Supporting work-life balance in remote and hybrid working environments
More and more of our employees are choosing to work from home. Therefore the rise of hybrid or completely remote working environments has increased. This change has led companies to trial new ways of offering support to their team members. One of the most important things each employee needs is a healthy work-life balance. A business that enables and gives the employee the tools to achieve this is going to have very satisfied staff members.
So, what does work-life balance mean?
In its most simple form, work-life balance is the division of one's time and focus between work and family or leisure activities. A good work-life balance is when an individual feels as though they can manage the various aspects of their life both flexibly and in a positive way. It is important to realise this 'balance' differs from person to person. For one person it may be important for them to spend more time with their family. Whereas for another person, focussing on their career and spending more time working may be their priority. Remembering this fact is going to be important when supporting the individuals within your team.
Why is work-life balance important?
A successful balance among all the demands of one's life is an important factor in an individual's overall happiness. People are becoming more and more aware of the effects of work-life balance that it is now front of mine to our employees. Statistics show us that when looking for a job 72% of people consider work-life balance to be an important factor to consider. So if our staff are thinking this way, shouldn't we, as managers, be thinking the same?
Unfortunately, even though employees are striving for that optimum work-life balance, research is showing that 67% of individuals are struggling to balance their work and their personal life. This imbalance can be a stressor. This stress may have a negative impact on their work performance, personal life and their overall health and wellbeing as well. This feeling of imbalance may affect the individual in various ways such as;
Becoming easily distracted
General disinterest or dissatisfaction
Increased sick days
Therefore it is extremely important as a business to ensure there is a continued focus on supporting the work-life balance of all employees.
Remote Working - The good news
Interestingly, one of the biggest factors commonly reported to have a positive impact on enabling work-life balance is workplace flexibility. If your team is already working in a hybrid or remote environment, you have taken the first step! Research tells us that 32% of people say that the ability to have a flexible schedule is the biggest benefit of working remotely. Furthermore, when individuals started working remotely up to 67% of people then said their work-life balance improved!
Remote Working - The bad news
The flexibility to undertake one's work remotely, clearly has its upside. However there is another side to remote working, and we need to have an understanding of both sides. Since employees started to work remotely, 65% of them admit they are now working longer hours than they were previously. This may be due to the inability to switch off or completely step away from the 'home office', particularly when it may be simply your dining room table.
Either way, this is all good knowledge to have, as it helps to understand the challenges of our hybrid and remote working environments. However, there is more to the work-life balance equation than just flexible working environments.
Let's take a closer look at what individuals and employers can do to foster a positive work-life balance.
What employers can do
Set expectations. Be very clear on when employees need to be available and contactable. If you are giving employees the flexibility to choose their own hours, then there needs to be an agreeance on the time frames that employees are expected to respond to emails and return phone calls etc. There is a lot of trust involved in having employees work remotely. In order to do so successfully, the expectations need to be clear from the start so that employees can have the autonomy to work remotely. This way individuals can manage their time effectively and efficiently whilst still achieving the required targets.
Provide technical support. Working remotely in a hybrid environment generally results in an added reliance on the use of technology. Of course, this opens up a world of opportunities to stay connected, but with that can arise challenges. Not all staff members will be tech-savvy, so ensure you have additional support on hand to upskill staff on new programs or to provide trouble-shooting or tech advice as required.
Focus on productivity not hours. We shouldn't be fixated on hours worked, but rather on the tasks being completed. If we are focusing on the productivity of our staff, rather than the hours worked we are looking at something that directly measures success. This enables added flexibility for the individual too, knowing that if they get through the required tasks in a day they have met their agreed expectations. Some days this may mean a shorter working day, others slightly longer, however it all averages out in the end.
Encourage employees to use their leave. This is fairly straightforward, encouraging time away from the office to spend time doing other things is extremely important!
Set boundaries. This is around the ability to be contactable. Whilst we may be working at home and have access to our work phones and emails at all times doesn't mean we should be contactable 24/7. In fact, if expectations were set up as we discussed earlier you shouldn't have to be. Set boundaries for employees, and ensure that they take time out to switch off, figuratively and literally. This is particularly important when a staff member is on leave.
Provide reasonable workloads. Ensure you aren't overloading your staff and that the outcomes you have set are achievable. This is something that needs to be continually reviewed and should be an open discussion that can occur at any time should the employee feel as though they need additional support to cover their delegated tasks.
Lead by example. If you are seen to be looking after your own work-life balance by implementing these things yourself, others are more likely to follow. Be vocal about the strategies that you are using and encourage others to do so by making changes themselves.
Ensure you have regular check-ins both as a whole team and each team member individually. This will enable you to stay in touch with how your team is coping in a hybrid or remote working environment. We spoke about finding the right balance to be quite an individualised concept, so this is your chance to find out if your strategies really are working for each of your team members. Promoting open discussions and encouraging feedback also allows staff to bring new ideas to the table that may be beneficial for other members of the team as well.
What employees can do
Get ready for work as you usually would. Adhering to your usual routine can be a great way to ensure you are mentally prepared for the day ahead. You'll be in the right mindset to be productive and be ready to accomplish the tasks set out for the day.
Stick to a schedule. This doesn't mean that you aren't allowed to have flexibility. This means that if you intended to shut the computer down at 5 pm today or once you finished off the things on your to-do list, stick to it! Just because you're at home doesn't mean that you need to put in undue overtime. We saw the stat before and it is an easy trap to fall into, but in the long run, all those hours add up and it eats into your time to enjoy other areas of your life.
Work in a separate space. Creating a designated area within your house, allows you to separate work from home a lot easier. Try setting up a workspace that is in a separate room so at the end of your working day you can leave your laptop, phone and whatever else in there and close the door. If this is not possible be diligent in packing away your work items from your living space so you aren't tempted 'after hours' to quickly check your emails, or respond to that one message. Keeping things purposefully separate enables you to switch off and focus on other areas of your life.
Use the tech to your advantage. Ensure you utilise the technology you are provided with to its fullest capacity. This could include scheduling in your designated breaks into your outlook calendar, using the chat software programs to stay easily connected to your colleagues during the day, and maybe you even utilise your communication tools to show when you are online/offline.
Take regular breaks. If you need to schedule these in throughout the day do it! Don't just eat lunch by your computer, stand up, move your body and even do get some fresh air. If you want to be productive even on your breaks, utilise that time away from your computer to complete personal errands or tasks. This will free up your free time because the dishwasher is already unpacked or the washing is already away!
Make plans for after-hours. At times having after-hours plans can seem like the last thing you want to do after a long day at work. However, trust us, this time out of the house and thinking about things other than work may be just what you needed after a long day! This is all about finding that balance after all!
We know that employees are very aware of wanting a good work-life balance, but what really are the benefits that can be gained from a business having a strong focus?
The benefits can affect the individual directly as well as the organisation as a whole, so let's have a look at what some of these can be.
Increased job satisfaction
An overall increase in performance
Increased staff retention
Improved workplace culture
Desirable to new hires
Attaining a work-life balance for yourself and your staff is a team effort. It is imperative that businesses have the concept at the forefront of their minds, and individuals are given the tools to be able to achieve their idea of balance. Open up the discussion with your team members about what work-life balance means to them and see what strategies you're able to incorporate to enable them to achieve this for themselves.