Do your remote employees have 'home fever'?

While employees may come up with their own solutions, HR can help, says Canadian researcher

Do your remote employees have 'home fever'?

“Home fever” — when remote employees lose their motivation to work due to prolonged time spent working at home alone — might sound like another employee engagement catchphrase, but it’s a real medical condition that HR leaders should pay attention to, according to new research from Carleton University’s School of Engineering and Design.

Essentially cabin fever in an employment context, home fever sets in over long periods of time, with real symptoms that include anxiety, irritability, restlessness and loneliness, as well as a powerful urge to stop working and go outside, said PhD candidate Farzam Sepanta, co-author of the study.

“Teleworking before the pandemic was not as prevalent – everybody's trying to adopt it, everybody's enjoying it for different reasons, and it's a new landscape,” he told Canadian HR Reporter. “So, this new landscape requires new and innovative solutions, and I believe human resources, once they become conscious about it, can come up with their own strategies.”

Remote employees find own solutions to home fever

The most important thing for HR professionals to know about home fever is that it happens over time, and it is preventable through employee-led changes in routines, Sepanta said. And for home fever prevention to be effective, HR should take the individual approach.

“The healthy habits that you need to make conscious decisions about are very important, and nobody but the teleworker themselves can make such decisions,” he said.

Sweeping strategies or rules will not work in this case, Sepanta said. Remote workers can take several steps to prevent home fever, but the key action for HR professionals is to provide them with the flexibility to find solutions to their individual challenges.

“Based on the research that we conducted, teleworkers knew already what is boosting their productivity, and because they knew what is boosting their productivity, they tried to include that more in their routines … even if they were not successful, they tried it,” he said, explaining that subjects of the study reported self-directed measures such as getting dressed for work in the morning, taking regular breaks and going for walks or practicing yoga.

“That's very important. It shows that when the employer allows the flexibility of working remote, your employees themselves will come up with innovative solutions to improve their productivity.”

Steps for HR to prevent home fever in remote workers

The study comprised extensive in-depth interviews with remote workers who relocated during the first two years of the pandemic. With the aim of assessing the energy use impacts of Canadian teleworkers who moved during COVID-19, the study also reported greater financial flexibility and higher car dependence among respondents.

It also showed that remote employees had different needs according to their particular home circumstances; for example, if they lived with a partner and children or lived alone, or left a city where their friends and family live.

The culture and organization of their employer also makes a difference, Sepanta said.

And while remote employees have individual needs for personal wellness and health, there are still ways HR can help, he said, such as installing apps or tracking software on company laptops that remind employees to leave their screens every 20 minutes, or to get up and move every hour.

“That's a general rule whether you're working from an office or from home, but when you're working from home it's easier to look at your laptop for extended periods of time,” Sepanta said.

“From an employer's point of view, you can see that that conscientiousness that teleworkers normally have is helping the company to grow, because they know how to increase their productivity. From an HR point of view, if you want to give it a boost, then it is [about] your strategy planning, how you can support your employees even more to increase their productivity.”

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