Even when employees have the freedom to work from home, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll enjoy more leisure time. The following guide offers tips on how to help your team effectively integrate remote work and personal life.

7 Tips for Remote Work-Life Integration

1. Set parameters around working hours.

According to Melissa Milkie, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto, people who work at least 50 hours a week tend to experience more work-life conflicts if they set their own schedule instead of following office hours. Milkie calls this phenomenon “schedule control” and believes it happens most when employees don’t create a routine or clearly separate work and personal time. Milkie also discovered college-educated employees are most at risk for working after-hours and experiencing “work-nonwork interference,” which means white-collar office staff can be particularly vulnerable to long hours and burnout.

To avoid these problems, consider your company’s attendance policy. Limited flexibility—like the ability to take an extended lunch break—bolsters productivity, but too much flexibility blurs the distinction between work and home. Set clear expectations for how many hours an employee will be expected to work, and try to encourage people to log out on time. You might even consider using software to remind employees to take breaks throughout the day at automated intervals. Management training can teach business leaders how to support work-life balance and embody these principles in their own work.

2. Create reasonable communication expectations.

Every department should have explicit communication guidelines that explain when emails, calls, and instant messages need a response and which channel should be used depending on the situation. By outlining these expectations in writing, you can help workers take breaks from their work email and mobile devices so they can enjoy time off or prioritize other tasks. In addition to helping employees feel less stressed, these steps can also prevent constant email checking and non-urgent distractions.

3. Erase the “busy” myth.

 Just because a person is busy doesn’t mean they’re productive. In the Harvard Business Review, Brigid Schulte, bestselling author of “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time,” describes what she calls “the busyness paradox” or “tunneling”:

“When we’re busy and have that high-octane, panicked feeling that time is scarce — what one [study] participant called the ‘sustained moment of hecticness’ through the work day — our attention and ability to focus narrows… like being in a tunnel, we’re only able to concentrate on the most immediate, and often low value, tasks right in front of us.”

To avoid this problem, Schulte says performance metrics are key. While it’s relatively easy to measure productivity on the factory floor, it’s somewhat more challenging to assign metrics for knowledge workers. For example, when it comes to software engineering, what benchmarks do you set for your development team? If the job requires creativity, problem-solving, relationship-building, or nonstandard operations, how much time the person spends completing the task usually serves as a stand-in for concrete productivity metrics. This reward structure can be damaging because it makes the busiest employees seem like the best performers; the process pushes everyone to work longer hours, even though the work quality and employee satisfaction suffer as a result.

4. Let employees choose which projects they want to work on.

A sense of purpose can be just as rewarding as an employee’s financial compensation. If an employee has autonomy over their schedule, or has opportunities to choose the type of work they do, they’re more likely to be happy and productive than an employee with a heavily regimented, inflexible workload. Over time, this reduces the risk of burnout and helps ensure the employee stays committed to the organization and their role.

5. Create scheduling buffers.

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology asked students to estimate how long it would take to complete their thesis. The students provided an “optimistic” and “pessimistic” estimate, which were supposed to take into account their best- and worst-case scenarios. Only about 48.7% of participants finished their thesis by the “worst-case scenario” estimate; the average difference between their “best-case scenario” estimate and completion date was about 21.6 days.

Many other studies prove most people are overly optimistic when it comes to guessing how much time a project will take, a phenomenon sociologists call the “planning fallacy.” To avoid overscheduling and alleviate stress, build generous leeway into your organization’s schedule.

6. Give employees time for deep concentration.

Employees need the right resources to succeed. Look at your company’s expectations. Do any list “multitasking” as an essential skill? If so, consider how this approach might impede concentration, add stress, and contribute to burnout. Numerous studies also show multitasking diminishes productivity by as much as 40% and forces employees to work longer hours.

7. Give employees the tools to succeed.

Work-life balance starts with the company culture and not just the individual. If you want to help employees manage their responsibilities and work optimally, take a broad-level approach. A home office stipend will allow staff to work comfortably and creates physical markers to distinguish between work and personal life. Clear boundaries help people compartmentalize different tasks, thereby helping them establish a routine and avoid unintentional time overlaps.

It’s also important to give employees opportunities to unwind—and explicitly communicate acceptable ways of doing so during the workday. For example, you might want to offer flexible break schedules so people can take a walk, stretch, or exercise during their shift. According to a study published in Human Resource Management and Harvard Business Review, people who exercise regularly report better work-life integration, even though an exercise routine adds another demand to their schedule. Russell Clayton, a professor at Muma College of Business at the University of South Florida and author of the study, explains exercise can help employees in two ways:

  • Stress Management: Exercise lowers adrenaline and cortisol levels and boosts endorphins (“feel-good” hormones), which can naturally improve an individual’s mood and outlook.
  • Self-Efficacy: People who exercise are generally less likely to procrastinate and more likely to approach challenges with optimism and confidence.

If you want to encourage employees to exercise more frequently—and therefore help them achieve better work-life balance—additional wellness benefits, like an all-inclusive gym membership, meditation program, or personal training can help.

In the end, your company culture ultimately determines how employees approach work-life balance, whether they work remotely or at the office. To learn how Gympass can help you build a custom benefits plan that encourages work-life integration, fulfillment, and productivity, request a quote today.