As companies struggle to retain millennials and create more productive teams, the draw of a remote workforce is alluring. Not only does it decrease brick and mortar costs, but the theory is also that remote employees enjoy better work-life balance, less stress, and are likely to stay with the company. But is this true?
Is work-life balance better for a remote workforce?
While work-life balance issues aren’t the top stressor for any of the employee groups in my job stress study (remote, traditional, men, women, parents, etc.), more remote employees reported issues with work-life balance issues than those who work in conventional offices with the same company. Even more worrying, the remote employees reported higher overall stress levels as well.
Why are remote employees more stressed?
Three issues appeared over and over in the comments on my research survey:
- Remote employees feel disconnected from their peers and the mission of the organization.
Even the name “remote employee” suggests a distance between the employee and the rest of the organization. Missing out on day-to-day conversations and in-person meetings can result in a remote employee being steps behind in a fast moving project. Other comments suggest that being isolated from the camaraderie built by working in the same physical space makes remote employees feeling like the outsider who can never fully join the team. Finally, remote employees often aren’t aware of how their contributions are connected to the overall success or mission of the organization. Employees need to feel valued, and in an isolated role, that is hard to achieve for those who are physically disconnected. Remote employees are more likely to look for other work.
- There is no line between work and home when your office is there.
Working from home or the local coffee shop may sound great, but the reality is that for everyone — in a traditional office or working remotely — work and life happen simultaneously. Going to the office does provide some natural division of what is “work” time and what isn’t. Without that division, it can be hard to block out the call of personal issues to get work done, and work time really never ends.
- Schedule demands can be challenging for remote employees.
One of the more common comments from remote employees in my research is the challenge of working in different time zones. Other people said that they wished they could work on their own schedule rather than having to log-in during traditional work hours.
So, is working remotely always more stressful?
One of the companies I worked with, Titus Talent Strategies, has a 100% remote workforce. In preparation for their annual meeting, their employees used my anonymous job stress testing instrument to diagnose what was causing stress in their organization. Notably, none of their employees reported issues with work-life balance.
What is Titus Talent Strategies doing right?
- It starts with language. One of the first things CEO Jonathan Reynolds share with me was that Titus Talent is a MOBILE workforce not a remote workforce. His understanding of making employees feel valued goes well beyond semantics, however.
- Team and organizational communication is a top priority, and they continually articulate and support their shared mission. Titus Talent has a set of what they call lived values that govern how they work together and with clients.
- Employees are empowered to work according to their own rhythms. For example, night owls aren’t forced to be productive in the morning. Titus Talent measures success based on work product rather than hours logged.
During my program at the annual meeting, I had the pleasure of leading a discussion about the culture of the organization. Many expressed the feeling of being a part of a physical team despite working in different parts of the company. It was clear they all felt the benefit of working for a company that is genuinely invested in employees as individuals.
Yes, done right, a non-traditional workforce can be great for employees and for the organization.
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