Striking a work/life balance at a time when work has encroached on (and in) our homes

By now, the majority of us are well and truly accustomed to working from home. But almost a year on many of us are still not striking the right work/life balance, with almost two thirds (65%) of working from home Brits admitting that they are working longer hours [1].

Another study commissioned by LinkedIn, in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation [2], found that remote working is leading to a culture of ‘E-Presenteeism’, where employees feel there is an expectation for them to be online and available as much as possible.

The study showed that four in five HR managers think working from home has encouraged E-Presenteeism, with three quarters feeling it has the potential to make employees feel overworked and overwhelmed – leading to burnout and anxiety that negatively impacts mental health.

Office workers were surveyed as part of the study. It found that on average, those working from home admitted to racking up an extra 28 hours of monthly overtime since lockdown began to prove that they are working hard from home – the equivalent of four extra days’ work.

Making virtual communication less ‘transactional’

Effective communication is key to ensuring that employees know they are valued and do not need to prove themselves by putting in the extra hours because they may feel guilty that they are working from home. Most businesses have prepared for remote working, but must be wary not to slip into the habit of setting up internal remote meetings that are rigid and become more transactional than conversational.

This can have a really negative impact on the social aspect of work, as the precedent is then set that the only time to talk to colleagues is to solve a problem. The pool table in the Tempcover office was a fantastic way for staff to have informal conversations.

Although we all miss that aspect of the office environment, it’s still important that those types of conversations take place naturally, as it maintains social bonds that foster a healthy and effective work relationship (and its good for mental health).

To be clear, that’s not just hosting yet another quiz (fun as they are), but to proactively push the idea that staff should chat to others for no specific reason, as it is beneficial to staff wellbeing and it builds and maintains positive relationships.

One way we are looking to recreate these moments is through company-wide virtual tea breaks a few times a week. This encourages staff to talk and interact socially, rather than just when they need to gain information or solve a specific problem.

Establishing boundaries, and sticking to them

There is without doubt a need for boundaries between work and personal life, which is quite challenging when working from home. Many companies are trialling different initiatives aiming to establish the boundaries that are currently missing from remote working.

One way of preventing staff spending too much time working in the home office is to encourage ‘virtual commutes’ that allow workers to transition into and out of work mode. Another is the concept of a ‘meeting-free’ window, where meetings are banned from between 1pm and 2pm for example, so that staff can enjoy their lunch break without worrying about work.

The power of networking

From a leadership perspective, it’s essential to network with other leaders to not only learn which initiatives are succeeding and which aren’t, but also delving deeper into the context of why. What works for one company or even department, may not necessarily work for another.

Although it is now more commonplace, working from home is still a new and constantly evolving field and businesses must make every effort to evolve with constant changes in order to ensure that they strike the right balance that will make staff happier and more productive in their remote working.

When lockdown eventually does come to an end, businesses will have to create a model that strikes the right balance between remote working and office based working. Preparation should already be underway to ensure that employees are not all simply rushed back into the office simultaneously, and that remote working remains a viable option for those that benefit most from it.

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