The problem of work-life balance in remote working

By Ashni Walia and Priya Chetty on January 16, 2021

Remote working can be defined as “employees working in a physically separate location from their managers” (Johnson, 2001). Information technology such as laptops, handheld computers and smartphones allow employees to work away from the premises of the employer. The remote workers can typically be based at home, occasional work from home, or be it mobile and connected from anywhere except the office. With the significant development in information and technology, remote working has increased dramatically in recent years.

Remote working tends to offer many advantages for both employers and employees as well. Since it helps in a significant reduction in the cost of accommodation and travelling, allowing flexible work timings and also helps in improving work efficiency (Hanson, 2020). Furthermore, the integration of work and home has become increasingly compelling and pressurizing for employees as well as for the organization. The demands of work and family are generally mutually incompatible and integration both these aspects can be difficult. This lack of work-life balance can undermine managers and employees’ performance. In this case, remote working is seen as the major attraction that will let to achieve a better blend between work and family life (IOSH, 2014).

Work-life balance is a challenge in remote working

It has been found that remote workers often work for longer hours and struggle even more to take time for personal life. Employees find it difficult to disengage from work and thus end up working for longer hours than they would have worked while they were in a traditional setting (Mauer, 2020). Another factor that works against work-life balance under remote working is that although the communication is frequently greater that does not mean that communication is effective. Moreover, the lack of visibility also affects their work-life balance since in remote working employees feel the greater need to prove themselves by putting longer hours in work.

Developing trust is a challenge due to a lack of in-person interaction

One of the characteristic features of remote working is that the primary mode of communication for employees is either through e-mails, conference calls, text or messages. This majorly contributes to workplace isolation and makes it difficult for employees to develop trust and personal relationships. The major backdrop of this electronic communication is that it lacks social presence which is there in face-to-face communication. Moreover, communication through these electronic means takes longer in time and requires more explanation majorly due to missing cues. This can create confusion among the sender and receiver and often leading to misinterpretation of the message (Sundin, 2008).

Increase in costs of inter-departmental coordination

Another major challenge of remote working is establishing coordination among the team members and becomes even more difficult when it comes to inter department. Since coordination forms an important aspect of efficient organization working otherwise would lead to loss of resources, time and would increase the cost incurred (Hislop, Axtell and Daniels, 2009).

Strategies to handle complications in remote working

Managers have realized the fact that for them to leverage the potential of remote working they need to set norms for working from home that can promote the balance between work and family.

Establishing clear working rules

Some of the strategies that are currently being explored by managers across the globe for handling complications related to remote working include setting the tone on work norms, prioritizing work for employees and provide remote employees with timely feedback on how they can manage their work loads. Other strategies are recognizing the unique nature of remote working which requires frequent communication, intensive time management and multitasking (Dina Gerdeman, 2020).

Communication as an important constituent of remote working strategy

With respect to communication, arranging alternative methods of face-to-face communication with employees, integration of latest technology informally such as conference calls or instant messages remain the only options (Alexander, Smet and Mysore, 2020). On the other hand, with respect to coordination, managers must adopt methods such as arranging regular meetups between with employees of different departments, so that they are aware of what is happening in other departments. By doing this, the objectives of each department do not conflict with each other, and to inform employees about the objectives and goals of the organization on time (ILO, 2020).

The future of remote working environment

Thus, there is a need to re-conceptualize work-life balance, communication and coordination in order to take into account the contemporary developments in business in the form of the remote working environment. The shift from the traditional setting of going to employers’ premise to moving on this concept of remote working can prove challenging for organizations. There is still much to be done so as to ensure proper work-life balance, communication and coordination when opting for remote working.

Considering the future of remote working in India, many companies have been planning to shift the major proportion of their workforce into remote working. Concepts such as stress management, job evaluation and appraisal systems, performance management systems, communication infrastructure, recruitment and selection procedures, exit procedure, etc. and its implications on workforce productivity will be studied and implemented extensively by human resources departments.

References

  • Alexander, A., Smet, A. De and Mysore, M. (2020) Reimagining the post-pandemic workforce.
  • Dina Gerdeman (2020) The New Rules for Remote Work: Pandemic Edition. Boston.
  • Hanson, E. (2020) Top three business benefits of remote work, IT Pro Portal.
  • Hislop, D., Axtell, C. and Daniels, K. (2009) ‘The Challenge of Remote Working’, The Oxford Handbook of Personnel Psychology, (May 2018), pp. 1–25. doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199234738.003.0024.
  • ILO (2020) An employers’ guide on working from home in response to the outbreak of COVID-19.
  • IOSH (2014) ‘Home office, mobile office’, Iosh, p. 17.
  • Johnson, N. (2001) Telecommuting and Virtual Offices Issues and Opportunities. London: IGI Global.
  • Mauer, R. (2020) Remote Employees Are Working Longer Than Before, SHRM.
  • Sundin, K. (2008) Virtual teams: work/life challenges-keeping remote employees engaged, American Express.
Ashni Walia

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