Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

In late 2019, Glassdoor reported that remote workers who work from home felt guilt about what their counterparts, family, and friends thought they were doing during the workday. The guilt does not come from doing anything illegal or immoral, but more about the feelings of neglecting families or worrying that office teammates think the remote workers are not doing their fair share. Leaders must acknowledge that remote workers may be feeling guilty about not working in the office, especially after previous in-office workers return to their offices once Covid-19 mandates are removed. If leadership doesn’t acknowledge and address the guilt, remote workers may leave and the teams they support. Here are five ways managers can help reduce guilt-related stress of remote working while maintaining their workforce:

Have an empathetic mindset. Leaders can support remote workers by showing empathy. Being empathetic to your team members shows your employees that you care by calling them for their input, including them on decisions, and giving them challenging tasks. Being a remote worker does not mean that they are just completing administrative tasks; however, remote workers may be feeling by not being present that they are not seen as being a contributing member of the team. Let your team know that even you have those feelings of guilt and it’s okay but show #empathy in the process.

Support inclusion of the remote workforce. Inclusion is not just based on race, gender, or religion. It should also be based on those who work remote. Inclusion is also the act or state of being included. Based on that definition, when making decisions, consider if your remote workforce can support it or how to make the decision workable to have the work supported both by office and the remote workforce. A remote worker doesn’t want to be excluded from discussions that occur in the main office when those discussion affect the work they are doing. Remote workers want to be part of the entire team. When leaders support all aspects of inclusion of their workforce, all employees will feel a valued part of the same team no matter their location.

Value their time. An easy way to show you value time is to start and end conference calls on time. When work calls last longer than expected, an employee may have to deal with the guilt they feel about not meeting another client’s schedule. On a more personal level, they may feel guilty about how a significant other may feel slighted by the perception that the employee is working late giving them less attention.

When conference calls start and end on time, expectations are met for scheduling follow-on events. It also makes the employee feel that you value their time. This is especially important when the employee is nearing the end of the workday with family since the pressure increases to get off the call while wanting to support the employer who’s paying them. The benefit of this action is two-fold. It allows the employee to reassure their family that they will be able to support their needs while it gives them time to focus on the work requirements for the remainder of the workday.

Don’t expect your employees to always be on their computer. At work, there is no real expectation that the worker will be on their computer 100% of the time. When employees work remotely, there is the added stress of always appearing present on the system with green lights on and responding via emails within second. The expectation to reach the employee 100% of the time is not expected with lunch and coffee breaks, but a remote worker must be afforded the same latitude since they just may be taking a much needed coffee or bathroom break or attending to a family member, especially if caring for a family member is why they are working remotely to begin with. The benefit of this action is that you show your employee that you trust by not micromanaging their time which, in turn, may support lower turnover of the workforce.

I am working from home during this pandemic with the constant guilt of feeling like I am getting away with something. The worry that those working in the office will be viewed as contributing more hasn’t left me for a single day. My company does use a business tool with green lights. Even though my boss says it’s fine with him that I work from home and I am not the only one working from home, I took a day of personal time off because the stress of working from home makes me worry more about my job security. I also feel like I need to go back to the office to “prove” that I am working. While this is self-induced guilt, I worry about how my work ethic will be perceived.

Encourage use of flex hours. When workers have authorization for flexible work hours, many remote workers do not take advantage of the opportunity for fear of having less commitment to the team as compared to their in-office workers to their job. With the stress of COVID-19 combined with the need to work from home, flex hours may be necessary to accomplish all of the work and home requirements. Many remote workers feel they need to prove they worked, especially when taking advantage of flex hours, but feel guilty if they get their work done faster than the time allotted leaving them to create work to fill out the day. Organizations may lose their employees if they don’t allow them to take advantage of flex hours. The benefit of encouraging use of flex hours is that leaders will have a more resilient, less stressed employee who takes time out as needed, but become more efficient in management of their time.

The challenges are all around us, yet, there has been little shared as far as how to address the support employee feelings of guilt when they work remotely. Guilt has been discussed as it relates to getting work done while at home, however, there are still some discussions to be held to ease worker’s guilt for working remotely as it relates to conflicts they feel when supporting work at the detriment of personal needs. As leaders, we need to remember how we feel as we also trying to balance work and family needs. In order to keep our team together, we need to remember even our best remote workers feel guilt. Guilt doesn’t need to be part of their job. With the eventuality that much of the current COVID-19 remote workforce will return to the office, there will always be remote workers. Leaders must not forget that the remote workers will still be working through their guilt and remember that the remote workers are just as important to the team as the office workforce.