By Shauna Moran
I can promise you that this isn’t another article on how to work remotely. We’ve been bombarded with these ‘tips’ and ‘how-to guides’ for many months. While technologies and proven processes are useful, it doesn’t get to the core of what’s important right now — and that’s how we sustain ourselves and our teams when we continue to work remotely throughout a pandemic.
One of the major concerns now for organisations and their leaders is the fact that workers all over the world are becoming increasingly burnt-out.
7 out of 10 professionals have experienced burnout since COV-19 started, so it’s not something we can just shy away from. We need to create a sense of shared responsibility and accountability in coming together and promoting a different culture of working.
Let’s take a step back and explore the root causes of the rise in burnout amongst remote workers this year.
Traditional working where we travel to and from a specific location every day naturally provides a sense of structure, routines and habits. Although that structure can involve tedious activities such as commuting (we won’t go there in this article), it forms a pattern of set structure that enables people to switch ‘on’ and ‘off’ from their work.
When we work remotely, however, the structure that we’ve been used to is gone. Yes, we have more time, more freedom and more opportunity to create a better work-life balance, but not everyone knows how to create a new structure and form new habits. It can be a challenge to adapt without the new knowledge required for effective remote working.
On top of all of that, this year has brought less than normal remote working circumstances. For some, it’s working on the kitchen table while homeschooling their family, for others, it’s a challenge to live and work alone all day, every day while being in quarantine.
Overnight, we’ve asked everyone to find new structures, coping mechanisms, time management practises and habits in this new way of working and living. All while dealing with and trying to process a pandemic.
Organisations can put proactive measures in place to prevent workforce burnout, and they can equip their leaders to identify the red flags that alert them ahead of their teams feeling stressed.
And let’s face it— our work, especially if we’re passionate about it, can be a welcomed distraction from all that’s going on in our worlds. We welcome the hours spent strategizing and meeting with clients as it allows us to turn a blind eye to all the craziness in the world.
Aside from what’s happened this year, all research shows that those that work remotely tend to be more productive than their office counterparts. A 2019 study by Airtasker found that remote workers worked an average of 1.4 more days every month, or 16.8 more days every year.
But when is too much work, just too much?
What’s the tipping point for us as remote workers?
I often find that we only learn the lesson once we’ve reached the tipping point. We can have everyone around us telling us to ‘take time off’ but until we experience the impact that overworking has on us as individuals, we tend to take this advice with a pinch of salt.
However, organisations can put proactive measures in place to prevent workforce burnout, and they can equip their leaders to identify the red flags that alert them ahead of their teams feeling stressed.
Here are three ways you can prevent burnout, whether you’re a solo entrepreneur, manage a team or work on a remote team.
1. Focus on working smart instead of hard.
When we work remotely, the focus should be on output as opposed to input. Oftentimes we don’t realise how much more productive we are at home compared to working in an office. It’s important for remote workers at all levels to get clear on the main priorities, understanding that this may change more often due to the current climate. Once we’re clear on our work priorities, we can better structure our days and our time. We must be measuring ourselves and our teams on the output and decide on a metric that makes sense. Data will help us make better decisions when we ‘just want to answer that one extra email at 9.30 pm.’
2. Take time away from work in micro and macro settings.
Take some time to build the skill of self-awareness. At what times do you work best? What home environment helps you feel at your most productive? And finally, what activities and practices make you feel at your very best? Starting small is advisable. Maybe it’s that you begin a 20-minute walk before taking client calls, or you eat your lunch on your patio without screens every day.
Time away from work should be practised each day based on what works for you. These should become your non-negotiables. Remember, when you say YES to that meeting, what are you saying NO to? The likelihood is you’re saying NO to you feeling calm and grounded.
We need to have boundaries around work, even something as simple as reading emails first thing in the morning can set us up feeling frazzled for the rest of the day.
Macro time away is longer chunks of time away from work. Organisations should promote that everyone takes longer time away from work, even though our travel is limited.
3. Get an accountability partner and lead by example.
When I coach leaders that are concerned with employee wellbeing and engagement, I first ask them how they are managing themselves. It’s essential to change the culture of our organisation to be about balance and sustainability — and frequently we need to change our mindsets to be effective at that. Finding an accountability partner can be a great way to ensure you switch off at a particular time or take that extra-long weekend that you promised yourself you would.
If you have a team, start having these conversations with them in an open forum, asking them what their ideas and suggestions are around preventing burnout. Only then can we truly begin to normalise work/life balance and promote healthy and truly engaged work.