The COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted many of our standard ways of operating in society from how we travel to where we socialize. Employees across the world have seen the nature of work revolutionized as companies turned to remote work as a solution during the early days of the pandemic and are now facing the potential for its long-term adoption.
In the fall of 2021, 45% of US full-time employees were working from home and benefiting from eliminating their commute, reducing the stress of being in the office, and having more time with their families.
However, no style of work is the ultimate solution, and with the onset of remote work, the boundaries between one’s professional and personal life are blurred. As a result, 69% of remote workers are experiencing burnout symptoms due to being overworked, having no sense of work life balance, and feeling unsupported.
At NoHQ, we will explore the symptoms of WFH burnout, and what employers and employees can do to overcome remote work fatigue.
What Are the Signs of Burnout?
Burnout can exhibit itself in numerous ways from mental, to emotional, or physical symptoms as a result of exhaustion and chronic stress. Overall, individuals may recognize burnout in themselves, coworkers, or close friends through a general sense of detachment, dread, apathy, or lack of motivation regarding their work, with feelings of being ‘over it’ and uninvested in their job and goals.
WFH burnout can also manifest in physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, or changes in sleep pattern that include insomnia, or on the other side of the spectrum, chronic fatigue. For individuals who typically experience anxiety or depression, these symptoms may be exacerbated, or show up for the first time.
How Can WFH Burnout Be Overcome?
In order to fight the effects of work from home fatigue, it is essential to pay attention to one’s physical, mental, emotional, and social needs to ensure that the demands of one’s work responsibilities are not taking precedence over well-being. Here are some tips for tending to each of these areas.
Take Care of Your Physical Health
Physical health refers to both one’s body and one’s environment and surroundings. Make sure to incorporate movement and exercise into one’s daily routine, as it has been shown that 30+ minutes of exercise a day for 3-5 days per week is enough to significantly improve mental health symptoms. It can be hard to fit exercise into a busy work schedule, but consider:
- Taking a short break for a walk
- Doing a morning yoga routine
- Starting an at-home workout challenge or series online
- Joining a class or team sport in a local facility that meets in the evenings after the workday
- Making sure you don’t spend hours on end sitting down. Get up, stretch, and move around to get the blood flowing.
When it comes to your physical health, one’s comfort and environment have a significant impact on wellbeing. WFH often means setting up an ad-hoc workstation on a laptop at the kitchen counter, or in the living room. While not everyone has the space and means to develop a full home-office setup, it is important to establish a productive and comfortable spot to do one’s work.
Consider if you prefer to work sitting or standing and get a table at the best height. Get a chair that is comfortable and encourages good posture and keep your space clear of distractions and mess so that it is a spot of focus, productivity, and calm.
Plus, make sure you take time to step outside. Without a commute, it is so easy to spend days-on-end indoors in one’s home. Take breaks to go outside, get a quick walk, change the scenery, and refresh your mind and body to fight off and overcome any work from home fatigue.
Be Compassionate Towards Your Own Mental Health
So much of WFH burnout manifests in mental health symptoms whether it is a state of mind, mood, or depression. In order to stave off the most severe burnout, it is essential to build a healthy and balanced routine.
- Take breaks: Often, when burnt out, it is hard to even know what one needs at any given time, but taking breaks is essential to developing a healthy and balanced work style that will allow you to regain motivation, enthusiasm, and energy by replenishing and restoring your body. While it can be difficult to get a break amid a busy work schedule, make it a priority by blocking off time in your day so that you know you will not be scheduled for a different meeting or obligation. If you are a manager whose team is struggling with burnout, implement intentional break times into the schedule for each employee so that they feel they have permission to step away.
- Meditate: Make meditation a daily practise in order to consistently take preventative measures against burnout. While meditation is a great way to calm oneself down in a stressful or heated moment, practising the habit even before the stress hits can make the mind and body more united and resilient. Meditation has been proven to have a host of positive side effects including fighting off depression and anxiety, and bringing clarity and alertness.
- Schedule downtime: Beyond blocking off time for breaks in your workday calendar, it is also essential to schedule downtime in your personal life to ensure that you rest and reset doing relaxing or enjoyable activities. Even if it means planning to watch TV in the evening with a friend or partner, making commitments to non-work activities will help ensure that you are keeping a balance in the way you spend your time.
- Use the Pomodoro Method: This technique is a way of structuring time to ensure productivity through short bursts of work followed by short breaks. The Pomodoro Method entails working in 25-minute chunks with 5-minute breaks in between, with a longer 15–20-minute break every four rounds. The technique has been known to help avoid burnout, balance work pressures, and help people make the most of their time.
Set Up Emotional Boundaries
When working from home, it can be easy to merge one’s personal and professional life, eliminating all compartmentalization that existed before remote work. To counteract burnout, it is important to gain some of these boundaries back and set up clearer distinctions between work and personal life, even within your home. Here are 3 ways to achieve clearer boundaries:
- Set up a distinctive space: Like the physical health tip above, ensure that you are not emotionally mixing up your work and personal life. For example, try to avoid doing work in bed, or multitasking between work and personal tasks; aim to do one or the other at any given time. Rather than texting with friends about weekend plans while trying to cook lunch and listening to a zoom call, wait to text the friends until you have taken a break and switch your mind into personal mode. When it comes to your workstation setup, keep it isolated from the rest of your personal life so that when you get on the couch to relax later in the evening, you aren’t lying in the same spot that you spent all day working.
- Monitor your relationship with technology: Audit yourself and determine if you are guilty of being ‘on the clock’ 24/7. For remote workers, a major point of stress is the feeling that the workday never ends, so take steps to cut yourself off. Turn off notifications on your phone and computer, remove the email app from your phone, or put your phone away at the end of the day so that you close off your work life and enter your separate personal life. Plus, as more meetings have transitioned to a video format, consider the option of taking calls instead of video chats so that you feel less drained and have the option to walk around or get moving while you talk.
- Communicate with non-work friends regularly: Spending so much time on virtual meetings can make it hard to want to spend even more time on the phone or in virtual communication, but it is essential to keep up one’s personal life. Stay in touch with those to who you are closest to and make an effort to get your emotional needs met.
- Keep your social life going: Without being around people all day, it can be hard to continue to build a fulfilling social life. But the main benefit to working in-person was the opportunity to develop strong friendships, share moments of laughter, and be inspired by the ideas of those around you. Aim to continue to capture some of these moments despite the remote work setup to prevent WFH burnout.
- Host activities or team events, remotely: Setup remote movie nights through Netflix, create Slack channels for non-work topics so that workers can share funny musings, or host open zoom-rooms where employees can pop in for a spontaneous conversation, coffee or lunch to keep the possibility and fruitfulness of random interactions, despite a remote setup.
- Schedule fewer meetings: Although it sounds counterintuitive, as meetings provide social interaction, they also drain workers of their social energy and use up their time. Consider having shorter or fewer meetings so that team members have the opportunity to spontaneously connect with each other throughout the day.
To learn more about optimizing remote work strategies, explore the other articles on NoHQ.