Working remotely is different. With flexible hours and location, employees can work from anywhere at any time — as long as their teams and managers are kept up to date. There are many workers who are no stranger to the occasional work-from-home day. In fact, remote and flex work has moved from a progressive perk to a standard practice. The majority of workers have some amount of remote work: 70% of professionals work remotely at least once a week, while 53% work remotely for at least half the week.
And that’s a good thing! A flexibility study discovered greater workplace flexibility has improved workplace engagement, retention rates, productivity, effectiveness, and job satisfaction. With all of the benefits of working remotely, the struggles are often forgotten.
But having the option to work remotely a day or two during the week is much different than the current situation many of us have been in for close to two months now. One person at home for a day is not the same challenge as being part of a fully remote team, with no option to get together in a conference room or visit a coworker’s desk to hash out details. In general, remote work is increasing, but today, we’re facing a real problem with employees who aren’t used to a remote lifestyle. It’s one that takes organization, discipline, follow-through, and self-management. When employees are thrown into a remote lifestyle without the time to prepare for the changes, managers have a whole new set of challenges to meet. In particular, managers need to pay special attention to the signals of loneliness and burnout.
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Combat the Loneliness
According to the State of Remote Work study, 21% of workers believe loneliness is the number one challenge with working remotely. Loneliness is at a concerning level in America. Being away from the office and coworkers can make remote workers feel lonely. Some workers believe their moments of loneliness impact productivity, connection to teammates, and all-around wellbeing.
What can managers do to combat loneliness in their employees?
- Healthy habits. Structure and routine is a proven method for helping offset the effects of depression. Setting regular schedules and checking in with employees often is a good way to add structure to the new, looser work environment. Find ways to add the organization of the office into the at-home workplace.
- Set boundaries. Remote workers often work harder to prove they’re being productive, and the blurred lines of at-work vs at-home makes it more difficult to fully turn off at the end of the day. The result is an increased risk for burnout. Encourage employees to take breaks, shut down their computer at the end of the day, turn off their phone notifications, and put up strong barriers between work life and home life.
- Build a community. We’re all in this together, so show it! Encourage employees to talk openly about what they’re going through (The kids keep picking the lock to the office door! My spouse keeps drinking all the coffee!). Empathizing with each other and having a shared experience builds community and strengthens relationships between employees while they’re physically distant.
- Provide opportunities to connect. A Gallup study the ability to split time between the office and working remotely made the happiest employees. While that isn’t something we can implement today, we can do a virtual version of a similar philosophy. Provide employees and teams with virtual conference rooms to work on projects together, have virtual coffee breaks, and schedule regular team meetings for some face time and make sure everyone stays on the same page. It’s important for employees to remember that they’re still part of a team.
- Show appreciation. It’s especially important right now to let employees know they’re seen. Recognition and appreciation go a long way in keeping morale high, and demonstrating that individuals have value and their work contributes to the greater good. It can be as simple as a shoutout on the company Slack channel, or more formal like praise at the virtual all-staff weekly meeting.
- Provide spaces to grow. Even though things are different, they aren’t on hold. Demonstrate that employees aren’t stalled during their time at home. Encourage them to take on learning initiatives, start new projects, and cross-train other departments. Give them a future to look forward to, so they don’t get bogged down in where they are right now.
How to Keep the Balance
Remote employees can often burn the candle on both ends. According to Christina Maslach, an APS Fellow and professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, there are six components of the workplace environment that can lead to burnout:
- Workload:How much is on their plate?
- Control:Do they feel in control of their own work? Do they feel micromanaged?
- Reward:Do they feel recognized for their efforts?
- Community:Do they feel supported? Do they feel isolated?
- Fairness:Do they feel held to a common standard? Do they feel that they or others are held to a different standard?
- Values: Do they feel aligned with the company values?
Employees end up with burnout when one or more of these areas of their work doesn’t match their needs. How can managers help their remote employees combat these feelings?
- Have regular one-on-one conversations.Go beyond project updates and ask them how they are feeling about their work or if you and your employees feel comfortable discussing your personal lives, catch up. Make sure to have conversations often to gauge their energy levels, frustrations, or any other issues that may arise.
- Be mindful.Make sure to check their schedule before setting meetings or asking for documents, and be careful of their working hours. Show respect for their schedules and their time to reduce stress and frustration while building trust.
- Prioritize time off.The average American commutes 200 hours a year. It’s been found that remote employees have been using these extra hours to work longer hours. It has also been found that they answer emails outside of work hours, put time in on the weekend, work when they’re sick, and don’t take vacation days. Managers can watch for these behaviors and signal to employees to slow down. Encourage them by supporting mental-health breaks, powering down at night, taking vacations, and spending time with their families.
Burnout is harder to monitor and catch in remote workers. Your organization should set up a method of checking in and seeing the signs of burnout.
Want more guidance around managing your remote teams? Download our Managing Remote Teams Checklist or reach out to our experts to learn more about how ClearCompany can help organize and prioritize remote work.
This article was originally published on the ClearCompany blog and was written by Sara Pollock.