications – it is expected. They must quash any notion that being ‘always on’ equates to being a ‘good worker’. And they must be confident in setting boundaries for themselves and their teams that prioritise growing a happy and healthy workforce where the focus is on results, rather than attendance.