One of the benefits associated with remote work is the much-trumpeted productivity boost. Along with improved focus, fewer distractions, better worker engagement, and no commute, a greater number of work hours is one of the key contributors to this increase in productivity. However, as COVID-19 drags on and many people continue to work from home, a growing number are feeling the stress of working extra hours week after week. Ironically, if allowed to continue, the extra work hours erase the productivity gains through reduced focus and engagement. More importantly, this is a detriment to the wellness of your people.
Productivity is not the only casualty of a sustained increase in work hours – other remote work benefits also suffer. Even though your company may not actively endorse the practice, workers may in fact feel like work / life balance has declined and consider moving to another company. Morale may take a nosedive, and the comradery that often accompanies a collective response to a crisis will give way to the collaboration challenges so frequently reported by remote workers.
The good news is that there are things you can do to minimize this problem. Here are a few:
Examine your leadership culture – ensure that your leaders are putting the health and wellness of your employees above the short-term productivity increase attributed to working longer hours.
Set clear expectations – make it clear to both remote workers and place-based workers that while you do expect them to complete assigned work, you do NOT expect them to work excessive overtime in order to do so. Also ensure team leaders and members clearly understand expected communication channels and times, and that these expectations do not include “be available on your phone’s messaging app day or night”.
Review performance management measures and practices – be careful that you reward the desired behaviour, which should be outcome-based rather than hours worked. You may even explore ways to encourage increased output WITHOUT increased hours worked.
Align your policies – revise your policies and procedures to reflect the differences inherent in remote work – but take caution to maintain fairness and equity between remote and place-based workers.
Communicate with your people – let them know that their well-being is your top priority. Keep them updated on the company’s plans and performance. Where you are unable to accommodate a worker’s first choice for either remote or place-based work, explain the reasons clearly.
Remote work, done well, can have many benefits for both your company and your people. Plan and execute carefully though to avoid losing the benefits in the many pitfalls that lurk.