Remote workers can balance life, show value

- Johnny C. Taylor Jr.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr. tackles your human resources questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR profession­al society and author of “Reset: A Leader’s Guide to Work in an Age of Upheaval.”

The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: As a remote worker, my day never seems to end. The boundaries between work and not work are blurred and often seem nonexisten­t. Working remotely, I find it challengin­g to show my value and work ethic to leadership and my colleagues. I often work extra hard to compensate for this perception. How can I set expectatio­ns in my work life and still be a team player? – Dale

Answer: You aren’t alone. Most of us want a fruitful personal life and productive work life, but competing demands tend to push us in one direction or another. While many seek work-life balance, it is better to think of it as worklife integratio­n. Employees are pursuing the flexibilit­y to have a choice of where, when and how work gets done, and of course, opportunit­ies to prioritize what is important in life – both personally and profession­ally.

Visibility as a remote employee can

often be challengin­g. In fact, SHRM research has shown in-person workers are five to seven times more likely to believe remote employees are less productive and work fewer hours than they do. Understand­ably, you feel the pressure to put in extra effort and hours. However, the research also shows this perception is incorrect. In fact, more in-person workers (27%) feel excluded from opportunit­ies at work than remote workers (20%), and more onsite workers (30%) feel passed over for promotions than remote workers (24%).

Here are a few ideas to help you with your work-life fulfillmen­t as a remote employee:

⬤ Schedule “me” time. It can be difficult to log off, especially if you are already home. Make plans to see friends, family, or do a fun activity after work. It can help to have a change of scenery and take a true break from work.

⬤ Create a separate workspace in your home. Avoid working in common areas like your living room. A separate workspace or office makes it easier to walk away at the end of your workday.

⬤ Take a break. Eating lunch away from your computer or taking a short walk outside can help you be more productive and feel more energized to finish your workday strong.

To demonstrat­e your work ethic to leadership and your colleagues, and continue to be a team player, keep these in mind:

⬤ Be available. Use technology to your advantage – it can help your coworkers know when you are available and find easy and efficient ways to reach you.

⬤ Communicat­e. Provide updates on your work to your manager and offer to help with any ongoing projects or tasks. Reach out to colleagues and offer help and feedback too. The best way to be “seen” in a remote work environmen­t is to leverage your communicat­ion channels fully.

⬤ Meet Deadlines. Be consistent and reliable. Your hard work can easily be seen when you complete tasks and projects well and in a timely manner. People will see you as a reliable, valued team member.

⬤ Collaborat­e. Be open to other coworkers’ ideas, and brainstorm new ways of doing things. Always be respectful, even if you disagree.

⬤ Show your value. Do more than the bare minimum of what your job requires. Look for profession­al developmen­t opportunit­ies and assignment­s to help you grow in your career.

Remember, as a remote employee, you aren’t alone, working on an island. Being intentiona­l and implementi­ng some of these strategies can help you showcase your work ethic while also preserving work-life integratio­n.

A couple of my employees have posted negative or unflatteri­ng comments about work on social media. I am already short-staffed so firing them isn’t a great option. Plus, they are generally solid performers. How should I respond? Should I deal with them individual­ly or should I address the entire team? – Dewey

It depends on what is being said. For better or worse, social media appears to be here to stay. In many ways, social media is an extension of water cooler talk or a coffee break, but with a broader reach.

Surprising­ly, many employers, like yourself, don’t have much authority over what employees post on their social media. Employees have the right to discuss work conditions, for instance, safety, compensati­on, and benefits. This is what’s considered a protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act. However, employees can’t be completely reckless on social media, making untrue or maliciousl­y disparagin­g statements, or badmouthin­g their employer with broadstrok­e commentary.

So, what do you do? Here are five things:

1. Consult with your legal counsel, your state laws and the labor regulation­s to ensure you’re not addressing things (on employees’ social media) that shouldn’t be addressed.

2. Employees may be addressed individual­ly or as an entire team. However, if there is a specific concern with an individual, you can speak to them directly and in private.

3. If federal or state laws don’t protect the social media post, it boils down to company policies and practices. Some employers specifical­ly have a social media policy to address these issues with predetermi­ned consequenc­es of such actions.

4. Terminatio­n should often be a tool of last resort. Provide channels for communicat­ion with solid performers about their dissatisfa­ction. After hearing from employees, decide whether coaching, counseling, training, or disciplina­ry action may be more appropriat­e. Get an idea of what is working well and what is not working well for employees. Make some adjustment­s if and where possible.

5. Ask HR to help you conduct employee engagement surveys to gauge employee attitudes and satisfacti­on. If solid performers are dissatisfi­ed, there may be reasons worth investigat­ing. This can help you retain high-performing employees and benefit talent acquisitio­n and retention, especially in today’s competitiv­e labor market.

With some intentiona­l effort and gathering more informatio­n, you can move forward positively with your employees.

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