Poor Connections: Part Two – Is this remotely working?

This blog from our HWBI Ninja, Lou Harris, reflects on working remotely and the impact on your health and wellbeing.

When done right working remotely can improve employee productivity, creativity and moral according to  Abrams (Abrams, 2019).  Nuffield Health in their white paper have also found “overall remote working was found to be positive on wellbeing.  Where the negative effects were found, it was largely the result of individual traits or factors that can be addressed organisationally such as ensuring appropriate technology to enable access to work material” (Health, 2019)

For employees remote working  can mean greater flexibility, work life balance and save them time (daily commute) and money (travel and childcare costs).   

However, it can also mean social and professional isolation.  One study found for those who normally work remotely,  19% report loneliness (Buffer, 2019 ).  Research has shown loneliness can be “twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity (Holt-Lunstad, 2015).  There can also be a blurring of boundaries between work and life.   Professional obligations  can extend beyond the workday  and prevent people who work remotely truly disconnecting which can lead to burnout.  A survey in 2019 by Digital Ocean found 82% of remote tech workers in the US felt burnt out with 52% reporting that they work longer hours than those in the office and 40% feeling as though they need to contribute more than their in office colleagues (Swanner, 2019). 

Parry also reminds us that much of the evidence about remote working is based on studies of individuals who have chosen to work at home (Parry, 2020).  With coronavirus many people have been forced to work from home and the sudden removal of individuals from their work based social circles can have a negative impact on the welfare of some people.  Similarly, she also cites work life conflict can reduce work satisfaction particularly for those people trying to work at home with young children or caring responsibilities. More recently San Jose has reported on a new survey of US workers with 50% of respondents saying remote working has had a negative impact on their emotional of mental health (Jose, 2020). The figure was higher for parents with school age children.

So, with more of us working remotely how can we help prevent the negative aspects?

Organisations need to shift culture and norms to support the new arrangements such as re-evaluate policies around remote working and performance evaluation according to Shockley a Professor at University of Georgia.  Managers are no longer managing by presenteeism, busyness or working late but by results which requires a huge transition for some managers.  To alleviate feelings of isolation some companies are encouraging virtual coffee breaks during work hours or a “watercooler” channel to encourage break time chatter. Managers should  also foster social and professional interaction with their teams including daily check in’s and promoting access to support services. Jose (Jose, 2020)suggest that organisations should provide training to employees on how to work remotely, provide clear policies and expectations and provide the right tools such as ICT etc to help the remote work experience.

Employees also need to play their role too and cultivate effective routines, set boundaries with managers and colleagues and make an effort to stay socially and professionally engaged.  

For teams who can now work virtually across departments, industries and time zones communication and shared identity within a team can mediate the effects of physical separation according to Wilson (Wilson, 2014).  Other studies have found formalising virtual teams goals, roles and communication methods at the outset can improve effectiveness (Gibson, 2019). Hoch also found that how teams are led is also important with shared leadership rather than traditional hierarchical leadership associated with improved team performance (Hoch, 2014).  This is because it can be impossible for one person to direct an entire project as teams become more virtual, so leadership needs to be shifted to team members with specific expertise.  

Remote working is a management tool just like any other according to Gajendran “When done well remote working has the potential to improve performance, increase satisfaction and benefit a business. 

HWBInspiration co-founders, Su & Claire, are grateful to our Associate HWBI Ninjas for sharing their knowledge, skill and insights.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *