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TXST associate professor probes ways to improve remote worker work-family balance

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Shortly before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maggie Wan, an associate professor in the McCoy College of Business at Texas State University, received an opportunity to analyze a relatively new and growing segment within the U.S. workforce: remote workers.

Dawn Carlson at Baylor University invited her to collaborate on a project examining remote work and that work environment’s impact on families.

One of the resulting research papers: “Interruptions in Remote Work: A Resource-based Model of Work and Family Stress,” led by Sara J. Perry at Baylor, was published in the Journal of Business and Psychology. The research team includes Carlson, Micki Kacmar from the University of South Alabama and Merideth Thompson from Utah State University.

Wan and her peers surveyed 391 couples to address the difficulty of finding a balance between work obligations and family needs when at least one person in the couple works from home. One of the top questions the group sought to answer: How can we keep remote workers less stressed and more engaged?

“For new remote employees, family members might think they are available for family duties or chatting during remote work hours,” Wan said. “That delays work performance and can lead to stress and worker dissatisfaction.”

That remote worker stress combined with potential dissatisfaction from other family members required Wan and the team to examine solutions.

“The timed use of breaks for nonwork and self-care purposes is a really important resource,” Wan said. “To help workers restore, some break examples that are not time-consuming activities are: yoga, stretching, meditation or taking a walk.”

Considering the challenges posed by remote work, Wan was thrilled to have a chance to examine the timely topic with data gathered during the pandemic.

“Remote work scholars are paying attention,” she said. “The best model may not be 100 percent remote work. That might cost some in-person interaction, connectivity (and communication) between colleagues. Most companies are leaning toward a hybrid – part of the week in the office and part at home.”

For companies that embrace a higher percentage of remote work, Wan advised those businesses to create ways to maintain an online work community to prevent workers from feeling isolated. The buy-in from the workers improves when there is a clear understanding of communication and expectations between supervisors and subordinates.

Wan’s quest to further examine remote work issues falls in line with the group’s additional research. The model of work and family stress paper has been published and a handful of papers on remote work are under review.

“We just started a project at the early data collection stage,” Wan said. “How do remote workers take micro breaks during work hours? They may not be aware that breaks are important. Previous research has found remote workers work longer hours but take fewer breaks. Do they start to think if there is a downside to taking breaks that will harm their (respective) careers?”

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