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Remote Workers Work More Hours: What Do We Do?

December 06, 2021 Collaboration and Productivity
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Remote workers are typically on the job more than their in-office counterparts. According to research from staffing firm Robert Half, nearly 70% of professionals who transitioned to remote work because of the pandemic say they now work on the weekends, and 45 percent say they regularly work more hours during the week than they did before.

This is a trend that many people have been noticing, and there are a few reasons why it's happening. Whether it's because of the lingering effects of COVID-19 and its virulent variants such as delta and omicron, or because they see it as a way to attract and retain in-demand talent, organizations are pondering an increasingly remote and hybrid work future.

The bottom line is that more workers are at home, either in a fully remote or a hybrid working setup, and are generally spending more time working than those working from the office. Organizations will have to actively manage the consequences.

The Rushed Transition to Remote and Hybrid Work

According to Pew Research, before the pandemic just one in five workers said they worked from home all (12%) or most (7%) of the time, while 18% worked from home some of the time. According to research firm Gallup, that number went up dramatically (62%) in the wake of the pandemic. This meant that a lot of people were suddenly remote work newbies, and it showed. 

Remote work comes with challenges, and organizations should take precautions to avoid a breakdown. Managers should be equipped to spot the signs of poor mental health in employees and know how to direct them to support and resources when they need it. They also need to curb hours and agree to, and stick to, times that are off-limits for work, email and messaging. 

To combat the isolation of remote work, companies should also ensure that accomplishments are acknowledged and successes are celebrated. There needs to be time set aside for important work, not just the urgent dousing of spot fires that can occupy much of a remote worker's day. 

Related Article: How to Stay Sane While Working Remotely

Is Remote Work Really More Intensive? 

Those who are working remotely have a greater tendency to work on weekends. In large part, this is because their home space is the same place as their workplace. Because they're able to access work easily, they often feel like they have to work no matter what. There are a few things that cause this feeling.

Many remote employees feel invisible to others when they are working remotely in ways their in-office counterparts don't. Out of sight is out of mind, the thinking goes. This creates anxiety about being under-appreciated and in greater danger of seeming to do less. They protect themselves from that misperception by being perpetually on.

"Away from the physical presence of their managers, remote workers are very concerned that they may be seen as slacking," said Andrew Shatté, chief knowledge officer and co-founder at Boston-based meQuilibrium. "And so they remain connected and working much longer hours than they have before to ensure they were perceived as engaged and productive. But this pace was never sustainable, and we're currently seeing the predicted spikes in clinical depression, anxiety, stress and burnout." 

Related Article: The Pandemic's Grim Toll on Employee Mental Health Is Clear

Tips for Reducing the Intensity of Remote Work

Here are some ways organizations can help remote and hybrid workers manage their time better:

Remind Workers to Take Breaks

If you know your team will work long hours throughout the day, encourage them to take a mid-day break if they have a flexible position. Managers can also encourage team members to pick a day where they begin work later or leave early. It's important to continue to talk to team members and monitor how much time they are spending working, so they don't burn out.

"The best way to control it is to discuss the expectations of downtime and set the example yourself as a leader by turning work off and setting your own boundaries," said Mikita Mikado, CEO of PandaDoc.

Encourage Workers to Establish Routines

Help employees who are working in a remote or hybrid environment establish a daily routine as the first step.

"Workers need to learn to manage distractions from family members, pets or even televisions in the background while remaining productive," said Craig Hewitt, CEO at Winter Garden, Fla.-based Castos. "This can be coupled with regular short breaks interspersed throughout the day."

Consider Using Time Tracking Software

Time tracking software can help keep an eye on how many hours workers are logging and help employees see when quality starts slipping because of overwork. It can also help managers address the situation to help them get back on track. Of course, this is not applicable to every company, nor does it come without privacy concerns. The idea is to help workers remove themselves from their workspace and do something different, not micromanage their efforts.

Provide Organizational Structures to Workers

One of the good things about remote work is that it feels less hierarchical than in-office work. That can, however, leave workers feeling like there is nobody to rely on or get guidance from. Ensure there is a structure in place so workers know who they can turn to if they need something or when something goes wrong.

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