How to Support Your Remote Team’s Work-Life Balance Through AIR Nano Transitions

The COVID-19 pandemic forced thousands of workers to shift out of their offices virtually overnight, without adequate preparation or planning.

October 7, 2022
Alyssa Birnbaum

The COVID-19 pandemic forced thousands of workers to shift out of their offices virtually overnight, without adequate preparation or planning.

To investigate how people were navigating this new world of work, my research team at Claremont Graduate University, including Megan Benzing, Chloe Darlington, and Dr. Gloria Gonzalez-Morales, conducted and qualitatively analyzed 40 interviews to assess how U.S. and Canadian employees were finding balance as they began working from home.

Findings From Our Research: Increased Nano Transitions

We noticed an increase in nano transitions, or the natural ebbing and flowing in and out of work. Because there was no clear delineation between work and personal settings, people were no longer clocking hours in a concentrated space from 9-5 with a lunch break. Their work hours expanded, but they started taking pockets of time throughout the day to take care of their kids, exercise, clean up the house, play video games, run errands, or socialize.

We noticed that nano transitions with 3 qualities –  autonomy, intentionality, and regulation (AIR) – were the most beneficial for workers in terms of employees’ overall wellbeing and productivity, and promoting work-life balance.

  • Autonomy is the freedom to structure and manage your workday. Employees with autonomy can choose when to focus on work and when to break. They’re also able to choose which tasks to do.
  • In that sense, employees can opt to work well-before or after the traditional work day hours, select break activities that aren’t conventionally appropriate during the day (for instance, watching TV, exercising, or playing the drums), choose to work from wherever they please, and select when to finish all of their work during the day.
  • Intentionality refers to whether the nano transitions themselves are deliberate and purposeful. When an employee’s nano transitions are intentional, they are selected for a specific reason.
  • For instance, an employee may connect with a friend or peer to minimize their isolation and heighten their sense of belonging, take a nap or a walk to recover from work so they can be productive later, buckle down to work during their prime concentration hours to optimize their most efficient work time, or engage in a chore (cleaning, getting groceries) to minimize their to-do list at the end of the day.
  • Regulation is related to the control or established time for engaging in activities.
  • For example, when someone predetermines that they will work in 20-minute chunks or take an hour to get groceries and then continue working after as planned, those nano transitions are regulated. When someone starts watching TV, thinking they will indulge in a single episode but finding themselves glued to the couch 4 hours later, that nano transition was not regulated.

How to support employees’ AIR nano transitions

Engaging in AIR nano transitions creates a more productive, balanced, and engaged workforce. As a manager, you can enable or prevent your employees from using AIR nano transitions. Here are 5 ways you can support employees’ AIR nano transitions:

1. Understand preferences

It’s impossible to meet everyone’s needs all the time, but it may be worth getting to know your employees’ work styles, needs, and preferences. That way, you can do your best to accommodate your team members in a way that's optimal to them without undermining your team’s efforts.

The best way to learn about your team members is to set up one-on-one meetings with each of them. That way, they feel safe and comfortable sharing their preferences with you. Here are examples of questions you can ask:

  • If you could structure your own workday, in an ideal world, what would it look like?
  • How do you prefer to collaborate with others? This should include how they prefer to interact (meetings, chat messages, phone calls, email, etc.) and their preferred interaction cadence (continuous contact throughout the day, structured meetings, etc.).
  • What kind of support do you need from me to perform your best work?

You may learn that they certain employees need structured support from you, while others would rather have more time independently working. Some employees may prefer working in spurts throughout the day, whereas others may want large chunks of work time.

2. Reconsider meetings

People who were pulled into meetings all day, which meant they were tethered to their desks and unable to have the flexibility to engage in nano transitions, complained that those days were the least balanced and they felt the most burnt out. Too many meetings meant that workers couldn’t get their own work done.

Before scheduling a meeting, consider its necessity – does it need to occur, or can it be replaced with an email or messaging platform? Also, who really needs to attend, and how long does the meeting need to be? Don’t invite additional employees or make meetings longer than necessary to respect everyone’s time. It may also be worth allocating specific meeting-free days or designating meeting-free hours in a day so employees know they have more flexibility during those times.

3. Avoid micromanaging

When your employees aren’t in the office, it becomes more challenging to monitor them. However, micromanaging and checking in too often can feel like a lack of trust. You can empower your employees by setting a deadline and allowing them to complete their work on their own schedule.

There are some times when interdependent work is needed, or your employee needs to respond quickly to your questions to reach a deadline. Try to let your employees know in advance when you might need them to be on-call so they can plan their days appropriately without feeling like they are stuck at their computer at all times.

4. Respect boundaries

Don’t reach out to employees at all hours or expect responses on nights and weekends unless it is necessary for a specific deadline. Employee telepressure, or the fixation and impulse to quickly respond to technology-based communications like email, text, or chat, becomes worse when managers are messaging their employees and expecting replies all the time.

Research by Dr. Larissa Barber and colleagues (2019) shows that increased telepressure is related to lower perceptions of work-life balance; in other words, people who are glued to their phones, replying to work emails late at night and over the weekend generally aren’t happy with their work-life balance. As a manager, minimizing unnecessary messaging can help your employees find more balance.

5. Role model AIR nano transitions

In our research, some participants shared that they felt comfortable taking breaks because they knew that their managers were doing the same. Managers who were open about the fact that they took walks to recalibrate after a long meeting or went to pick up their child midday reduced the taboos once associated with taking time off during the workday.

Consider ways that you can share that you’re engaging in AIR nano transitions and encourage your employees to step away from their computers and follow suit. This can help normalize the process for your employees, helping them find balance and become more productive workers.


This post highlights novel findings from recent research on work-life balance by describing nano transitions and the qualities that make them most effective: autonomy, intentionality, and regulation (AIR). Engaging in AIR nano transitions help employees thrive by supporting their work-life balance and allowing them to capitalize on their most efficient work times and take breaks to help them recover when necessary.

Leaders can help their team members engage in AIR nano transitions by understanding their personal preferences, reconsidering meetings, avoiding micromanaging their employees, respecting their employees’ boundaries outside of regular work hours, and acting as a role model.


Barber, L. K., Conlin, A. L., & Santuzzi, A. M. (2019). Workplace telepressure and work–life balance outcomes: The role of work recovery experiences. Stress and Health, 35(3), 350-362.

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