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How to add autonomy to your remote team culture

Remote work can lead to overwork. Here are four ways leaders can take pressure off their remote team culture.

4 min read


Image illustrating remote work culture


Remote work offers plenty of upsides for both employees and employers. Yet companies haven’t quite determined how to overcome the issue of burnout caused by remote workers putting in excessive hours.

As a team leader, you’ve probably experienced this phenomenon firsthand and seen it in others. After all, checking email all day and night is easy. What’s hard is figuring out when to close your laptop and stop checking your phone. Consequently, many professionals begin to act as if they’re “on call” 24/7. That’s neither healthy nor productive.

Where does this pressure to continuously perform come from? It might stem in part from competitive pressures. As reported by the Society for Human Resource Management, 70% of remote workers clock in during weekends. That’s a significantly high percentage and may point toward employees feeling they need to keep pace or be left behind.

Perhaps it’s not competition, exactly, but a general fallout from living in a 24/7/365 society. A study released by the American Psychiatric Association reveals that 67% of virtual workers find it difficult to shut down at day’s end. Instead, they continue to perform tasks at the risk of affecting their mental health.

These are serious problems that will only get worse without change. And even if you can’t change your organization’s overall work culture, you can take some of the pressure off your remote team culture.

Start by implementing the following strategies.

1. Model the habits you want to see

Being a manager sets you up as a de facto corporate role model. If you send out emails at 9 p.m., your direct reports will assume they need to do likewise. You can’t just say, “I’m a workaholic but don’t expect you to be, too,” either. Your team will still assume that you value professionals whose personal stoplights are always green.

Take a close look at your calendar. Does it seem off-balance in terms of having clear points of stop-start delineation? Aim to adjust your schedule so it’s clear to anyone in your department that you’re living out the need to block off personal time.

2. Favor asynchronous work over its synchronous counterpart

Traditionally, businesses tend to follow a rhythm of synchronous (sync) work. During sync workflows, specific projects or tasks must be completed before others can be started. This can create lengthy interruptions that limit efficiency and cause roadblocks.

In contrast, asynchronous (async) work moves in a non-linear fashion. As explained by global HR solution Remote, async work allows employees to move quickly because processes aren’t time-dependent. Whenever possible, urge your remote workers to adopt an async working mentality. They’ll experience less downtime and feel less pressure to be available at a moment’s notice.

3. Work with individuals to set better boundaries

Let’s say you have an employee who seems to be working all the time. When you send an email or Slack message, you get an almost immediate response. Rather than assuming your direct report is just “that type of person,” have a discussion about establishing healthy work boundaries.

What you might not realize is that your “always-on” employee could be frantically trying to keep up. Or, the employee may not realize that it’s OK to wait to answer a text or question. And the employee may start to resent working for your company. You don’t want to lose a talented person because of a misunderstanding.

4. Resist the temptation to track salaried hours

If you supervise a group of salaried employees, focus less on their clock-in and clock-out times and more on their output. Are they churning out high-quality work? Do they meet their deadlines effectively? Is it easy to connect with them when they say they’ll be available? As long as you’re satisfied, you don’t have to ask if they worked 38 hours or 50 hours.

This may be uncomfortable for you, especially if you’re from the school of thought that equates time with production or value. However, moving away from tracking your team members’ work hours can give them tremendous breathing room. It also will show that you trust them even though you can’t see what they do throughout the day.

Team leaders building a remote team culture need to reevaluate the management skills they applied when everyone was in-office. A good place to begin is ensuring your colleagues have time each day to recharge mentally and to reconnect with those who matter most to them.

Rashan Dixon is a senior business systems analyst at Microsoft, an entrepreneur and a writer for various business publications.

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