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Remote working: The work/life balance myth

12th December 2014

Technology is allowing businesses to be more flexible around how individual workers fulfil their role. It allows people to work from their own devices, work in any of a number of company or client offices, allows employees to work from home and gives them access to their work from almost anywhere at any time.

In a recent report from Dell and Intel entitled “The global evolving workforce”, the technology giants looked at how technology is affecting the way we work. In the report they say of advancements in technology: “for the employer it means better outputs, [being] closer to the customer and pointing to a better bottom line and for the employee it means better work/life balance and satisfaction.” I however am starting to think that perhaps employees are getting the raw end of the deal.

Technology such as remote desktops, cloud computing, mobile internet and call forwarding was designed to allow workers to fit their jobs around their lives. While a lot has been made of the positive effects of these technologies on employees’ work/life balance, what it has actually resulted in is employees being constantly available and ‘always on’.

Always on

New technology allows work to permeate every aspect of your life. You can now work at any time from almost any location. While this is good for business, it can be very bad for employee well-being and engagement. With work so readily available, those in high pressure, fast paced jobs (which seems to be the majority) can find it tempting to work outside of hours to take the pressure off slightly. This can lead to burn out or at least employees feeling over worked and underappreciated.

Playing fair

There is a worrying trend of line managers and employers asking or expecting employees to carry on working (in some capacity) when they are at home, on holiday or off sick. This is far from offering employees greater work/life balance as has so often been promised. In addition, there is still a taboo amongst office-based workers about asking to work from home for anything other than an emergency. If employers expect workers to be available outside of working hours, they should also cultivate an atmosphere where employees feel they can talk openly about how the organisation could help improve their work/life balance.

Making it work for you

Each organisation is different and each employee will have a different understanding of work/life balance and how to achieve it. Ultimately technological advances are a double edged sword. Employers need to make sure that they work with individual employees to ensure that they remain happy in their workplace and healthy in their approach to that work. With the CBI saying that stress in the workplace cost UK businesses over £12 million in 2013, there is a significant financial advantage to ensuring that staff are managing their workload effectively and aren’t afraid of being honest about their levels of stress.

Allowing for a good work/life balance is a cultural shift in an organisation. It is not about allowing people the ABILITY to fit their work around their lives through technology, it is about allowing employees the OPPORTUNITY to do so. Employers need to trust their employees and be honest with them about their expectations. In return employees need to recognise the trust their employers are placing in them and not abuse that trust.