The Dark Side of Remote Working

The Dark Side of Remote Working

April 2020

Written by: Joy Duce, Chief Operating Officer

There it is…staring at me at midnight.  My laptop.  Just feet away from my bed in a makeshift office I created now that I am working 100% remote as a result of the COVID-19 virus.  I have already put in a 15-hour day, still wearing my pajamas and had a cup of coffee, bag of Doritos and a diet coke for my nutritional intake for the day.  I have had some form a phone or audio devise connected to my head for at least 14 hours often muting my line to scream, “I am on a work call” to my poor, neglected children who are need of assistance with their remote learning.  I already have one full time job; how can I possibly provide them an education via the role of teacher as well??!!  However, I feel this nagging sense of urgency, in spite of it now being midnight, to respond to that one last email despite my sheer exhaustion. 

The scenario laid out above is all too familiar today as we adjust and overcome the challenges that COVID-19 has placed upon us into this new normal.  While many of us are part of organizations that are able to provide us 100% remote work on an interim basis, we have to ensure we don’t fall victim to the unfortunate side effects  These can include: stress, burnout, caffeine, anxiety – what I like to refer to as the dark side of working remote. 

During this time where so many employees are remote, how organizations keep them from becoming burned out, bummed out and overall disengaged, is the million-dollar question.  Here are some tips and tricks to help employees keep balance in today's 100% remote, always connected environment.

Develop and keep boundaries

This is the number one challenge for remote workers.  While working remote provides a great benefit of flexibility, that can turn to blurred lines of where work ends, and life begins.  There is always going to be more work to do and being in a remote environment does not allow us to drive away from our office building to our home.  Being remote, employees must be proactive about setting priorities and enacting appropriate boundaries.  While it's important to get work done in a timely manner, remote work doesn't mean that you absolutely need to be online or available 24/7. Also, scheduling time for relaxing/socializing and/or close, supportive relationships is a key to the balancing act.

Empower employees to establish and maintain a routine

Create a morning and evening routine now that you don’t have a definite time to be in the office.  Stick to that routine for consistency and overall well-being.  This helps signal your brain when work time is starting in the morning and when it is ending in the evening.  As a remote employee, it is difficult to distinguish between work and non-work time.  Routines help set those parameters.  Work cannot be a 24/7 commitment and any effort to do so will result in burnout.

Set and stick to priorities

Work is never going to stop.  There is always more to do.  When you work remote, there is no one there to encourage you to head home for the night or let you know the office is closing. You need to have the power to decide when to STOP! You must decide that the rest of your life is worth making space for, and not let work take over that time. Employees are most vulnerable to burn out when they lose focus of what is important at work.  Identifying what is essential and what is not, while getting organized each day, will prohibit you from jumping between tasks, projects and emails and only ending the day feeling stressed, exhausted and unaccomplished. 

Take both long and short breaks

Despite working 100% remote, still take that paid time off (PTO) you had on the calendar for a staycation.  Individuals are prone to want to cancel their PTO since they are working remote and travel is limited as a result of COVID-19.  However, it is essential you take time away from work to refresh and recharge.  Enjoy the flexibility that working remotely offers by splitting your day in half.  Take a walk outside around lunch to give your mind time to relax and your body some movement. 

Make human interaction a priority every day

One of the biggest changes to working remote is the lack of human contact to provide a moral boost or relief during difficult periods. Make socialization a part of your daily routine.  Lean on trusted colleagues to reach out to for support, celebratory virtual high fives, face time via Zoom, Skype, etc. and overall support.   Go talk to another human for a change in context to distract you from your professional life’s fatigue.

During this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic, make sure you and your employees are not falling victim to remote work burn out.  By establishing a routine, managing and respecting your time, taking breaks and spending face time with people outside of work-related conversations can make working remote a very fulfilling and productive way to live.  If we take proactive measures to be mindful and take care of ourselves, we can combat burnout before it happens.