It may have been a saving grace in the face of a pandemic, but there are problems with remote work.
Now that employees continue to work from home for more than a year, researchers and workplace experts say there are issues.
And it hasn’t likely gone unnoticed by HR pros like you.
“The landscape of remote work has permanently changed as a result of COVID-19,” says Sara Sutton, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, “and its impact will be felt in the job market and the workplace well into the foreseeable future.”
Of course, the rise in remote work created a myriad of positives. Many people love the personal time gained, flexibility and autonomy.
But problems exist equally. HR pros want to monitor the rising issues and step in to help employees and your company navigate them.
Here are six remote work problems – and tips to overcome them.
Employees can’t disconnect
More than a third of remote employees say they still struggle to unplug from work, a FlexJobs Survey found. They think or worry about work after hours. Or, worse, they work after hours instead of disconnecting and relaxing.
Overwork increases stress levels, interferes with their ability to focus and negatively affects overall wellbeing. It’s lead to increased burnout rates and requests for mental health benefits.
“Burnout is real. With a work from home setup, it’s easy to work longer,” says Catherine Quiambao, Head of Marketing at Eaton Square and co-host of the No Hacks Marketing podcast.
Tip to share: Quiambao has a great suggestion to pass along to remote employees. “What works for me is setting an alarm at 5 p.m. which means I really have to wrap up then. I make it a habit to workout in the next half an hour or so.”
Employees succumb to pressure
Call it peer pressure. Call it self-imposed pressure. Or call it real pressure. But many remote employees act dangerously different because they’re afraid of failure.
More than half of remote employees worry their manager has doubts about their productivity, according to the Achievers Workforce Institute’s 2021 Engagement and Retention Report. Half of these anxiety-ridden employees responded by starting work earlier or ending later. A third skip lunch to prove their working point.
Tip to share: Encourage employees and front-line managers to focus more on output, less on input. Productivity rises and falls based on many factors – including interest, personal motivation, distractions and experience. Managers and employees will want to set specific goals and deadlines, check in regularly and chart progress, which matters more than specific hours. Bottom line: Measuring productivity is more important than monitoring it.
Employees lost happiness
Since the start of the pandemic, 42% of employees are less satisfied with their lives, according to research from Joblist. One of the problems with remote work is it changed personal lives. Specifically, employees said working from home leaves them:
- spending extra time preparing for work
- feeling alone at work
- suffering more mental health issues, and
- spending less time with family and friends.
Tip to share: To help employees regain happiness in life, find out what makes them unhappy at work. Encourage front-line managers to 1) check in with direct reports who work remote at least once a week, 2) ask what is their biggest work challenge, and 3) do something to curb or alleviate it.
People engage less
Despite the new normalcy of remote work, employees feel disconnected from their companies and colleagues.
More than 45% of employees in the Acheivers study said they feel less connected than before the pandemic. What’s worse, a quarter of employees feel the company hasn’t done enough to keep employees connected.
Yep, employees still look to leadership – at least to some degree – to get them engaged in their work and connected with their colleagues.
Tip to share: We’ll never get back to business as usual. Many employees won’t interact like they used to. You’ll want to continue to facilitate virtual team building, socially distanced social events and on-site training that engages and connects employees. You can find lots more tips on those ideas here, here and here.
Employees struggle to communicate
Most people don’t “pop their heads in” colleagues’ workspaces to go over something. Teams scarcely meet beyond a Zoom call nowadays. And few people catch up in the hallway or break room.
Those organic conversations often lead to great ideas and breakthrough solutions. That’s why about 20% of employees in the FlexJobs survey say communication, collaboration and meaningful interaction is a problem with remote work.
Tip to share: Limit asynchronous communication – email, text and any other kind of communication that doesn’t happen in real time – to information sharing and approvals. Encourage calls, Zoom and outdoor meetings for more effective communication, collaboration and collegiality.
Managers affected most
Managers feel the pandemic burden more than employees. Leading people in a remote setting took a toll on them. Now that many leaders split time, energy and resources managing a hybrid team, it’s more difficult.
A meQuilibrium study found during the pandemic front-line managers:
- took on about twice the amount as non-managers
- were twice as stressed than non-managers, and
- were three times less motivated than their employees.
“Managers are stressed, under-resourced, and calling for help,” says Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder, meQuilibrium. “Their priority is taking care of their direct reports, but no one is taking care of them.”
This is important for HR to address. Yes, we know you’re managers, too. So extra attention to management wellbeing will be critical going forward.
Tip to share: HR leaders will want to double down on the wellness benefits you already offer employees. Send a regular cadence of email, post on internal apps and send texts or automated calls with reminders on how to access your wellness benefits. Some things you might include:
- links to virtual mental health counseling
- tips for mediation practices
- reminders on availability and signups for yoga
- nutrition tips
- information on virtual wellness classes, and
- details on where to turn for additional help.