Working remotely has become an increasingly common practice, facilitated by advances in technology alongside the recognition by employers that such flexibility can be both cost effective and efficient.
Employers are obliged to ensure they fulfil their statutory duty of care for the physical and psychological safety of all employees, including remote workers. So, if wellbeing is promoted as a core value of employers, then the approach should be inclusive and take account of those employees who are on-site as well as those who conduct their work off-site.
There are positive outcomes but also challenges with remote working, particularly with respect to health and wellbeing.
The psychological challenges of remote working are significant. The 24/7 nature of connection via technology and reduced segmentation between work and non-work, can prompt the temptation to be constantly available or not switch off. This gives rise to the potential for people to work long hours and succumb to undue pressure.
Time management skills are essential to cope with the planning and monitoring of work time to guard against such long hours. Working in isolation can be a key feature of remote working. This may suit some people, while others might find it difficult. To address the psychosocial challenges, communication and connection with the office and work colleagues is important. Opportunities for social connection, for face-to-face interaction with work colleagues and teams, and for feedback from managers, need to be consciously scheduled to ensure regular contact.
Remote working may be perceived as a perk by other employees whose roles are not suitable for them to have this type of flexibility. This can give rise to issues of perceived fairness. Employers should strive to offer alternative ‘perks’.
Dr Noeleen Doherty is principal research fellow at the Cranfield School of Management