Professor Erin Kelly shares a few tips for working from home

Many companies are using remote work to maintain basic operations and protect their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. My previous research on changing workplace practices and policies demonstrates that working from home can result in big benefits for these organizations and their people—including reduced stress and turnover, increased satisfaction, and a greater sense of control. This research is summarized in my new book with Phyllis Moen, Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do About It.

Despite that positive evidence, I see real risks to the current push to have every employee who can work from home. This is a time when employees could easily become more overloaded from juggling high work demands with other responsibilities—like caregiving, homeschooling, personal health, and more.

Here are a few tips for how you can avoid overloading the people who report to you—and yourself. This guidance comes from our study of successful work redesign initiatives, but it is also relevant to this unplanned shift to working from home:

• Focus on results and not on immediate responsiveness to emails, texts, and Slack messages. Even though employees are no longer visible, trust they are working diligently and provide clear guidance on priorities and timelines.

• Recognize the need for time offline. Daily communications are necessary, but so too are uninterrupted periods of concentration.

• Identify low-value work and work with your team to prioritize critical outcomes. Remote work, by its very nature, requires frequent communications and team meetings. As socially beneficial as these daily exchanges are, unnecessary calls and emails could cause employee burnout and stress.

• Offer employees plenty of autonomy when it comes to when and where they work. Though the current situation has forced many people to work remotely, research indicates productivity and satisfaction can benefit when workers have more control over when, where, and how they work.

• Acknowledge the need for time away from work for personal commitments, and be aware the support you show now will affect their loyalty and engagement going forward. Now that schools are closed and health care facilities are overburdened, many employees will require extra support when it comes to their private lives.

I hope you find these tips for avoiding the perils of overload in remote work helpful—both now and in the future.

Erin Kelly

Erin Kelly

Sloan Distinguished Professor of Work and Organization Studies

Featured Publication

Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do about It.

Kelly, Erin L. and Phyllis Moen. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2020.

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