Remote work and workplace boundaries
By: Dr. Helen Ofosu
Remote work and workplace boundaries
In 2019, less than 10 percent of Canada’s workforce had the option to work a day or two per week from home. By March 2020, as pandemic restrictions were put in place, over 40 percent of Canada’s workers were suddenly working from home full time. Employers who were once reluctant to allow their employees to work from home suddenly had no choice but to lock their workplaces and embrace remote working.
When you think about it, it is truly remarkable how quickly, easily, and efficiently this transformation took place. Without warning, many were forced to turn their personal and professional lives upside down so they could continue doing their jobs and help keep their organizations going.
It has been theorized that the pandemic is hastening what’s being called a “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” The nature of work is rapidly changing due to automation freeing people to do other things, and the growing networks of internet-connected people, devices, and cloud-based applications.
A recent global survey has found that most workers never want to go back to the old way of working, with only 12 percent wanting to return to full-time, on-site office work. A large majority of 72 percent favour a hybrid model of work once restrictions are lifted; a return to the office but with the option of working from home on some days.
While most employers’ initial reluctance to remote-work is largely based on fears of decreased productivity and an inability to effectively monitor employee performance, studies have shown that most employees have been able to maintain or even increase their pre-Covid productivity levels. For individual tasks such as writing, analyzing data, and other administrative duties, over 75 percent of respondents reported little change or even an increase in productivity.
However, on collaborative tasks, the percentage was considerably lower.
In addition, remote work has proven to be a great way to block out workplace distractions and interruptions, avoid toxic coworkers, and a reduction in bullying and harassment that occurs in far too many organizations. However, while some issues concerning workplace boundaries lend themselves to more favourable outcomes when working remotely, other workplace boundaries have become more blurred.
Many of today’s home-bound workers find themselves compelled to be on the clock far more than before. They feel obliged to think about work, check their email, and scan their phones for messages and updates well outside traditional business hours. Many feel compelled to be at their keyboards at all hours of the day and night, with no clear boundaries.
If a superior sends a late-night email, is an employee obliged to respond right away? And if not, what is an acceptable response time?
Without clear direction, companies are tacitly encouraging an unhealthy all-day/all-night working obsession. While some may hold up this obsession as having a passion and commitment to work and the organization, it simply isn’t sustainable. Sooner or later, it will affect their employees’ physical and mental health, leading to burnout, not to mention the effects on employee relationships and families.
Having an unhealthy, sleep-deprived, burnt-out workforce going through relationship, marriage and family troubles certainly can’t be good for a team’s morale and productivity, or the prospects for that company’s future success.
I’ve written extensively on workplace boundary issues in the past, and I think the following three blog posts are particularly relevant if you’re primarily working remotely, from home, and looking to maintain the boundaries and balance between home and work:
Working from home … alone – Even before the pandemic accelerated the acceptance of remote work, employers were starting to come around to the idea of their employees working remotely from their homes. At least some of the time! There are many advantages to working from home, for both employees and the companies they work for.
Working from home – five ways it may work against you – Then again, working from home isn’t for everyone. For some people, the distractions at home can be greater than the ones in the traditional workplace, and productivity can suffer. But even if you enjoy working from home and you remain as productive as ever, the mere fact that you’re a remote worker can negatively impact your career, as you are at an increased risk of being passed over for promotions and other work-related opportunities (particularly if you’re less visible than your peers).
The Realities of Modern Work – Blurred Lines and Workplace Boundaries – As I mentioned above, with the dramatic increase in the home-based workforce, people are giving new consideration to workplace boundaries now that their homes and workspaces are one and the same. Workplace boundaries were already challenging for many, but now the new dynamic has blurred the lines even more.
If you’re contemplating any work-related changes or improvements, I invite you to reach out today for a free and confidential initial phone consultation by phone, email, or via direct message on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.
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