Due partly to employee demand and partly to technology advances, more workers can work away from a main office, whether through hot desking, working from home or visiting client sites. Software, apps and the cloud mean that we can often access our important programs and files from anywhere with an internet connection; however, does this culture of being ‘always-on’ benefit workers or is it actually increasing stress?
According to a survey by the CIPD and Halogen Software – the Employee Outlook survey – workers reported a mix of positives and negatives to remote working.
Over 50% praised remote working for providing flexibility in their work-life balance. 37% of the respondents felt more productive, while 31% felt empowered through remote working. 42% of the respondents felt that they managed their workload better when they could work remotely.
A greater demand for flexibility and a work-life balance has been evident in the last few years, especially driven by a call for greater equality. Many see remote working as a way for parents and carers to remain in their career whilst caring for their family, whether this is young children, people with a disability or elderly relatives; however, a high proportion of respondents also listed negative impacts of remote working.
Over 33% of the respondents complained that they could not switch off during their personal time. In the public sector, 65% of respondents felt that they could not always switch off, with this number falling to 53% of workers in the private sector.
Being able to access emails 24/7 also has its downsides. Checking emails at least five times a day outside normal working hours is something to which 32% of public sector and 23% of private sector employees admitted. Other negative reactions to remote working include a feeling of big-brother surveillance, an increase in anxiety, and an impact on the quality of their sleep.
What is causing this anxiety and stress brought on by remote working, when the aim of the work style is to reduce stress?
A lack of structure and clear messaging from employers has been an attributing factor. It is important for HR departments to put together a clear policy around remote working, including what is and is not expected of workers and perhaps including a cap on the number of hours that remote workers can access their emails or work programs. Results-based performance rather than a military-style clocking in and out approach to work is also important.
One of the largest factors in the success or failure of a remote working policy is trust. The employers must trust that their employees will carry out their duties whilst away from the supervision of an office; likewise, the employees must demonstrate that they can manage their workload and be disciplined to do the work at a time and place of their choosing.
When working within a clear remote working policy, employees are less likely to feel the negative effects listed in the survey and more likely to enjoy a happier work-life balance and relationship with their employer.
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