‘Flexibility’ in Hours Without Strong Remote Culture Creates Undue Stress for Workers

One of the greatest benefits of most remote work setups is flexibility. When your job isn’t tied to the clock and you work from home, you can work the hours that are right for you. Parents of young children, for example, might work on tasks that require high focus when their kids are sleeping. Late-night types might prefer to bang out a few emails at 11 p.m. rather than during the day. Remote work allows people to get their jobs done when it’s most appropriate and convenient, rather than when the clock dictates.

According to a report from Pew Research, 49 percent of people who are new to remote work due to the Covid-19 pandemic say they have more flexibility in choosing their work hours. Among this same set of new remote workers, 38 percent said working remotely has made it easier to balance work with family responsibilities. 

Among all remote workers surveyed, however, not just those who are new to it, 26 percent said it’s harder to balance work and personal life but a mere 13 percent said it’s easier. Sixty percent said it’s about the same as before. In other words, the majority of people say working from home has not improved their work-life balance.

Why would that be?

Think back to what work-life balance was before the pandemic for people who had a job that could potentially be done remotely. The boundaries between personal and work life were already blurred. Very few people were free and clear of having to sometimes check email or messages about work after hours. If you can get work messages on your phone, the thinking goes, maybe you should. Perhaps it will allow you to catch a potential problem quickly and prevent it from causing you more work.

The reality is that after-hours messages aren’t always urgent, not before the pandemic and not during it. If your boss emails you at 8 p.m. on a Friday, however, it might seem urgent. Why else would they send you this message now? Of course, the reason might be because your boss is trying to work flexibly.

Depending on the culture of your team, it might have been better for the boss to “schedule send” the message for Monday morning. Another way to have prevented confusion would have been to have a strong remote work culture in place that acknowledges asynchronous work. In that type of culture, all employees would know that flexibility means people work the hours they choose (or in different time zones), and that’s just part of how the organization operates. Then there’s an understanding that it’s totally normal to receive a message at a time when you’re not working. That doesn’t mean it’s urgent.

If your organization or team doesn’t have a remote work culture in place, there’s a strong chance people struggle with this perceived yet false sense of urgency that may come up while other people on the team are trying to achieve better work-personal life balance by getting work done when it suits them.

If we’re going to promote remote work, we have to also promote remote work culture. Part of a positive remote work culture includes: 

  • talking openly about what flexibility in hours means
  • acknowledging that many people will be working asynchronously
  • coming up with ways to alert their colleagues to true after-hours urgency, if and when it’s occurs.

These are just some of the things we need to create a remote work culture that actually allows for true flexibility and better work-personal life balance.

Image by Hannah Wei on Unsplash.

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