DISTRIBUTED: 7 Ways to Enforce Work-Life Balance

In our last blog, we talked about how important work-life balance is to every company, especially for distributed teams. In our opinion, the power of work-life balance cannot be over-emphasized. If you want to cultivate a team of well-adjusted, engaged employees, it’s essential to not only suggest or strongly encourage work-life balance—but to enforce it. Here are seven surefire ways to do just that:

1: Be Flexible

According to an Accenture study, 80 percent of employees say having flexibility in their work schedule is important to achieving a positive work-life balance. Fortunately, when you’re running a distributed team it’s not necessary to force employees to work a traditional 9 to 5 timeframe. Let your team members choose their own hours so they can work when they feel the most productive.

While one employee may prefer to work from 7:30 am to 3:30 pm when her kids are at school and the house is quiet, a night owl may be the most energized after midnight. Of course, to accommodate these varying work hours, it’s important to minimize scheduled events—such as mandatory conference calls at 3 pm each Monday. Here at Intridea, we do that by relying on email, Hipchat and other forms of asynchronous communication.

Over the years, we’ve noticed an interesting trend: When we allow employees to work reasonable hours each week and give them time off when they need a break, they’re more willing to put in extra hours when necessary.

2: Look for Signs of Burnout

Some researchers say distributed workers might be at higher risk for burnout. In the absence of defined work hours, remote workers often end up working longer—leaving them less time for their personal endeavors, according to a MIT Sloan Management Review article by Jay Mulki, Fleura Bardhi, Felicia Lassk and Jayne Nanavaty-Dahl.

Because distributed team members don’t work in clear view of their supervisors, they also tend to take on more projects than they can handle. “The rapidly increasing prevalence of distributed workforces can make demonstrating the extent of your workload incredibly hard, and often even harder to resolve,” writes independent business consultant Oliver Marks in a ZDNet article. “The result is burnout, and the impact of ‘always on’ work patterns in organizations of all sizes can ultimately have a significant negative effect on results.”

So how do you ensure your team members don’t lose steam? At Intridea, we strive to make employees feel appreciated and connected at every opportunity. It’s also important to establish clear goals for each team member, revisit those goals frequently and offer encouragement and acknowledgement when the employee reaches certain benchmarks. In other words, if you don’t continually stoke an employee’s fire, it will eventually flicker out.

3: Ensure Employees Catch Enough ZZZ’s

Most Americans don’t get nearly enough shuteye, and the lack of sleep has an adverse effect on their work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 30 percent of employed U.S. adults don’t get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a day. Of course, it’s no surprise that the longer a sleep-deprived person stays awake, the more their productivity level plummets.

In a study by Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, researchers asked sleep deprived participants to perform certain tasks, such as finding information quickly and accurately on computer monitors. As their level of sleep deprivation worsened, the participants’ ability to find the information slowed dramatically.

At Intridea, we strongly encourage our employees to get plenty of sleep. Because our distributed team members have greater control over their working hours, this makes it easier for them to fit a solid eight hours of slumber into their schedule. In the event that one of our employees has to pull an all-nighter on a tight deadline or if they are recovering from a cold or injury, we advise them to catch up on sleep however possible.

We also find it perfectly acceptable for employees to take power naps during the work day. In fact, an increasing number of companies, both distributed and non-distributed, are allowing power naps. For example, Google gives employees an opportunity to nap at work because the company believes it increases productivity—and recent research proves that this notion is absolutely true. In a NASA-financed study, a team of researchers found that allowing subjects to nap for as little as 24 minutes improved their cognitive performance.

4: Encourage Exercise

A study by Jim McKenna from the University of Bristol showed that when employees took a break from work to exercise, their work performance was consistently higher and they demonstrated better time management and improved mental sharpness when they returned to the office. These employees also reported feeling more tolerant of themselves and more forgiving of their colleagues.

At Intridea, not only do we encourage employees to get active—we take it to the next level by holding company-wide Fitbit competitions. If you haven’t heard of this awesome little gadget, the Fitbit tracks steps taken, calories burned, floors climbed, activity duration and intensity and more. Our employees wear it on their wrist all day and then plug it into a wireless base station to upload the data into the Fitbit website. From there, we can see an overview of each employee’s physical activity. At the end of the week, we crown the employee with the most impressive exercise stats as Fitbit champion. It’s a fun way to tap into our team’s competitive spirit while promoting physical fitness.

5: Support Family Time

For many professionals, the definition of work-life balance is simple: they want a fulfilling job that allows them to spend more quality time with their families. Sadly, half of working dads and more than half of working moms say they find balancing work and family responsibilities “very” or “somewhat” difficult, according to a Pew Research report. Based on the report, 46 percent of fathers and 23 percent of moms say they don’t get enough time with their kids.

We at Intridea do everything possible to accommodate working moms and dads. While traditional businesses typically offer two weeks or less of paternity leave (if any at all), we work with new parents to create a customized schedule to fit their needs.

For example, our flex hours allowed one team member to care for his newborn child and create an alternating feeding, changing and sleeping schedule with his wife. This gave him the opportunity to bond with his daughter, support his wife and still be a productive member of our team.

6: Make Vacations Mandatory

It’s really no wonder why there are so many unhappy employees in the U.S. Our nation is the only advanced economy that does not require employers to provide paid vacation time. Consequently, almost one in four Americans do not receive any paid vacations or paid holidays, according to a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. And according to a Harris Interactive study, more than half of American workers have up to two weeks’ worth of unused vacation at the end of the year.

While some employers might applaud this behavior, it’s a lose-lose when workers don’t take some much-needed R&R. Many studies show that a person’s happiness level spikes after a vacation, resulting in a recharged and mentally refreshed employee. The average traveler experiences a 25 percent increase in work performance after returning from vacation, according to the Travel Leisure Monitor.

We give Intridea employees unlimited vacation time. Our vacation policy is quite simple: “Take what you need.” We also offer “workations,” which allow employees to travel the world and work from wherever they are. Like vacations, research shows workations also offer many valuable benefits. For one, multi-cultural experiences and exotic surroundings often generate more inspired and creative work, according to research by Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

7: Get Rid of the Commute

If nothing else, distributed businesses offer improved work-life balance simply because employees don’t have to waste hours on end fighting traffic. According to the Department of Transportation, the average American driver logs 37 miles a day. To make matters worse, the typical commuter spends more than 38 hours a year stuck in traffic congestion—and that number is even higher in big cities such as D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco, at 60 hours a year.

By not commuting last year, our team saved a combined total of 9,816 hours. Check out Intridea’s YourTime to see examples of what our team members do with the extra time they save by NOT commuting.

Tune into our next blog to learn about the 4 Fatal Leadership Fails.