Extended Remote-​Work Trend Upsets Work-​Life Balance

BY Kathy Crosett
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Regardless of how you feel about the extended remote-​work trend, now strongly bolstered by the coronavirus outbreak, there are definite advantages and disadvantages. Your team members may have become more productive in the past few months. While that productivity can be a boost to your bottom line, you should be watching for a possible negative outcome: burnout.

Pre-​COVID-​19 Remote-​Work Trend

Before the coronavirus spread across the country, employers of all sizes had given the concept of remote workforces a try. Team members were elated. The long aggravating commutes were history. They could devote more time to their families, pets, and hobbies. As time went on, some employers noticed a significant decline in productivity. IBM was one of the major employers that reluctantly did away with the work-​from-​home initiative. Productivity wasn’t the only issue. “Remote employees often felt marginalized, which made them less loyal. Creativity, innovation and serendipity seemed to suffer,” reported David Streitfel for the New York Times.

The New Normal

Many employers, especially those in the tech industry, shifted to remote work arrangements when self-​isolation orders were mandated by government officials this year. Once again, team members were elated. Anecdotal evidence indicates that productivity has increased significantly. It may be too soon to tell if this productivity boost is just temporary. Could employees be working extra hard because they want to feel they are contributing in the best way possible during the crisis? They may believe that if they keep up the good work, they’ll be allowed to continue the remote work situation indefinitely.

Employers are feeling good about the change too. They have already made commitments about these remote-​work arrangements and expect to save money on office rent. Another factor that contributes to the optimism about working from remote locations is improved technology. In the past couple of years, employers have found better ways to keep their eye on what employees are doing during the day. To maintain customer service levels and improve interpersonal communications, other employers are mandating that team members must be available during specific work hours every day.

Burnout Upsets Work-​Life Balance

Despite the enthusiasm for the new remote-​work arrangements, managers need to pay attention. Have you asked your team members if they’re happy with their new work arrangements?  One firm’s research shows that “U.S. workers have been at their computers for an additional three hours per day,” since the COVID-​19 outbreak. Those extra hours, which add up to a 40% increase in time spent at work, may not yield the same rise in productivity. About 50% of remote-​work employees are reporting burnout. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that employees who spend more hours every day on work efforts are also more productive.

Some of your team members may be struggling to keep kids entertained while they are working. If your employees have this problem, you may want to grant them extra flexibility regarding when they work on a daily basis.

Touch base with your reps to find out exactly what they’re spending extra time on. You may find they’re working inefficiently. For example, maybe they’re researching prospects for hours, when in the past, they spent only half as much time. Chat with them about their research process. Are they using resources in the best way possible and organizing their findings in documents? Or are they returning to resources to double- and triple-​check facts in a scattered fashion. Your team members may feel a bit off-​center as they continue to work remotely, and they may need to set up new work patterns.

Maintaining great productivity is always the goal, but you don’t want team members to experience burnout at the same time. Even when employees embrace the remote-​work trend, managers must keep work-​life balance in mind and suggest ways to reduce stress.