NEWS & RESOURCES

Helping remote workers avoid isolation and burnout

Academics at Oxford University have been urged not to send emails outside working hours to avoid colleagues, especially remote workers, from feeling harassed. Administrators have asked the university’s academics to keep all online communications to normal working hours as part of a new email protocol.

For much of today’s workforce, sending and receiving emails outside the usual office hours has become the norm, but this permanently ‘switched on’ approach to work is causing employees to feel stressed and under pressure. For instance, many workers admit to working at least 10 hours a week overtime.

While a growing number of people look to home working as the solution, without adequate support, remote workers can find themselves feeling under even more pressure. HR departments must pay close attention to remote workers and organise regular catch-ups and ask probing questions about how the employees are getting on and managing their workload.

Supporting remote workers

Remote working in the last decade has soared in the UK, according to the Trades Union Congress (TUC). It is estimated that around 1.6 million people now work from home. Meanwhile, about 53% of employees globally already work remotely for at least half of the week. Remote working offers a whole host of benefits for both employee and employer but without careful managing, remote working can lead employees to feel isolated, stressed and permanently ‘switched on’.

HR staff and employers must focus on supporting remote workers, especially as it is much harder to monitor their well-being and spot signs of stress and burnout. The World Health Organization has now recognised burn-out as chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been successfully managed. This level of stress can lead to absenteeism or excessive presenteeism, a decline in productivity and an increase in ‘mental distance’ from the job.

Create a positive attitude towards home working

Some employees can feel aggrieved that a colleague has the opportunity to work from home. Workers can often feel that they are doing the lion’s share of the work because they are office-based. However, negativity in the workplace can have a huge impact on the entire team and undermine morale and teamwork.

Managers need to focus on ensuring their team still feels like a team, even when some of its members are working elsewhere. Regular team calls are therefore important and help to encourage people to still feel connected. Scheduling office-meetings will also help everyone to stay up-to-date with each other’s work. Above all, these calls and face-to-face meetings should be used to ensure remote workers are given clear direction and kept up-to-date with the organisation’s strategic goals.

Ensuring employees work normal office hours

One of the key benefits of working at home is undoubtedly avoiding the daily commute. However, this can often see remote workers start work almost as soon as they get up. In addition, they are more likely to work late into the evening. When this is combined with emails and other online office tools, it can quickly become a very unhealthy situation.

Many homeworkers are working 50-60 hours each week, and often don’t leave the house or take breaks during the day. Continually working may seem very productive but it can often be at the expense of an employee’s mental and physical well-being and impact on the quality of their work. Employees must be given appropriate time to work on a project, so they don’t feel obliged to work excessive hours.

Introduce effective collaboration tools

The recent email protocol introduced by Oxford University highlights the importance of responsible communications. When they receive messages early in the morning, late at night or even at the weekend, it’s common for homeworkers to feel pressured to respond. It can also create a paranoid ‘them and us’ culture where homeworkers start to read between the lines of messages they receive, or when their messages aren’t responded to. This is therefore why catch-up calls and office-based meetings are so important.

There should also be a team-wide policy that covers the hours when communication tools should and shouldn’t be used and for what purposes. This policy should also include guidelines as to how people should be contacted in an emergency. Above all, any home working policy should recommend remote workers set notification settings to ‘do not disturb’ outside working hours.

Stay focused on the future

Just as the way we work has changed dramatically in recent years, it will continue to evolve in the years to come. It’s important that employers and HR staff regularly review working arrangements to ensure they are providing the best possible support for home workers. This should include reviews of the technology and equipment they have access to so that they can take advantage of the very latest innovations. Employees’ personal circumstances are also likely to change too, so it is crucial that communication plays a key role on both sides.

Further HR Guidance

Watch our recent webinar recording ‘Flexible Working – Understanding Your Employer Obligations’.  You can watch this on demand and at your convenience.

Get support, or further information, in relation to any HR related matter by contacting HR Solutions on telephone number 0844 324 5840 or visiting www.hrsolutions-uk.com/hr-services.

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