Jane is a remote-working, highly ambitious, and driven career woman. Living in a hyper-digitized world, her day is extensively intertwined with her usage of tech tools- her always-buzzing smartphone, the sleek laptop that she carries everywhere, and the myriad apps that crowd her devices. From waking to her calendar notifications for the day to falling asleep beside an open email on her laptop, Jane is a quintessential example of someone that’s, by default, “always-on”. At first glance, Jane seems to be powering through her life – she stays on top of her agenda and has all her tasks handled through her non-stop tech usage. However, on closer look, Jane is exhausted, there is hardly even a fuzzy boundary between her personal and professional life, and over time she has become less engaged and productive and more battered by her never-ending workday.
What is the problem?
Jane represents most remote workers today. The pandemic-enforced remote working conditions elicited an initial response of increased productivity, more time for life, per se, and a boost in engagement and happiness indices. However, these benefits of remote work are being undermined due to the prevalence of the “always-on” work culture, where employees are increasingly unable to unplug from work, as the boundary between work and life becomes more and more blurry. Research shows that remote workers are working 15 hours longer than what they did in an office, and this increased workload has led to increasing stress levels, worsening sleep habits, and concerning engagement and productivity indices (Ref).
Business leaders, managers, and employees have to take a hard look at this trend of staying plugged into work and make conscious efforts to restore balance to this spiraling. Let’s start with understanding why this trend is so common before we address some possible solutions:
Why are remote workers constantly plugged in?
There are many reasons why remote workers tend to stay plugged into work. Understanding these reasons opens a door to exploring ways to help them meaningfully disconnect from work.
The perils of makeshift home-office spaces
Most remote workers are ill-equipped to switch off work at home. The issue ranges from cramped home spaces that are shared by the family to not having dedicated home offices. Most commonly, remote workers end up using their bedrooms or a living room couch as a makeshift workspace. As a result, there is no physical distinction between work and life which cascades into a blurred mental distinction between the two. Remote employees live their work lives with no opportunity to go home.
One of the largest concerns of remote teams is the problem of visibility. As employees struggle to showcase their hard work and managers grapple with gaining a viewpoint into individual contributions and efforts, most remote workers tend to stay on at all times to show their peers and the management that they are indeed working.