How to Identify and Avoid Burnouts While Working Remotely

 

One of the most common causes for organisations to be reluctant on adopting a remote-friendly work model is the fear that, without constant supervision and the ability to physically monitor presence through out the day, their teams will avoid work and produce less. This couldn't be further from the truth - remote work boosts productivity and has a number of evidenced advantages for businesses. There is, however, a price to pay for that extra productivity.

The irony is that the flexibility to work where and when you want should support work-life balance, but often it does the exact opposite: remote workers work more hours than their office colleagues. When your home is your office, it's hard to separate your work and personal life.

In addition, remote work puts much more focus on output - what did you get done - rather than input — how many hours did you spend doing it. The sense of personal responsibility to get things done can lead professionals to demolish all boundaries: working for days without enough sleep to hit a big deadline, dismissing a balanced diet, and so on. By pushing themselves too hard, there is a real risk of developing a range of health problems.

Some of the most common burnout symptoms include:

  • Anxiety and depression

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Insomnia

  • Anger and irritability

  • Wide range of physical symptoms, such as indigestion, headaches, heart palpitations

Or watch out for these signs:

  • You can't focus: forget tasks or deadlines, consistently late to meetings

  • You continually show unprofessional behavior: blame or attack colleagues, don't assume responsibility for your own work

  • You don't care about anything: lack of patience with others, neglect self-care habits

  • You can't disconnect: check work-related calls or messages during personal or social events, lack human interaction

  • You are avoiding work: lack of motivation, persistent procrastination

The most important thing is to be aware of the risks and spot any symptom early on. You don’t have to exhibit all of these, and if you suspect you might be suffering from burnout we suggest you consult a medical specialist. There are, however, a number of ideas to avoid burnouts before they happen. Below we list five of them, and recommend you take some time to reflect on how these are present on your professional life. 

Have a Routine

A number of studies and scientific researches highlight the importance of routines. These sequence of activities signal to our brain that it's time to get into work mode (or exercise mode, or whatever other mode you need to be in to execute tasks). Meditation and exercise are among the most popular activities to start the day, but any kind of mindfulness practice can enhance your focus and attention, boosting both productivity and well-being. Crafting your routine is also a perfect opportunity to reflect on which systems are currently supporting your goals, and how much attention you are putting in self-development.

Establish priorities and plan your workload

We often assume that productivity means getting more things done each day, and that is usually the case if you're talking about an equipment or a specific process. When we refer to it in a human context, however, it is just plain wrong. Imagine you complete 30 tasks every day while your colleague gets only 3 done, but with those 3 he achieves the same goals you have in half of the time. Who's more productive?  

Being productive is about knowing how to prioritise, and getting important things done consistently. Don't fall for the myth of multitasking. Take a few minutes each night to organize your to-do list for the next day - these 10 minutes will most probably save you a couple of hours and a lot of headache scheduling tasks. If you are struggling with several different goals or projects, try Warren Buffett's 25/5 exercise to prioritize effectively. 

Set boundaries

There is always more to do, and when you work remotely, there is no one to tell you to go home or that the office is closing, so it has to be you who decides when to stop. Remote work doesn't mean that you absolutely need to be online or available 24/7. Implement office hours by silencing notifications and activating an out-of-office response. Digital tools are not only there to ensure collaboration, but also to display availability and facilitate asynchronous communication.

Make space to human interaction

Remote work can be seen as one of the solutions to a number of global challenges, but it is clear that human beings are not wired to live alone - we still need to socialize. The lack of social interaction can lead to burnout even if you absolutely love your work. Take care of your social life, by having friends, colleagues or family that you can hangout with. Adopt a hobby or group activity that puts you in a good mood. 

Be honest and communicate

Disguising or neglecting some of the symptoms will only worsen the situation. If you’re feeling burned out, tell your boss and coworkers as early as possible. They can help you by changing your workload, making sure you are getting recognition and constructive feedback more frequently, or assigning you in a specific coaching or training program.

Remember that the autonomy and physical distance that define remote work comes with the responsibility to regularly engage in self-coaching activities: Seeing ourselves as a work-in-progress and being open to learning, adopting a mindset that supports growth, and reflecting objectively upon our experiences. If you want to have a long, healthy and successful remote career, recognizing that burnout is a real danger and taking care of yourself is a must. 

 
Danilo Kreimer