For better or for worse, the world’s work culture is rapidly transforming in a number of ways. One such way is that there are now more of us working from home, most of the time, now more than ever. And by all indication the trend is here to stay. With more employees working from home companies are able to cut down costs in terms of renting/ buying workspace, transportation costs, etc.
This is a great thing. But it also raises new issues to consider, like the growing epidemic of remote work burnout.
Working remotely can do wonders for your mental health, and help you to create a healthier balance between the work and life. Parents are able to be more involved in children’s life, eat healthier home cooked meals, save time on the daily hassle of commuting and much more. It’s also possible to be far more productive working at home than anywhere else.
But if you are still relatively new to these waters, you may be experiencing that it has its obstacles, too.
One of the most common of those challenges is remote work burnout AKA WFH burnout. That feeling of discontentment from being all day, exhaustion from being stuck in the same environment, even dread at the thought of the next conference call or virtual happy hour and the blurry line between work hours and after work hours.
Most remote workers face it at some point. But with the right tools, it’s something that can be managed.
Work from Home Burnout Is a Real Thing
To those who have yet to experience it, remote work burnout can sound like just another unrealistic millennial rant. Well believe it or not, WFH burnout is a real thing.
Every form of work takes up mental, physical, and emotional energy, in different ways and to different degrees. As such, each causes its own unique forms of friction. With working from home, those may include:
Being connected-but-not-really connected with your coworkers
Experiencing freedom not just as a benefit but also as a burden in many ways. Employees may miss out on mentoring, guidance from bosses and may end up feeling unsupported
Drawing the line between being truly being at home and being and work from home
3 Symptoms of Work From Home Burnout
The lack of human interaction: Man is a social animal and needs human interaction. The human interaction at office can help relieve stress, provide the need for conformity, team bonding, and friendships. One may reasonably assume that the trouble with video meetings and conference calls is an introvert/extrovert thing. Like it might work well for one and not the other. But interestingly enough, a day of all-digital communication can be exhausting to either. Introverts feel like they have to be “on” the whole time. Extroverts still find themselves missing the sense of connection they crave. This ‘loneliness’ or ‘isolation’ can translate into dissatisfaction, irritability, etc.
Loss of Focus: There’s a common assumption that the many stimuli of being in the home environment will make it impossible to keep one’s attention on work. For many people, this is not the case at all. But when we face remote work burnout, a different kind of focus problem arises. It’s the kind of focus problem that comes from being mentally and emotionally exhausted, and having your self-control wiped out. Once this happens, focusing on even basic tasks can become a massive hurdle. At home, distractions may include a pressure cooker that needs to be taken off the stove, a crying baby, home repairs, TV noise, your neighbour asking to borrow sugar; regardless of what it is all these things demand you attention and energy. Juggling between both the home sphere and work sphere can be exhaustive, to say the least.
Workaholism: In direct contrast to the above two problems, which make it hard to get your regular work done, working from home can also make it harder to stop working. That’s because one of the biggest causes of remote work burnout is insufficient, blurry boundaries. When the home and the office occupy the same physical space, it’s very hard initially to define where exactly one ends and the other begins. Over time this lack of boundaries can leave you feeling like you’re working poorly, but working all the time. As there will always be that last email to send out, one last or one last team meeting.
Tips for Surviving WFH Burnout
WFH burnout is can bring down your engagement and performance in your work. This type of mental and emotional burnout is likely to make you feel overworked, fatigued and depressed.
Listed below are a few tips to survive the WFH stress
1. Take It Seriously
Just because there’s no one sitting behind you, monitoring your search traffic, or watching over your shoulder, doesn’t mean that there’s no point in taking the work seriously. Procrastination And distractions can lead to piling up of work, which can be a herculean task to complete later.
