Are you having trouble maintaining a healthy work-life balance when you work from home? You’re not alone. It’s one of the most common complaints by remote workers. But if you’re tempted to blame your ogre (or ogress) of a boss for this, guess again. Many of these challenges are self-imposed.
Over years of working with remote teams, we hear a lot of the same complaints:
“I’m connected 24-7 and I’m expected to answer email at all hours of the day and night”
“I start work earlier and end later now that I work from home than I ever did when I went to the office”
“I started working from home so I could be left alone to get my work done, but now I’m being interrupted as much now as I was then…”
When we dig deeper into these statements, we invariably discover it’s the worker, not the boss, driving these circumstances. Their bosses tell us “I don’t have those expectations, but they keep responding to emails after hours,” or “I don’t want to interfere with their work, but I asked if they had time to talk and they said yes. Shouldn’t I believe them?”
What’s happening is expectations about working hours and response time aren’t expressly spelled out. When that happens, we’re left to interpret what those are and we all interpret things differently. Ironically the hardest working, most diligent employees often struggle the most with this. Here are some of the things we tell ourselves that lead to burning the virtual candle at both ends and destroying work-life balance:
If I don’t respond to every email the minute it comes in, my boss/coworkers will think I’m slacking and I won’t have that.
Our very desire to be seen as responsive and a good employee sometimes gets in the way of our common sense. We forget to prioritize our work and focus on the immediate gratification of responding to every email that comes in. If we’re honest, not every request for an update, or wishing happy birthday to Roger, requires we stop work on a critical project and respond.
Seriously. Learn to do triage on your email. Better yet, disable the auditory alarms that accompany incoming emails and even IMs. It’s not like you’re going to forget to check your email, you just might not be doing it every 10 minutes. If your team (or you and your manager) haven’t set guidelines for when to expect a response, or which emails you need to act on and which can wait, it’s time to have those discussions.
I want to be a good teammate, and I would respond immediately if I were in the office.
Exactly, which is one of the reasons you chose to work from home. Congratulations, you have now brought the worst of the office to your home environment without the social and psychological rewards of actually dealing with other people.
We often are our own worst enemies in this regard. We assume that our teammates and bosses will automatically think the worst. If we don’t answer right away, we’re obviously watching The View or making a Target run instead of working. Actually, they mostly don’t think that. Of course, if you used your status updates and your shared calendar to tell them what you’re doing, or when you’ll be away from your desk it would remove some of the uncertainty. So why aren’t you doing it?
When my boss says, “jump,” I ask, “how high?” Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?
One of the hardest things for bosses to remember is that there is a power imbalance in the employee-manager relationship. When they ask “do you have a minute to talk?” it’s usually a benign request to talk when you can. What employees hear is “drop everything and talk to me—and it’s probably bad news.”
Most managers are perfectly happy to be told that now isn’t a good time but you can talk in twenty minutes when you’re done with what you’re working on, or set a time that works for both of you. If you say, “Of course I can talk now,” they believe you. Whose fault is that? The same with requests for information. Just because your boss sends you an email after hours doesn’t mean they expect an immediate response. But we act as if they do.
Your boss most likely really does care about your work-life balance.
The truth is many managers are aware that their remote employees put in longer hours and struggle to get their work done. They just don’t realize how many of the barriers to managing time and being productive are self-imposed.
If you are struggling with interruptions, talk to your manager and teammates about how you can respect each other’s time more, and what expectations they have about response time. You’ll probably find they are actually reasonable people who don’t expect you to be Pavlov’s dog. After all, you’re going to be a better employee and teammate when you’re work-life balance is more stable and you’re not careening toward burnout.
What are some of the assumptions you’re making about working with your manager and teammates that are causing your work-life balance to suffer? Do they know what you’re dealing with or are you struggling in silence?
You’ll be surprised how much of the stress is coming from yourself, instead of your boss.
If you want to learn more about establishing healthy routines for productivity as a remote worker, this course is the perfect starting point.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.