It’s Monday morning and Jane, a marketing associate, begins her workday by pouring a cup of coffee and getting cozy in her home office. Jane is a remote worker. As long as she keeps her manager in the loop, she can work from anywhere at any time.
Jane is not alone: Remote work has recently transformed from a progressive perk into a standard workplace practice. Forty-three percent of US workers already work remotely at least part of the time, according to International Workplace Group. While employees enjoy the freedom and autonomy of remote work arrangements, employers gain a slew of benefits as well. Studies have shown that increased flexibility at work improves engagement, productivity, job satisfaction, and retention.
While remote work is clearly a boon in many ways, it is not without its challenges. Unfortunately, amid all the hype, the struggles of working remotely often go unnoticed — until it is too late.
Many remote workers face loneliness and burnout. If leaders and managers want to avoid these remote work disasters, they need to know what signs to look for and what to do about them.
Combatting Remote Worker Loneliness
According to Buffer’s “State of Remote Work 2018″ survey, 21 percent of remote workers struggle with loneliness, making it one of the two most common challenges of remote work. (An equal number of survey respondents said they struggle most with collaboration and communication.)
Compounding the loneliness of remote work is the loneliness epidemic in America. A Cigna survey found that nearly half of all Americans often feel alone or left out. Cigna’s survey also found Generation Z to be the loneliness generation. Given that Gen. Z workers are among the most interested in remote work, this could be a recipe for serious trouble.
Loneliness isn’t just a problem because it makes employees feel bad, although it certainly does. Some workers also report that loneliness impacts their productivity and makes it harder to connect with their teammates.
To combat loneliness, it is critical that managers start remote workers off with healthy habits. One such habit is being part of a remote work community where telecommuters can interact with and learn from one another. Not only do such communities make remote workers feel less lonely, but they can also expose workers to insights into best practices and habits from veterans of remote work styles. Many online communities for remote workers exist, and you should encourage your remote employees to join these communities, especially if your team is very widely distributed.
If your remote workers are all located in the same geographical area, you may want to try holding regular in-office sessions where all remote team members are encouraged to leave the house and work alongside their peers for a day. According to Gallup, remote workers who spend at least a day or two in the office every week are happier and more engaged than those who work remotely full-time.
Preventing Remote Worker Burnout
Given all the notable benefits of working remotely, you may be surprised to learn that burnout is quite common among telecommuters. However, it does make sense when you think about it: Remote workers are, in a way, always at the office. When you’re working from home, you may have trouble knowing when to switch off for the day. This can lead to burning the candle from both ends, and full-blown burnout is right around the corner from there.
Psychologist Christina Maslach has been studying burnout since the 1970s. According to her research, six components of workplace environment contribute to burnout:
Employees burn out when one or more of these factors doesn’t match their personal needs. For full-time remote workers, it can be easy for any of these factors to spin out of control.
How can managers help their remote employees combat burnout? It’s simple: Check in with them. The red flags of burnout can be hard to recognize, especially in remote workers, so establish a process for touching base with employees to identify the warning signs. Go beyond project updates. Talk to remote workers about how they are feeling about work. If you are comfortable discussing personal lives, ask about how they’re doing outside of work as well.
Another thing managers can do is be mindful. For example, if one of your remote workers travels frequently, make sure to check their schedule before roping them into meetings or asking for documents.
Also, keep track of your remote employees’ work hours. Remote employees can save hundreds of hours a year by skipping the commute, but many telecommuters end up using those would-be commuting hours to work more. Remote workers are also known to answer emails outside of work hours, put in time on the weekends, and skip sick days and vacations. As a manager, it is your duty to encourage your workers to slow down when they’re moving too fast for their own good. Encourage them to take mental-health breaks and personal time as needed.
A version of this article originally appeared on the ClearCompany blog.
Sara Pollock is head of the marketing department at ClearCompany.