The Virtual Struggle for Work-Life Balance

The struggle for balance between personal and professional obligations is as old as industry and work itself. Even in modern history, the strive to find the right balance between work and play has challenged business leaders to experiment with new models of work. Take the 8-hour workday: it is its own attempt to strike that balance during the industrial revolution, with the phrase “Eight hours' labor, Eight hours' recreation, Eight hours' rest” being a rallying cry for those wanting better labor conditions and better lifestyles. With the advent of the virtual office and implementation of flex-time, the hope was that workers were finally liberated to have the optimal balance.

The reality, however, is that many have experienced the opposite. A recent survey in Forbes showed that for nearly half of remote workers, the top concerns were wellness-related. This prompted the question of if remote workers faced a mental health crisis. The risks, and the blame, can land on the shoulders for both managers and workers. For managers, the struggle to detach from their work has led to a series of major health risks. You know longer need to be at the top of the corporate ladder to be a heart attack candidate: you can die in your own home if you don’t stop working.

For workers, the inability to “stop working” even outside of the office has lead to a major anxiety crisis that is neither productive nor pleasant. With more people working and emailing on the weekend, many are experience daunting Sunday nights that stretch the psychological cost of the workweek even further. Some companies are actively attempting to combat this by banning emailing during non-work hours.

This doesn’t even mention the social costs of telecommuting: remote workers are much more likely to report feelings of loneliness and isolation. With a lack of face-to-face interactions, minimal network supports, and overall lower quality interactions, it make sense that workers can feel imprisoned in their home offices. Companies have taken note, however, and there are those who are now offering shared workspaces to allow people the best of both worlds. In Japan, companies allow workers to go to the location of their choosing, hoping to increase social interactions and even encouraging more networking with other businesses. Some cities in the US are even attempting to incentivize companies to do the same.

For all of the problems that working remotely can cause, it is not all doom and gloom! By recognizing the dangers of virtual work, we can create strategies to combat it. Proper, proactive management that forces workers to take time off, limits off-hours communication, and encourages or requires face-to-face meetings can help mitigate feelings of isolation and build positive, winning cultures.

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