remote worker stress

by Chuck Chapman, Content Strategy Coordinator

Have you ever had a stressful day at the office and thought about how much calmer and happier you would be if you worked from home? You’re probably not alone in that thought, but according to a recent Baylor University study, the “chill” remote worker may just be a figment of our imagination.

Sure, remote work offers a number of perks that you just don’t get in the office: no commute, flexibility with work and personal time, the ability to work in your pajamas. But as we’ve pointed out on this site numerous times, there are a number of other sources of stress associated with remote work that many may not consider.

What the study found

The Baylor study surveyed 403 working adults. Their questions attempted to measure workers in these core areas:

  • Autonomy
  • Strain or Exhaustion
  • Disengagement and Dissatisfaction
  • Emotional Stability

Unsurprisingly, the researchers found a strong correlation between satisfaction and success as a remote worker and the worker’s level of autonomy and emotional stability. Simply put, those who are comfortable working independently and are more “even-keeled” emotionally thrived in a remote work setting. Those with lower levels in those areas didn’t.

According to study author, Dr. Sara Perry, their findings contradict the long-held assumption that all workers crave autonomy. Not so, say the workers they surveyed. Some don’t handle autonomy that well, and for remote workers, that’s a big red flag.

So what does this mean for managers? For starters, Dr. Perry suggests that companies that are considering remote work or transitioning employees to more off-site roles should be very careful in who they select. “Any organization, regardless of the extent to which people work remotely, needs to consider well-being of their employees as they implement more flexible working practices.” Failure to do so could lead to bad results for both the employee and the company.

This is much more difficult for hiring managers to implement, however, than meets the eye. After all, HR can’t really do a complete psychological evaluation of new employees. And even if they could, as Dr. Perry points out, focusing on personality traits rather than observed behaviors might not screen out those who don’t have the required autonomy and emotional stability. Even then, we’re talking about a quite low percentage of the population who would fit that description.

So it appears companies are stuck hiring people with common human frailties. Given that restriction, what exactly can leaders of remote teams do to help compensate for employees who might not be as autonomous or stable as they might like?

Don’t leave people on an island.

Just because people don’t physically work together doesn’t mean they can’t connect on other levels. Long-distance leaders can promote interpersonal interaction in a number of ways. They can set up opportunities (and not just in meetings) for co-workers to have regular contact with each other. This kind of interaction can go a long way toward providing people with both the collegial help they might need, but also emotional support.

Provide proper training and equipment.

Remember the behaviors we were talking about before that exhibit a lack of emotional stability? Those are the “over the top” reactions we sometimes see when people feel overwhelmed or get blind-sided with something they don’t expect. Lack of training or the right equipment can raise the blood pressure of even the most well-balanced people. Managers must ensure that their remote workers have the requisite training and the right tools to do the job they’ve been tasked with.

Have clear performance objectives.

Speaking of being blind-sided, nothing fits that description like a coaching session or performance review where the feedback comes out of left field. Not only do clearly stated objectives reduce the chances of emotional stress during these encounters, but they reduce the day-to-day anxiety as well. Employees with low degrees of autonomy also exhibit higher instances of feeling insecure or wondering whether their work is good enough. Clear performance objective help provide some of that sense of autonomy that might be missing.

The remote workers we hire will have varying degrees of autonomy, but none of them will be automatons. The remote leader who anticipates and provides support for the human shortcomings they will inevitably have to deal with will lower their own stress levels and create a team culture of success.

If you’re considering transitioning to using remote teams, or you’re in the beginning stages, this on-demand course on How to Create and Manage Remote Teams is ideal for you.

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