Even the clothes you wear matter when you work from home matter. It may feel great to roll out of bed in sweatpants, sink into the couch, and start your workday for a few minutes. But after a little while, this scenario becomes detrimental. It slowly blurs the line between your work time and downtime, which has a negative impact on both. Put on some daytime clothes (comfy ones are still fine), sit up straight, and be fully at work when you’re at work. You’ll deliver much better as you are subtly giving your body and mind cues that it is work time.
2. Draw Boundaries
Traditional onsite work has very clear, natural boundaries. The job exists in both a certain time and a place, and it is easy to see where you stand. We still need to protect these boundaries in the WFH scenario. Technology likes to blur these lines somewhat, but the boundaries are there. Remote work doesn’t have that benefit. Not by default anyway. Set a schedule for yourself and stick to it. Designate a spot, or a few spots in your home, where work happens. Create simple rituals to start or end your workday (like a walk around your apartment or garden). Things like this send clear signals to your brain about when you are at work and when you are not.
3. Just Say No
It’s great to have boundaries, but we also need to protect them. A big cause of WFH burnout is that we feel guilty about saying no. If you’re technically at home and a family member asks you to help with a chore during the workday, you could say yes. If you technically have access to your work, and a coworker asks you to get one more report done on Sunday night, you could do that.
The fact that we are logistically able to add these extra things to our plates makes it hard to say no. It’s a guilty feeling. But even when work and home are in the same location, they need to occupy separate mental spaces. That is why “no” is one of the most important words for us to know. And we may often need it to keep both of these mental spaces within boundaries.
4. Routine Is Your Friend
Along with boundaries, routine is something that we tend to get by default in the traditional office setup, but not so much at home. You know, you come in at 9AM, pour your coffee, join the team for lunch at 12, that kind of thing. The familiarity of it all gives a healthy flow to your workday.
When you’re on your own in an environment with less structure, there’s less likely to be much routine by default. But you can still create it, in fact you must. To the extent that your work allows, try to keep a fixed and familiar schedule. Have certain things that happen around the same time each day. The more your mind walks this path, the easier it will be to walk it.
5. Meet People
No matter how social (or not social) of a person you consider yourself to be, all-digital communication has to be supplemented with real face-to-face contact. No big surprise here, right? Video calls are a great business tool, but they tend to drain all the humanity out of basic conversations. For our own sanity, we need to balance it out by regularly reminding ourselves what in-person interaction is like. It could be plans with friends, quality time with family, even chit-chat with the cashier at the grocery store. Whatever it is, try to take joy in even the smallest of human connection. We all need conversation that’s not set to the tune of an agenda, where faces aren’t slightly out of sync with what they’re saying, and where two people aren’t constantly starting to talk at the same time and then saying “no it’s okay, you go.”
Even at the most boring desk jobs, we still usually get some time to move around: Getting up for water, bathroom breaks, walking to the conference room and back, etc. It might not be enough for a healthy active life, but it’s still more than a typical remote worker gets in a day. When everything happens on the same laptop, and your kitchen and bathroom are closer by than in a big office, even the basic activity of walking about can fall next to zero. Anything you can do to move around a bit more during the day can be a big help. Schedule in a workout, take walk/stretch/exercise breaks, stand up to do your work if you can. Doing so will be a huge boost to happiness, physical health, and productivity all in one. Head over to our Instagram page for a new reel on easy exercises you can do at your desk.
Like it or not, the work from home trend looks like its here to stay. Even if it isn’t our work pattern understanding the nuances attached to it can help us emphasize with co-workers who do work from home.
WFH work culture has the potential to be beneficial to many if it is planned out and executed right and we hope this post helped shed light in some areas.
Johnson (2021) 8 tips to try to maintain health while working from home. Medical News today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/working-from-home-health-tips
Toniolo-Barrios, M., et al. (2020). Mindfulness and the challenges of working from home in times of crisis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7535863/
Working from home during COVID-19: Challenges and solutions. (2020). https://journal.ahima.org/working-from-home-during-covid-19-challenges-and-solutions/
By: Shreya Royan