If someone had asked you five years ago where you’d be today, odds are you wouldn’t have said in the midst of a global pandemic. Our collective reality is characterized by the abundant changes in every aspect of our lives. And with these societal changes and workplace shifts come major considerations regarding when, why and how much we work.
Remote work has permeated our society faster than anyone could have predicted. Many organizations that never thought remote work would replace the traditional office have quickly learned that workers can be productive and stay connected virtually. How it’s carried out may look different, but work is still getting done and, in some cases, more efficiently than before.
With the rise of remote and hybrid work popularity comes the inevitable scrutiny of the practice. Many labels have been placed on remote work — some positive, some negative. Individual views vary and are likely subjective, based on one’s specific circumstances and employee experience.
One thing remote work has been blamed for is a rise in employee burnout.
Creating a Culture of Self-Care
Is remote work really the main catalyst for workplace burnout? What about the other negative labels placed on remote work?
It is easy to blame remote and hybrid work alone as catalysts to the burnout that so many employees are feeling. Let’s face it: we all deal with stress in our lives, and that stress has been even more pronounced during the pandemic. Despite this, companies have ways to combat and overcome this sentiment — and it has much to do with establishing a healthy culture and using workplace technology to drive productivity.
HR and other workplace technologies play a vital role in helping overcome perceived challenges of working remotely. The investments businesses have made in technology that enabled a flexible workplace are paying off exponentially now.
A workplace culture that encourages self-care will not only improve overall mental and physical wellbeing, it will also allow people to flourish in their roles. Neglecting self-care is one of the leading causes of burnout. One important way to help alleviate this concern is by enabling and rewarding employees for demonstrating self-care. Much of this starts with something not always considered when thinking of this topic: workforce management.
Workforce Management: An Antidote to Burnout?
Instead of using time tools to track employees and productivity levels, organizations can truly make a different in their employee experience by focusing these tools on enhancing employee wellbeing. The right tech solutions make it possible to do things like prompt your people to take a break or go for a walk if they’ve been focusing on one task too long. Workforce activity data captured in timekeeping technology can also be a key indicator of employee fatigue, and whether or not particular employees might become a flight risk. Through the use of technology, the door opens for HR and people managers to support people in the ways they need instead of just noting things like who may be late or absent from work, or whose productivity might be lacking.
Other innovations like dynamic self-service scheduling tools can help increase the flexibility employees have, while mobile and remote options for clocking in and out of work accurately, health screening tools, and virtual shift swapping can increase workers’ sense of psychological safety and control over how their lives and their work connect. All of these tools can help to overcome the stigma that remote work is a main cause for burnout.
Related Article: The Cure for Burnout Is Not Self-Care
Is the Technology You Provide Adding to Stress?
SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management) released research that revealed negative perceptions of remote work, with supervisors expressing a preference for onsite staffing and remote workers expressing reservations about losing opportunities for networking and logging more hours.
In looking at the outcome of the research, while most employees agree remote work is beneficial and increases performance, more than half said working remotely on a permanent basis would diminish networking opportunities (59%), cause work relationships to suffer (55%) and require them to work more hours (54%).
Consider the collaboration software your company is using. Does the technology ensure that collaboration can easily occur among different teams? Can employees send and receive messages quickly, and clearly? Does the software have mobile capability, so it can be accessed from anywhere? Will information be sent and stored over secure channels? You should be asking all of these questions. Moving forward companies should work to ensure that their collaboration software suits the needs of the business and workers, wherever they are performing their jobs. Ease of access for employees working remotely is vital to alleviate stressful situations that can lead to a poor employee experience, which can ultimately add to burnout.
An Opportunity to Maintain the Work-Life Balance
Maintaining work-life balance has always been a consideration in the modern world of work, and remote work hasn’t changed the conversation — it has only shifted and expanded it. Remote work provides novel opportunities to mitigate the work-life balance problem. The key is for companies to recognize opportunities to leverage the flexibility that remote work provides, and ultimately take action through extensive communication with employees.
Remote workers don’t often have a clear-cut boundary between their work life and personal life. Achieving work-life-balance doesn’t mean breaking down all of the barriers between work and life, some of those are there for a reason. It does however mean opening up new possibilities by thinking about the separation in a new way. That way is unique to individuals and organizations alike and creates an opportunity for companies to stand out as differentiators when it comes to providing a good employee experience.
For many remote workers, it’s the lack of clearly defined boundaries that causes a blurred divide between work and life. A commute is often the barrier that separates work and home life, and remote workers may feel like they are losing that divide. Companies that focus on culture, communication and well-being can mitigate remote employee burnout before it happens.
Technological innovations such as artificial intelligence, survey tools, and sentiment analysis go a long way in preventing remote work burnout problems before they start. The key is to take action and focus on a process of continuous improvement for the remote employee experience.
Julie is a Sr. Partner, HCM Advisory for UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group), and an adjunct professor and co-coordinator of the HRM graduate program at McDaniel College, a school from which she also holds a master’s degree in HRD.