Remote workers ‘should spend at least two days in office’

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There is no “perfect” ratio of remote working to office-based work, but remote workers should spend at least two-and-a-half days in the workplace to remain connected to colleagues and their employer.

That is according to a report from Nuffield Health, which looked at how remote working can affect employees’ mental health, wellbeing and productivity.

While remote working was linked to “positive” employee wellbeing overall, it had little effect on stress and productivity levels, the Effects of remote working on stress, wellbeing and productivity report found. It cited research from the CIPD which reported that 24% of both home workers and office-based staff felt under excessive pressure always or often.

The Nuffield Health report noted that spending more than two-and-a-half days per week working remotely was associated with a deterioration in the quality of workplace relationships. Managers and workers had to work harder to build mutual trust, and staff felt the need to “work too hard” to prove they were being productive.

Individual circumstances and personality traits should be taken into account when assessing whether an employee was suited to working remotely, the report said. “For example, if you have high rumination then remote working may be bad for your wellbeing, whereas people high on openness may adapt well (increased positive affect) to remote working.

“An obvious disadvantage of working from home is that the computer or laptop is there before you go to sleep and when you wake up, so the pressure to work is high unless such a remote worker can organise a proper home timetable and adhere to it,” the report noted.

“Technology in these circumstances is both an asset and a danger. Furthermore, there is no easy way for the employer to know what is happening.”

Researchers concluded that remote working should not be seen as an easy option to address issues like stress and feelings of poor work-life balance. Instead, employers must look at whether the individual, not just the role, is suited to remote working, taking into consideration factors such as self-discipline, the ability to separate work from home life and resilience.

Where managers found it difficult to assess employees’ health and wellbeing, remote workers should be monitored through regular communications, agreed office attendance, appraisals and inclusion in group events.

“Overall, remote working is positive on wellbeing. Where we do see negative effects these are largely the result of factors that can be addressed organisationally (for example, ensuring appropriate technology to enable seamless access to work material),” the report stated.

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