Why we are building the Women In CX community – Interview with Clare MuscuttSeptember 16, 2020
Our leadership impact is really about how we show up and who we are – Interview with Anese CavanaughSeptember 22, 2020
This is a guest post by Sharon Koifman, CEO of DistantJob.
Even in the best of times, remote work brings both advantages and also challenges. The problem is that these are anything but the best of times. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the problems that can arise for remote workers, and even created some new ones. As a result, it’s never been more important for company managers and CEOs to help prevent remote employees burnout, work-from-home burnout, and remote work loneliness.
Before COVID-19, statistics show that remote work offered some flexibility. Though the term is most commonly associated with working from home, that didn’t automatically need to be the case. Some remote workers (and managers) choose to set up office space somewhere that’s both away from the company’s office and not at home. Others might occasionally take their laptops to the coffee shop or the park. Workers who have a particularly flexible boss might even be authorized to go work at the beach on a tropical island, as long as the work gets done.
The novel coronavirus wiped out that flexibility. Working from home became the only viable option for most remote workers. That new normal has resulted in greater stress for remote workers of all stripes.
First, there’s the anxiety that comes with potentially catching the virus. Even people working from home can be at risk, even if they only leave their homes for groceries or interact with just a few other people who don’t seal themselves off from the rest of the world.
Then there’s the stress that comes from remote work even in the best of times. Remote work loneliness and remote employees burnout are always threats that bosses need to watch for. That’s doubly true in the middle of a deadly global pandemic.
To understand how and why remote employees burnout is such a significant cause of concern during the time of COVID-19, let’s take a closer look at why these are concerns the rest of the time.
It starts with the absence of the most desirable elements of working in an office with others. People who work in offices often report counting some of their colleagues as among their closest friends. Whether through water cooler talk around the big game, commiserating in the lunchroom, or after-work activities, office colleagues can and do develop close bonds, the kind that can be difficult to find (or replicate) without physical, face-to-face proximity. Remote work makes all of those interactions difficult.
Remote workers who don’t get proper support from their bosses and teamwork guidelines can also start to feel disconnected from the company they work for. When everyone is working side by side in an office, it’s natural to grow to feel like everyone is pulling from the same side of the rope. The solitude of remote work can erase that feeling of solidarity. It gives workers more time to be alone with their thoughts.
In this case that’s not always a good thing, because all of those thoughts can lead to doubts or even resentment. They can make workers wonder if their work is actually making a difference, and if their contributions are being seen and appreciated. Even something as simple as basic eye contact or a pat on the back isn’t available when workers are sitting alone, in their own space. That lack of human connection can make some less self-assured workers more anxious, less effective at their work, and less productive.
Here then are a few tips for remote workers who want to prevent burnout, and managers who want to help prevent that remote employees burnout:
- Foster a healthy work/life balance. One of the most subtle but also most important elements of working in an office with other people is the dividing line that it draws between work time, and non-work time. Whether you work until 5 pm, 6 pm, or much later, there does eventually come a point at which you can go home and unwind. When you’re working from home, or any non-traditional remote environment, it’s harder to separate work hours from non-work hours, which can lead to both an inability to fully focus on work when you need to, and an inability to fully relax when you want to. Take steps to ensure a healthy work/life balance, even if that means shoving your laptop in a drawer at the end of the remote workday.
- Build and maintain good communication with your team. This will help you and your employees in multiple ways. First, it will help ensure that everyone is on the same page in terms of projects, deadlines, and overall expectations. But just as importantly, it will help ensure that you and your employees form a healthy, honest, supportive bond. Simple gestures such as a two-word Slack message that says “great work!” will remind your employees that you’ve got their back, and that they’re never alone. You can take it a step further and make a custom video for your employees about the new remote workforce and what you’re doing to take care of your employees.
- Conduct regular 1:1 meetings. Feedback sessions don’t necessarily need to be formal. Those might be just regular meetings to chat and check-in on what’s going on. You might also ask your employees to fill out self-evaluation forms once in a while to reflect on their goals, challenges, and workplace dynamics.
- Don’t demand longer hours/respect employees’ schedules. This goes hand in hand with maintaining a healthy work/life balance. If your workers were expected to work eight hours a day when you were all assembled in the office, those expectations shouldn’t change now that you’re all working in a remote environment. The same goes for respecting your employees’ schedules. If you’re willing to allow your workers to go to an occasional doctor’s appointment during office hours, you should be similarly patient and understanding if, say, their kids run into a computer problem that needs addressing while they go to school remotely because of COVID-19.
- Virtual water coolers. As important as it is for you as the boss to maintain close ties and respectful boundaries with your workers, your team will still want to connect with other members of the team who are also working remotely. So take the time and initiative to set up virtual water cooler events for your team. Maybe that’s a Zoom happy hour. Maybe it’s replacing the usual, boring Monday meeting with everyone getting a chance to share what they did over the weekend. Whatever form this takes, committing yourself to nurturing your remote employees’ mental health will set up your company for success.
This is a guest post by Sharon Koifman, CEO of DistantJob.
Sharon Koifman is the CEO of DistantJob, a Montreal-based company that provides remote worker staffing and best practices-based advisory services for companies seeking to improve and expand their remote work operations.