Reducing unnecessary pressure and feelings of obligation in your team during work from home
While working from home, employees are feeling more and more obligations to always be ‘on’, to always be available at the drop of a hat, and to always be productive. Not being able to fulfil those requirements ends up making employees feeling even worse - but no one is asking them to do this, so what’s happening?
One study says that prior to COVID-19, employees were really only productive for just under three hours a day, and that this has become even more fragmented since the work from home order was implemented. The reduction in productivity makes them feel guilty, so they keep working. One VPN provider reported employees were logged into their business VPNs on average an extra two hours a day, and some as high as an extra three hours every day.
Employees have a variety of situations they’re living in, including what kind of “office” setup they have, who they’re living with, and even what type of accommodation they’re living in. How you should go about tackling these negative emotions will depend on the individual situations of your employees, but here are some tips for the more common situations.
Creating physical distance between ‘work’ and home
Shutting down your computer at the end of the day and walking out of the office is the perfect way to switch out of work mode and into personal time, which is what we all need to keep doing even when working from home. However when the physical act of literally walking out of the office and down the road isn’t possible (because our home is our office) we struggle to turn off. With our laptops in the next room and our phones always switched on and placed nearby, if those 7pm emails are coming through, we feel it is our duty to respond.
We’ve done well at socially distancing, now we need to distance ourselves from work-related activities.
If employees use laptops, once they’re done with work for the day, ask them to close it and plug it in to charge in an unused or out of sight part of their home. For desktops or bigger screens, place a towel over them or something in front of them, as long as they’re out of sight anything will work.
You can also encourage your team to continue their ‘commute’ times by going for a walk morning and evening, or doing what they’d normally do on a bus or train. Whether that’s reading a paperback, listening to a podcast, or just having a power nap.
Work and life can’t be kept separate
There are some things that your employees just won’t have control over no matter what. For working parents, it’ll be their kids. Children are hard to fit into a schedule, so it is understandable that employees with children will be working differently from the rest.
For many parents, they’re just straight up unable to work when parenting duties kick in, and employers and colleagues alike need to be mindful of this. Workarounds include parents splitting up their day, so instead of working 9-5, they work 7-10 then 12-3 and maybe another hour in the evening - whatever works for them.
Encourage the parents in your team to break up the day however works best for them. Help them to capitalise on the time they do have available for work, and avoid making them feel extra stressed when their kids need them. Assure them that working hours that suit their home lives means working smarter, not longer!
There are so many benefits, personal and business, to ensuring your team are physically and mentally healthy. Employees may feel as if they can't take time for themselves during the work day to have lunch, go for a walk, or spend five minutes bantering with those they are living with.
One of our clients, Anushka Methananda from Publicis Groupe said managers were noticing this trend amongst their teams. “We have encouraged teams to take time out to stay healthy not only physically but mentally too. We have offered online yoga sessions and are now looking at increasing the number of sessions, including a mindfulness meditation as well as bootcamp type fitness as well. There is also a financial wellness online session we are arranging too,” she says.
And for the mental and emotional ‘me time’, Publicis Groupe are asking employees to designate do-not-contact time slots, “we have encouraged people to be able to switch off from calls. Some teams are doing things like agreeing that they will be non-contactable for two hours a day so they can focus on getting into the work. There isn’t a hard and fast rule and each agency is pivoting depending on their people and individual needs.”
Most importantly, leaders are setting the standard of how employees should be balancing their days and need to follow these suggestions themselves.
Transparency around work hours
Transparency around employees working early/late, overtime, or switching hours to work around family will mean easing the stress that would usually be associated with doing so.
If employees are working overtime, ask for them to be transparent, not just with their managers but with their peers too, about why they’re working different hours.
You should also take this opportunity to survey your employees about what’s working and what’s not working. You can include questions on if the amount of support is adequate, team collaboration, reducing or increasing the number of calls or meetings in a day, and whether employees feel their work is detrimental to their current situation or mental health.
Not to be forgotten, make sure you are giving recognition when recognition is due! If overtime is unavoidable, make it known how valued their extra input is and that it should be a rare occurrence.
If you’re receiving emails or Slack messages from employees after hours, ask why. Make it known to them that it isn’t expected of them, nor is it advised.