Remote working: Are work-life boundaries getting blurred?

Is remote working always a benefit?

Research has shown that remote working can increase productivity levels, promote better health and wellbeing amongst employees and, in turn, increase retention levels. As well as this, research shows that 80% of remote workers have higher morale and lower stress levels.

These benefits can be due to employees having more time for themselves and a greater capacity to fulfil personal commitments, such as going to the gym.

Remote workers can make their day work for them. They know when and how they work best, so they can ensure they get the most from their time. For example, some people are much more productive in the evenings, while others prefer the early morning, as soon as they get up.

However, when the home can also be considered the office, at what point can an employee switch off from their work life and focus solely on their personal life?

When there are no specific boundaries to a remote employee’s working day, there can be an assumption that they must always be available. Without the clear boundaries of an office space, there must be clear guidelines in place to ensure workers are not expected to be on call 24 hours a day.

While there is the potential for remote working to blur work-life boundaries, there is no reason why employers cannot stop this from becoming a problem. After all, according to Time, Talent and Energy, “employee burnout is an organisational problem, not a personal one.”

How can remote working prevent burnout?

Employee burnout is an increasing epidemic, with 23% of employees feeling burnout frequently, and 44% feeling burnout sometimes.

Employees who work remotely have the ability to control their schedule. As such, “they see the world in terms of tasks, not hours.” When employees are more focused on individual tasks, rather than completing a set number of hours per day, they are more likely to “feel accomplished” than mentally exhausted. Having ultimate autonomy over their own work-life can make employees feel trusted and valued.

As well as this, remote workers can call it a day once they are finished. Workers in office spaces may be mentally done by 3:30 pm. However, when they are required to be physically present for longer than that, they are challenged to continue working past their breaking point. If workers are continually pushed past their capacity, they are at a high risk of burnout.

However, does remote working blur work-life balance?

In some cases, remote working can certainly make differentiating between work-time and personal-time more difficult. When employees have the freedom to work whenever and wherever, there can be less clarity on what constitutes “work,” and what constitutes “life.”

However, there are ways employers can support their remote workers to avoid their work hours slipping into their personal time.

Communication is the key

In an organisation with positive communication, employees should be able to be clear about when they can be contacted and expected to respond. For some employees, this will be in between the typical hours of 9-5. However, for others, these times may change.

For example, parents who work remotely may start slightly later, take an hour out to attend a doctor’s appointment, and then make up the time in the evening. If they are able to communicate their schedule clearly to supervisors, they are unlikely to feel the need to be available in their off-hours.

Good communication enforces healthy boundaries

Setting boundaries “does not mean having no expectations or accountability.” Instead, employers who communicate effectively with their staff about their limits can cultivate a respectful relationship in which workers have the freedom to do their best work.

Often, the blurring of boundaries can be a result of the expectation to be available and respond at all times. In a survey, “Americans admitted that they regularly check and respond to emails and feel required to do work while on vacation.” As well as this, “Americans have an average of 9 unused vacation days.”

So, how can employers ensure remote employees strike a positive work-life balance?

Employers can help by respecting employees’ boundaries and making it clear that workers are not expected to respond to all emails immediately. As a result, employers who clarify when an employee is expected to respond, and when they are not, will cultivate trusting relationships with their workforce.

The result of such clarity is ultimately good for everybody. Workers will have higher morale, more energy to give in their work hours, and productivity will increase. Ultimately, employees with the autonomy to choose the working hours that work for them will be more motivated and better equipped to bring the best of themselves in their work hours.

As Bill Gates said, as competition for talent increases in the years ahead, “companies that give extra flexibility to their employees will have the edge.”

So, there is no reason not to take advantage of the benefits of remote working, for your organisation and your employees. Communicate effectively to ensure that boundaries are put in place that help both you and your employees to understand when work ends, and life begins.