Remote developers love their job. Which is why the biggest challenge for a remote developer is work-life balance. They usually prefer to work from home, stay up all night and get into their coding processes. They tend to work longer hours and willingly take on more work, spending day after day in front of a computer. It sounds amazing, but there is another side of the coin to consider.
Like any other human being, without a solid strategy to manage increased workloads, developers suffer from burnout. Browsing on Medium, you can find thousands of interviews of remote engineers and programmers where they share their work habits. And most of them have a common priority: to create strategies to them maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Some people love going for a run during the morning, others save that time to cook a delicious breakfast. The point is that they educated themselves to keep a productive and healthy schedule. And you can teach your remote developers how to do the same, helping them find a better work-life balance.
Why is Work-Life Balance Important for Remote Developers?
Burnout is a reality for thousands of remote workers across the globe. And software developers are no exception.
DigitalOcean’s report highlights that 66% of remote developers experienced burnout symptoms. In the United States, the record jumps up to 82%. The most popular burnout causes are lack of control over work agreements, the feeling of not doing enough as a remote worker, a disorganized workplace, and an increased level of anxiety due to deadlines.
According to the report, the risk of burnout is 2% higher for a remote developer than in-house employees. However, with the right instruction, remote work can lead to better work-life balance, especially for remote developers. The same report shows how those working remotely rate their work-life balance at 7.02 out of 10, on average – on-site developers score lower at 6.95.
To keep your performance high and stable, you have one secret strategy: teach your remote developer how to achieve a better work-life balance.
Factors Contributing to Software Developers Stress and Burnout
Burnout symptoms are similar to post-traumatic stress. According to scientific research, the core symptoms of burnout are:
- Emotional exhaustion
- Reduced personal accomplishment
In the long run, these feelings lead to loss of purpose, tiredness, and, most importantly, indifference towards deadlines and responsibilities. In 2015, three Harvard professors developed a mathematical model to calculate the impact of work stress on health. According to their results, burnout causes 120,000 deaths only in the US. It also costs about $190 billion dollars in healthcare expenses, which is 8% of the national expenditure. Companies like General Motors spend more on healthcare than on steel!
But, what causes burnout?
Blind conducted a survey that revealed tech employees considered poor leadership and unclear direction as the top reasons for stress. When team leads cannot give proper guidance or communicate project specs to developers, their own efforts become futile.
Other factors leading to high stress include:
As we mentioned earlier, one of the main causes of burnout is an excessive workload. When working remotely, it can happen that tasks overlap for several reasons. There is a tendency to give more work, or simply the remote developer takes over more responsibilities than they can handle. Wherever the reason is, an excessive workload for extended periods decreases productivity.
Time Management Skills
Prioritizing work can be finicky for a globally distributed team, especially without strong time management skills. In a remote setting, an organized workplace is crucial to keep a good workflow. When remote employees spend more time searching for what they need than working, you know they will burn out soon. Sorting out internal organization takes time and energy from other tasks. As a result, deadlines and workload will pile up leading to stress and anxiety.
Most remote organizations face this problem where they collaborate for the sake of collaboration. They don’t see each other like in an office and when managers don’t trust software developers tend to give them more tasks. Prolonged meetings that lead to nowhere, multiple exchanges of emails and chats – all just to follow some predefined structure. Once again, wasting time with unnecessary calls and meetings is time-consuming, and your developer will lose the energy to work on your project.
How to Teach Work-life Balance To Your Remote Programmer?
Work-life balance comes very high on the list of things remote developers look for in a good job. The 2019 HackerRank Developer Skills Report states that work-life balance is second on that list. Even before good compensation (which is third).
The Blind survey we mentioned earlier found that 57.16% of the 11,487 tech employees responding were experiencing burnout.
In addition, remote developers suffer from “work from home” guilt. They fear that any time they aren’t working, it’ll be considered a “time waste” by management who might penalize them.
So, it’s necessary for managers to take the lead on this issue. Team leaders need to encourage and provide the right resources to achieve a healthy work-life balance. Only then will it become accepted and exercised by employees.
Here are some ideas to create a culture of work-life balance for your remote developers:
1. Mitigate Stress Factors
If their sources of stress remain constant, your developer’s emotional health will suffer too. To avoid this, try to take a second look at workload distribution, offering better clarity and help with projects, and streamlining bloated business processes. Monitor your team’s mental health, and find strategies to make visible to anyone the work people are doing.
2. Provide Learning Opportunities
The number one benefit developers seek from their jobs is the opportunity to learn and grow. For example, conducting online classes to expand their skills or giving an annual education stipend is one the best ways to engage with your developers – without giving extra tasks.
3. Open Communication Vibe
A corporate culture based on openness can’t be replaced with business models. Especially during meetings, create an open communication vibe to share feedback and bottlenecks. Letting remote employees speak freely about what’s bothering them can make them feel more involved and accepted. More importantly, they feel comfortable speaking out when they can cope with tasks, arranging a better workload with the rest of the team.
4. Consider Virtual In-office Counseling
Often a manager or team lead just isn’t qualified to offer better guidance from a psychological point of view. That’s why many businesses have in-house corporate counselors. Remote developers and team members should also have access to counselors who can help them lead happier lives and perform better at work.
5. SeekExpert Help
Developers or project leaders don’t learn about work-life balance at school. The assumption that they can simply wing it leads to grave problems. Workshops, seminars, webinars can teach remote employees work-life balance and how to sustainably contribute to a company over the long term.
6. Focus on Building Relationships
Strong relationships are the heartbeats of a well-functioning remote team. Regular company-wide chats can build camaraderie. But many remote companies are finding that meeting up with their distributed team members 1-2 times a year is helping create lifelong bonds. Or, you can find a virtual water cooler, like gaming nights or funny channels where you can chat without talking about work.
7. Encourage Physical Exercise
A study from the American Cancer Society noted that prolonged sitting (6-8 hours) increases the mortality rate by 19%. The health journal, Lancet suggested that 60-75 minutes of intensive physical exercise can alleviate that risk. Promoting physical exercise within the company through gym allowances has found success with other remote companies.
8. Provide Paid Time Off
What do Spotify, Skype, and Minecraft have in common? They were all developed by Swedes on their tjänstledighet. A six-month sabbatical that any Swede who has worked full-time for six months is eligible to take. In the US, this may sound like a far-out concept. But encouraging personal projects, giving parental leaves, and paid vacations are helping remote workers in companies like HotJar.
Incentivize Work-life Balance For Your Remote Developers
Incentivizing breaks sounds counterintuitive but leads to better results. A company in Japan, Crazy Inc., pays its employees to sleep. An app made by Airweave Inc. mattress tracks employee sleeping hours for which they get points. These can be exchanged for food in their cafeteria. Their CEO, Kazuhiko Moriyama says “You have to protect workers’ rights, otherwise the country itself will weaken”.
Adding form and structure to work-life balance – Allowing six months off is not always possible. Still, management can use the right resources and set norms like using up annual vacation days or using apps (such as the time management app, Toggl) to remain productive at work.
The health and happiness of employees are a direct reflection of the company itself. And is directly related to employee productivity. Taking measures to ensure employee wellbeing is an important step in safeguarding the company’s long-term success. To see how we can help, email us.