The Dark Side of Remote Work
For a long time, many organizations across nearly all industries weren’t backing the “work from home” horse. But now, over a year since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, many companies have changed their tune! As we entered 2021 with the news that the COVID vaccine will continue to be rolled out globally and cities beginning to reopen, many are still wondering what’s next? The future is still hazy, but flexible, remote work is still a necessary part of any evolving company.
Remote work has a multitude of benefits – ranging from reduced emissions from significantly lowering commutes and travel, to the increase of disabled workers being given more opportunities across the workforce – it’s a major evolution to business. For all the good of remote work, I wanted to share some pitfalls many have experienced or may come to experience when inadequately prepared for this long-term solution.
Clock in, clock out?
For argument’s sake, let’s say you work a typical 40-hour workweek with 8-hour days. Back at the office, it was more manageable to track and create boundaries because you were in the door by 9 and out by 5, just like Dolly Parton ordered. Now that you’re at home, it can be easy to take advantage of the flexibility.
For one thing, you may begin to sign on or sign off earlier and earlier since you can work from the couch or bed. You also probably catch yourself responding to more emails throughout your off-time, because everything is at arm’s reach. This is a major factor in employee burnout.
A flexible schedule while working from home can be amazing as you can accommodate a longer lunch to help your family or start earlier in the day so that you can end earlier and hit the grocery store before peak hours. The downside is that this flexibility makes it harder for everyone to separate work and play. It’s vital that you give yourself a clean break at the beginning and end of the day and respect the work vs personal hours.
The hybrid remote model is another concept that has been gaining traction as COVID protocols transitioned. Between schools and offices, people all over the world are splitting time between remote days and in-office days. This can be a fantastic middle ground! Allowing people that miss the office to come in on certain days and allowing people who want to stay remote to limit their time on-site.
However, the most often overlooked part of this equation is ironically the employee. If your teammates and colleagues are getting their jobs done and remaining part of the team, it can be counterproductive to force those remote employees into the office. Take the time to listen to what your team is saying and try out different models of hybrid work. This can be a moving target when you first head back into the office, so don’t be quick to eliminate one option before another if your team is still at its best.
A big factor for many who are working from home is the uncontrollable element of client work. As an agency, you may be working with clients in different time zones, and so the bulk of your work might start and end much earlier or much later than the others in your time zone. Clients also have their own work to get done, so they might be the prime example of reaching burnout as they are on the clock into the late evening or night and expect you to be responsive in your off-hours.
The solutions here are equally hazy, but the most important role you must take is being a boundary-setter. If you know they like to respond late in the day, figure out if you can flex your time to be more available in the evenings rather than first thing in the morning. Alternatively, let them know at the start of your projects that your personal time is sacred and there are some or all days when you cannot give up your off time to be available at all hours. This is a delicate balance but it’s important to hold the line. If you begin to respond late at night or every weekend, that will become their expectation of you!
Working remotely gives people workday flexibility we haven’t seen in a long time. But there is one clear differentiator when you’re at home that wasn’t quite at the forefront of your mind in the office – boundaries. Whether your hours shift a bit throughout the week, or you become a master at shutting off your work laptop and email at the end of the day, you need to be consistent in your boundaries. This decreases burnout and confusion, and reminds everyone you are still around and reliable, but not at the cost of your own downtime.