Remote work has many pros, but the blurring of professional and personal life isn’t one of them. It can lead to longer hours, around-the-clock availability, and burnout. This is what we call “digital presenteeism.” And it’s not just bad for employees; it’s bad for businesses too. So what can you do about it?
Omnipresent is a fully remote, globally distributed company. So we know a thing or two about the challenges of remote work. That’s why we’ve brought together our top tips to help you combat digital presenteeism and help your remote teams thrive. Let’s start with the basics.
What is digital presenteeism?
Digital presenteeism happens when a worker is available online outside their regular working hours. That could include working late, working when sick, checking emails, or not taking enough breaks.
Presenteeism at work isn’t simply being present when you’re expected to be. It’s being overly present.
So what causes digital presenteeism?
Traditionally, presenteeism meant staying late in the office. But with the rise of remote work, the office no longer has physical limits. It’s everywhere: the desk in your bedroom, the Slack notifications on your phone, the email ping at dinner time. The boundary between work and home life isn’t as clear-cut, so it’s easy to continue working when you’re not supposed to be.
Other factors that increase digital presenteeism include:
- Work cultures where long hours and 24/7 availability are expected.
- A lack of trust from management.
- Colleagues working across time zones.
- Under-resourcing of staff.
Isn’t high attendance a good thing?
There’s a big difference between “good attendance” and presenteeism. Doing work during normal working hours is expected. However, being available outside those hours can negatively affect your employees and your business.
The cost of presenteeism is substantial. An early 2000s study from the American Productivity Audit calculated it to be more than $150 billion annually in the United States alone. Fast-forward to the age of remote working, and that figure could be much higher.
So, how can you stop it in your workplace?
How to reduce digital presenteeism
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to prevent digital presenteeism within your remote team. Let’s begin.
1. Set clear & fair expectations
The most effective way to decrease digital presenteeism is to set clear expectations of how your team should work. And that starts with policies and guidelines. Here are a few things you should consider:
- Define your working hours, core hours, or flexible working policy.
- Specify the average number of working hours employees should work per day/week.
- Give your employees enough paid time off and sick leave for ample rest.
- Create clear communication guidelines.
- Specify the situations where it’s appropriate to contact team members out of hours.
The key here is to offer your team enough flexibility and trust to work in a way that suits them while ensuring flexibility doesn’t turn into 24/7 availability.
2. Take a top-down approach
Policies and guidelines are as effective as your culture and values allow them to be. For example, it’s not enough to have a generous paid time off policy if your team doesn’t feel able to use it.
That’s why it’s important to take a top-down approach, starting with management. They’re the most visible members of the company, so they have a big impact on culture and employee behaviors. For example, if your CEO sends emails at all hours of the day and night, other team members will believe that’s what’s expected of them. And the cycle continues.
So, break the cycle by providing training and guidance for managers. Teach them how to:
- Set a good example to their team.
- Reward quality work over the number of hours worked.
- Identify early signs of burnout and have open conversations to prevent it.
- Empower their team to take breaks and set boundaries.
And that leads us to our next tip.
3. Enable your team to set boundaries
Your staff must set their own boundaries to avoid presenteeism. This is ultimately down to each individual, but there are some ways you can encourage healthy boundary-setting within your team. Here are some examples:
- Set clear company and team goals to provide direction.
- Provide training on prioritization and time management.
- Foster psychological safety so your staff can say no to unreasonable requests.
- Add a line in your email signature stating when people can expect responses from you and that you don’t expect responses from them outside of their working hours.
- Ask each person to assign a deputy to cover for them while they take time off.
- Encourage your team members to display their working hours and turn off notifications outside of them.
- Ask your team to let their manager know when there’s too much work to be done within normal working hours.
The idea is that every person - from most senior to most junior - should make their boundaries and expectations clear in every interaction. In turn, you should promote a culture of respecting boundaries. This will allow your team to take the breaks they need.
4. Ensure proper workforce planning
A huge factor in digital presenteeism is under-resourcing. That’s why strategic workforce planning is essential. This means evaluating workforce supply and demand and assessing skill gaps. You can then use this information to inform your hiring and HR strategy.
Successful workforce planning ensures you have enough internal and external resources to manage workloads and reach goals. For example, if a team continually works longer than necessary, identify what resources they need to resolve the issue. You could hire more employees, outsource certain tasks and projects, or provide training to upskill current staff members.
Strategic workforce planning can take the pressure off your team and help you hit business goals more efficiently.
5. Actively listen to staff & take action
Finally, one of the best ways to reduce digital presenteeism is to listen to your team’s feedback and take action. So check in regularly through:
- Engagement and pulse surveys
- Weekly one-to-one meetings between managers and direct reports
- Exit and stay interviews
- Review websites like Glassdoor
But it’s not enough to simply gather and read feedback. You must action it too. So, analyze the results of your check-ins and identify trends and key areas for improvement. With that information, tailor your policies and initiatives to meet your team’s needs. Then communicate any changes - or reasons to not make certain changes - transparently. This will further help them to achieve a better work-life balance.