Working from home offers many advantages, but it also raises some questions. For example, does it prevent or promote presenteeism?
Presenteeism is when someone is present at work, but not being productive. This lack of productivity can be due to any number of reasons, such as illness, personal problems or simply a lack of motivation.
Does teleworking reduce or increase presenteeism? There’s no black and white answer. This issue has been studied numerous times over the years, and the results vary. That said, most studies have found that the benefits of remote work arrangements outweigh the disadvantages, provided that certain conditions are met.
Currently, it’s hard to know what trends are attributable to telework, and which ones are due to the pandemic. Ideally, we’d be able to measure the effects of telework in optimal conditions, like when people are allowed to go into the office again and life gets back to normal. This would allow us to assess the differences between full-time and part-time telework. But some findings have already emerged from new studies and the sudden mass shift to working from home over the past several months.
1. Factors that boost performance
Some people are capitalizing on their lack of travel time to get more work done. If those extra minutes are spent getting organized or completing tasks, workers tend to feel calmer and are more able to focus on their professional responsibilities. Avoiding the stress of rush-hour traffic is also beneficial.
Working from home gives employees a little more flexibility in their schedules. For some, this translates into lower stress levels as the extra wiggle room helps them juggle responsibilities or fit activities into their day. They can also choose to work during hours when they’re naturally more productive.
Many workers say they find it easier to concentrate at home, as there are fewer interruptions than in a busy workplace. However, this isn’t the case for those who have kids or lack a quiet work space in their home. The pandemic has forced these individuals to simply to the best they can.
While some workers need close supervision or regular feedback to do their jobs, many others become more creative and effective when they have the latitude to organize their time and choose their work methods on their own. These individuals feel less stressed and more proactive when they see that their manager and employer are confident in their abilities.
The right technologies
If companies have the right technologies for remote work, they’re already ahead of the game. Technological tools allow for better monitoring and collaboration between teams, even those working remotely. This, in turn, helps projects move forward with input from all team members.
2. Presenteeism risks when working from home
Some people find that working remotely leads to added pressure. They feel they have to work harder, feel guilty about taking breaks, and are more likely to work when they’re sick. If an employer isn’t attentive to these risks, the situation could lead to unintended consequences. Employees may become less productive, experience greater fatigue and eventually burn out. Pandemic-related concerns only exacerbate this risk.
Disconnect between employees
While this concern is raised less often, the lack of contact between colleagues can drive presenteeism. It’s something employers should be concerned about. When workers find it harder to reach their colleagues and collaborate with them—for example, if they don’t have the right technology to do so—tasks may be completed at a much slower pace.
Lack of stimulation
A person’s personality can affect how they perform in a remote work situation and those who lack initiative may find themselves even less motivated due to the pandemic. Less frequent conversations with colleagues, a lack of supervision, reduced social contact and fewer opportunities to release stress through recreational activities—all this can sap a person’s drive and lead to presenteeism. Employers should keep their eyes and ears open and be attentive to employee wellbeing.
Too many meetings
Attending too many meetings can trigger presenteeism, particularly if the meetings have no clear objective, include too many people or aren’t used to make decisions. Unproductive meetings have become much more common now that people are working from home full-time, often because managers are worried about losing contact with their teams. By the same token, workers may be receiving too many messages to compensate for follow-ups previously done in person.
3. How to minimize the risk of presenteeism
Companies need a telework policy designed to make work-from-home arrangements as successful as possible for their organization. There’s no such thing as zero risk, but by taking into account the different aspects of telework and establishing clear guidelines for working remotely, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of this model while reducing the likelihood of presenteeism.
Show workers you care about their wellbeing
It’s in every employer’s best interest to implement measures that promote employee wellness, independence and development. This involves providing psychological and social support. Your organization only stands to gain by creating a corporate culture that supports wellbeing—and this is truer than ever now that teams are working from home. Preventing stress, loss of motivation and performance pressure can positively impact your business’ overall performance.
Set the tone for active listening and collaboration
It’s important to look out for warning signs and take the time to talk to your employees. When people are off-site, it can be difficult to know when things are turning south. That’s why it’s doubly important to listen attentively to what people say. Ask your employees how they’re doing and how they feel about the team dynamic, without inquiring about their private lives.
You’ll have to adjust your management style to the different personalities and needs of your employees. Some need clear instructions and guidance, while others thrive in a less rigid environment. It’s important to be sensitive to these differences. If employees perceive you as overly controlling and distrustful, you risk creating a tense atmosphere and deflating your employees. That’s the opposite of what you want.
While communication is essential, avoid scheduling too many meetings and requesting reports with strict deadlines. One of the advantages of teleworking is scheduling flexibility. Employees appreciate being able to decide which time of day they’re at their best to carry out their various tasks.
Establish clear terms
Employers should also prepare telework guidelines covering issues such as sick days, reachable hours (to distinguish work hours from off-work hours), report frequency and submission methods, and individual roles and responsibilities.
Modern technologies and training
New technologies are steadily making telework more efficient and reducing its drawbacks. Your company will probably have to invest in equipment upgrades and provide employees with training so that they can use your new tools securely while working from home. Conversely, outdated technology or a lack of training can lead to presenteeism. Don’t forget that your entire workforce needs training, including managers.
Your organization may need assistance from an external expert to successfully transition to remote work. A specialist can help you determine how to get teams working effectively while they’re off site and prepare a game plan that reflects your business needs.
Presenteeism can happen regardless of whether employees are working from the office or at home. But with the right conditions, the risk can be minimized. Remote work isn’t likely to be a passing trend. Most people expect it to persist, even once the pandemic is over. With the right preparations, your business can make the most of this practice.