While the rush to remote work provided a welcome relief from daily commutes and the fear of catching COVID19, many employees struggled with being on-the-job 24/7 now that the commute does not define the workday. Besides, when school resumes, the kids may remain at home to be home-schooled. It is not a sustainable schedule.
As one software engineer recanted to me, “When I was at the office, I would leave at 5 PM and go home. Sometimes, I would work for an hour after dinner. Now, I work to 6:30, have dinner and then work another hour. I also start work earlier since I don’t have to drive into the office.” He is not alone in his experience and frustration for working too many hours. Recent studies and older studies have shown that remote workers put in more hours per week than in-office workers.
When I launched a remote work program in 2012 at Medtronic business units, we found that remote workers indeed worked longer hours. Usually, half of their commute times were given to the company, and they also worked additional hours to finish up projects.
Here are some easy to implement remedies to prevent long hours and allow remote employees to have a dependable routine in their day leading to work and family integration, a healthy work-life balance, and outstanding results.
Managers ask each employee what work schedule is best for them. This may seem to be inviting chaos, but it is not. I encouraged managers at Medtronic to use this practice and it was remarkably successful.
Here are two examples of realigning work schedules:
One employee was a mother with grade-school children. This was before COVID19 and we expected her to come into work for parts of the week–a few days a week for meetings. This mom requested to start her day at 6 AM, and to be allowed to wake her children up at 7 AM and get them feed and off to school. From that point, she would be available for work and meetings from 9 AM to 3 PM. After that, she would take a break to greet her children from school. At 3:30 PM, she would work for another hour. Then she prepared and feed her family dinner (she split meal prep, homework checking and time with her children with her husband) and put her children to bed. She then would work from 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM. If you are counting, she proposed working 9.5 hours per day—still a demanding day. Medtronic has a results orientated, hardworking culture. Occasionally, she would request time to go to parent-teacher meetings, recitals and so forth, which were granted.
Another example comes from a marketing employee. His work schedule often would begin at 6 AM with meetings with clients or other Medtronic marketing and sales teams on the east coast or in Europe. He would take a longer lunch to include errands, return to working and end work at 4 PM. He would often be up late in the evenings for meetings with Japan, China, or India anytime between 10 PM and midnight. Not having a commute saved him time, but also having the opportunity to do errands and take a breather during traditional work hours was critical for his sanity.
Set expectations as to when it is absolutely essential that employees be available for meetings or to respond quickly to an urgent request. We were clear with employees that while we wanted them to get the necessary down time they needed each day; we might have to ask them to occasionally join an urgent meeting during their scheduled down time when their expertise was required. It was not a problem because it remained the exception. As a management team we were careful not to abuse this requirement.
Set a norm that each employee does not overwork and establish a schedule that works for them with their manager, team and clients. Employee burn-out is a real issue and overworked and over stressed employees eventually make mistakes, have more injuries, grow weary and get sick, or worse leave the organization for their own health. The norm we set as a management team was that we needed to invite every employee to set their own schedule while also achieving their goals, team, and client expectations.
Back to the software engineer example at the beginning of this piece. A normal work schedule continues to work for him, as long as he does not get seduced by the convenience of working from home. The remedy for him was simple. Stop working when he would normally arrive home from his afternoon commute. If necessary, set an alarm to signal it is time to stop working.
The flexible work schedules we allowed at Medtronic were remarkably successful. Our remote workers were 22% more productive than in-office workers on the routine 9-5.
You can have the same success and also show your employees compassion and understanding during this stressful time—while improving the effectiveness of your organization.
Working hours 9-5 are on a COVID19 ventilator, but we really don’t need a cure—we can simply use a new model.
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting , managing partner of InnovationOne, and Sales Advisor to MeBeBot. He works with companies to transform their HR operations, remote work, and recruiting, and to develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and cultures of innovation. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at www.VictorHRConsultant.com.