Living in a Remote World

Updated: Oct 15, 2019

Can remote work lead to a better work-life balance? I discuss 3 unintentional downsides leaders should be aware of & the remedies for them...

A woman working remotely on her laptop while drinking coffee

Organizations are trying to widen their cultures to capture the attention of the millennial workforce, seeking to provide them with the most sought-after flexible work environment. Could remote work be the key to the ideal work-life balance? It’s intended to produce happy and effective hard-working employees, affording them the opportunity to spend less time commuting and more time engaging in their personal hobbies. Employees can escape the challenges of office politics and save on gas. It provides a flexible schedule to accommodate life’s needs and offers the autonomy employees desire, allowing them to choose how to get tasks done.

On the surface, working from home meets many expectations for a healthy work-life balance, but leaders ought to be mindful of the following three unintentional downsides of using this work format — presented with servant leader takeaways:

  • Downside: The need for human interaction. We’re not wired to communicate behind the screens of our computers and phones. As humans, we desire and need human interaction. Working remotely can feel isolating. People can find themselves out of the loop on things going on in co-workers' lives. Plus, ideas are often shared in passing, outside of meetings, but not mentioned to remote workers — something that can inadvertently add to their feelings of isolation.

Servant leader takeaway: Have a weekly one-on-one meeting with each staff member; a simple face-to-face coffee meeting or video call if geography is an issue will make a big difference in how connected employees feel. Schedule biweekly lunch-and-learns designed for employees to socialize and brainstorm about common projects. You could encourage teambuilding icebreakers to aid in developing the foundation for strong interpersonal relationships. Using various forms of communication will help build trust and develop rapport with your colleagues. Employees who feel cared for and a part of the group are more likely to stay with the organization. Servant leaders know they’re most effective when playing to each employee’s individual strength. Spending the time to engage with employees is a good way to keep the office culture interconnected and circulating out to remote workers.

  • Downside: Burnout. Employees can often feel an expectation to work more than 40 hours a week because they have computer access 24/7. Some employees feel the constant need to check work emails and respond immediately because they have access to do so. Others feel the need to prove their productivity and are tempted to "catch up" on work outside of normal business hours. These employees end up never clocking out of work and can become resentful of it.

Servant leader takeaway: Encourage employees to shut down their computers and take mental breaks. Set expectations to return emails by using a daily out of office message for emails that come in "after hours." This suggestion works well for all employees, even those who don’t work remotely but have access to company emails on their phones, tablets or laptops. Encouraging boundaries enhances your relationship with employees; showing them you care about them as a person. Respecting these boundaries gives employees the sense that they’re capable of powering down and enjoying the freedom of their remote environment.

  • Downside: Loss of shared vision and sense of purpose. With employees working at various locations, it’s crucial to engage them and keep a big-picture perspective that unites the team. It’s easy to get so caught up in projects’ daily needs that employees lose their ability to see how they contribute to the overall success of the organization. Having a laser focus on getting tasks done can lead employees off course.

Servant leader takeaway: Engage employees and help them recognize their potential within the organization. The leader/manager role is becoming ever so important in a time where emotional intelligence — including self-awareness, adaptability and organizational awareness — is key to maintaining a high-functioning team.

Be a leader who’s capable of harnessing the strengths of all employees — helping them work efficiently as a cohesive team regardless of their office address.

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