Quantifying the impact of remote work on life-work balance worldwide

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the business landscape in so many ways, we are still discovering its after-effects today. One unexpected positive has been the repercussions of the flexible working arrangements that many companies experimented with in order to weather the pandemic years. 

Having discovered the benefits of remote or hybrid work, many employees are not in any hurry to get back to the office, even when companies are pushing for a return to normality. It appears that remote work is here to stay, and many employees now consider it essential to a healthy life-work balance. 

Supporters of remote working say it helps them save time and money by avoiding commutes and improves productivity in their day-to-day tasks. However, critics suggest that a benefit of traditional working environments is better life-work separation and stronger social connections.

Many questions remain: is remote work better or worse for our health and well-being? How can remote employees maintain a healthy balance between life and work without blurring lines? And what will this mean for the future of business?

Comparing the well-being of remote, hybrid, and office workers

The first-ever Global Life-Work Survey aimed to answer these questions. Conducted by IE University professor and researcher Dr. Kriti Jain and doctoral candidate Carlina Conrad, this seminal research is intended to guide workers, business leaders, and policymakers through the new reality of work.

The survey considered responses from 1000 participants across Europe, Africa, Canada and the US, Latin America, and Asia. Participants worked in a range of industries and included remote, hybrid, and office workers.

The results of the study show a strong correlation across the board between remote work and well-being. In every industry, remote workers reported higher levels of happiness and job satisfaction, less burnout, and greater life-work balance overall.

Predicting burnout

One of the main goals of this survey was to identify and track the symptoms of burnout, which has a high cost for employees and businesses alike. Burnout can cause physical and psychological symptoms and can lead to workplace issues such as attrition, high employee turnover, lower engagement, and less-than-optimal productivity. 

Participants were asked to identify all the times they felt physically exhausted or emotionally drained after work in the preceding four weeks. The difference between office and remote workers was clear, with the former experiencing burnout symptoms 41% of the time, and the latter only 26%. 

In the last three months, only 52% of office workers were able to take a vacation, compared to 69% of remote workers. Additionally, 42% of remote employees reported high levels of happiness—double the number of office staff.

Setting boundaries at work 

Through the results of the survey, Kriti and her team were able to group participants into four broad clusters based on the different strategies they employ to manage the boundary between life and work.

  • The Work Warrior

Work Warriors typically spend the most hours working—at least 51 every week—and rarely take vacations. This type exhibits the highest tendency to let work interrupt their personal lives, and the lowest job satisfaction and well-being scores when confined to an office environment.

  • The Integrator

Integrators work at least 43 hours per week and are the least likely to take vacations. They are the most likely to blur the lines between work and home life. According to the findings, Integrators also report the most job satisfaction in remote situations. 

  • The Separator

Separators put the strongest boundaries between work and life. They tend to average 40 hours of work weekly but balance it out with regular vacations. They, too, report higher levels of happiness and job satisfaction when working remotely.

  • The Family Guardian

Family Guardians average 39 hours of work time per week and are the most likely to take vacations. They prioritize their families, which means they are more likely to let home life interrupt their working hours. But for this group as well, remote work leads to the lowest levels of burnout and the highest levels of job satisfaction.

Diving deeper into the data shows that each of these four life-work boundary management styles predicted certain health outcomes, particularly in remote workers. Integrators are more likely to experience adverse health effects, with Work Warriors finishing a close second. Both, however, are more likely to go through burnout than any other group.

Energy management for greater well-being 

Looking beyond the numbers, the researchers wanted to identify the techniques that the happiest employees, whether they be remote, hybrid or office workers, employ to maintain a healthy life-work balance. They found that creating boundaries and routines was the key to improved health and well-being, and came up with some tips that anyone can follow for better energy management. 

  • Physical separation: If you work in an office, make an effort to leave your laptop there when you go home. If you work at home, dedicate space away from your main living areas—or go out to a co-working facility or coffee shop—to ensure that professional obligations don’t overshadow your personal life.

  • Rituals: Setting routines and sticking to them is vital for productivity, helping you get into work mode and perform efficiently throughout the day. But equally important are the home rituals that help you switch off from work and spend quality time with family and friends. Whether you work in an office or remotely, establishing routines for your weekdays, evenings and weekends are important for distinguishing between work and leisure time.

  • Technology: Technology can have both positive and negative repercussions for all workers. To maximize efficiency during the workday, use productivity apps to streamline and organize your workflow. At the end of the day, pause notifications or even consider keeping work-related apps off of your personal phone to ensure that you aren’t constantly being reminded of tasks on your to-do list.

  • Time management: Successful remote working requires a good mix of structure and flexibility. Calendar blocking and setting aside specific times for specific tasks is a great way to manage time effectively. If you work in an office, divide your day into chunks to make your workload more manageable and maximize productivity. Setting your working hours and sticking to them as much as possible will help ensure a healthy life-work balance.

The techniques outlined above are effective for all the working styles identified in the survey, but are perhaps most important for the integrators, who tend to blur the lines between work and home life. The happiest integrators are the ones who keep their work separate from their living space, follow rituals, use technology intentionally and manage their time well. 

Applying effective boundaries in your working habits can also help ensure that you manage your energy efficiently, leading to greater productivity and well-being. Understanding your personal limits is an essential step towards better energy management.

The transformative power of holistic leadership

Leadership in the 21st century has to be about more than the bottom line—it’s about managing the people you work with. It’s especially necessary to consider the implications of this now, at a time when remote working is seen as the better option among workers. In “Next-Level HR,” Nick van Dam explains that transforming people management processes will be even more crucial in hybrid organizations, “where strong connections and the social aspect are increasingly important.”

But adopting a completely new leadership style takes time—and knowledge. That’s why immersive, precisely targeted short courses like our Holistic Leadership program are so essential. This week-long experience helps participants understand their motivations, refine their vision, and discover their purpose. A fresh approach to resilience building, energy management and leadership styles can provide insight into how to effectively manage teams in the new world of remote working.