For years, the discourse surrounding work-life balance focused on things like long commutes to the office, finding time to go to the gym, or taking opportunities to be with family and friends. It’s difficult for people traveling to and from an office each day to find time for themselves, and that’s one of several reasons why working remotely is such a popular alternative. However, remote work is not the end-all solution for a healthy work-life balance. There are still obstacles preventing people from “unplugging” from work to enjoy their personal time.
As remote work becomes more common in the wake of the pandemic, employers and employees need to identify these obstacles and address them. The field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) will certainly maintain a strong presence of remote workers moving forward, so it’s time to reimagine what it takes to maintain a healthy personal life when working from home.
Obstacles Preventing a Healthy Work-Life Balance for Remote Workers
What does remote work look like in the field of STEM? On the surface, it looks a lot like remote work in any other field. A desk, laptop, and webcam are enough to connect with a team, giving remote workers freedom to spread out and make their own home office. Remote workers have more autonomy, but in some ways, their employers have more access to them at home than they ever did in the office. With a work computer nearby and a smartphone always handy, it’s hard for employees to unplug from work and take time for themselves.
A recent study on IT professionals working from home showed that working hours increased compared to pre-pandemic times. This included an 18 percent increase of working hours outside of regular business hours.[i] This might seem like a benefit to employers because their people are spending more time on the clock, but it could prove detrimental to their remote workers’ productivity. Employees were spending more time on calls and in meetings than they did when working out of an office, and now they have less time to focus on their tasks. This resulted in a decrease in productivity even though they were on the clock for longer hours.
The long commute to the office might be gone, but remote workers are not always getting more personal time. In the U.S., the average commute to and from work is 52 minutes a day, or about 200 hours per year.[ii] But according to U.S. News and World Report, remote workers log five to seven more hours per week than they do when they are in the office. They also reported that remote workers are more willing to work when sick or on vacation.[iii] So, not only are remote workers using the time they save commuting to stay on the clock, they might not be taking the time they need to recover from illness or for personal time.
Helping Remote Workers Unplug
It’s hard to draw the line between home and work when they occupy the same physical space. According to a survey conducted by SIA, work-life balance worsened for 24 percent of technology professionals from pre-pandemic times.[iv] The causes were listed as a lack of boundaries between home and work, increased demands, and a shortage of workers. The talent shortage in STEM is an employment trend that will continue into 2022 and could manifest as an obstacle to finding a healthy work-life balance for remote workers currently in the field. They are already logging more hours than their in-office counterparts, and increased demands caused by a lack of talent could make it even harder to log off at home and find personal time.
Remote work still holds an advantage over in-office work when establishing a healthy work-life balance. It provides more autonomy, but remote work is not an end-all solution. Employers need to reconsider how they look at work-life balance now that so many are working remotely. It’s no longer about the challenges of long commutes or trouble finding time to spend with family. It’s about how remote workers need to find ways to disconnect from work. Since workers are constantly connected, employers should exercise restraint when reaching out. They should also encourage remote workers to set limits on their working hours to help them take personal time and avoid getting burned out.
Having the right talent is critical for STEM organizations looking to stay ahead of the competition. AllSTEM has the experience to help you find skilled science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) candidates to support your organizational goals. To find out more, visit AllSTEM at https://www.allstemconnections.com.