More than a year after the start of the pandemic, millions of people are still teleworking. Remote work offers a variety of advantages. It allows people to avoid close contact. It also tends to boost productivity. Unfortunately, telework also comes with a few challenges, including burnout.
Depending on the type of job, working from home can provide more freedom. You may get to set your hours or enjoy a little more schedule flexibility. This is great for some people, but it tends to blur the lines between work and home life.
When you struggle to separate work from your personal life, anxiety and stress creep in. In April, about 45% of US workers reported feeling “burnt out.” By July, close to 69% of employees were experiencing symptoms of burnout while working from home.
So, how can you maintain a work/life balance when the two are intertwined? Here are seven of the most effective strategies for avoiding burnout while working remotely:
1. Recognize the Symptoms of Burnout
Being able to recognize when you’re experiencing burnout is a good first step for keeping it from spiraling out of control. When the symptoms appear, you can act immediately to control the situation.
Psychologists describe burnout as a state of complete physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. It is typically caused by prolonged stress. The most common symptoms of burnout include:
Based on psychological research, there are several stages of burnout. The first stage is the honeymoon stage, which starts when you take on a new task, such as working from home.
When you first start teleworking, you may feel excited about the arrangement. You get to work from home instead of driving to an office. During this period, you’re more committed and productive.
Eventually, stress enters the equation. Some days are more difficult than others. You may start to become less optimistic about teleworking. If you don’t change your routine or habits, the stress may become a chronic problem.
When the stress becomes a frequent problem, you’re likely to develop some of the symptoms of burnout. You may lose motivation and notice physical changes, such as headaches and lack of sleep. If these symptoms lead to exhaustion, you may be suffering from burnout.
The remaining tips & strategies can help you return to the honeymoon stage and rekindle your love for teleworking again.
2. Create a Dedicated Space for Work
If you work where you live, you’re always at work. When you’re watching television or spending time with the family, you’re still thinking about work responsibilities. To avoid this problem, you need to create a dedicated space for work.
The best option is a separate room that you can use as an office. Having a door and walls to separate you from the rest of the house and any distractions helps you stay focused.
If you don’t have a spare room, set up a dedicated workspace in an area of the room, such as the corner of the dining room. Don’t set up your home office in the bedroom, as it makes it difficult to separate work and rest.
Try to make your work area comfortable. As with your real office, the comfort level of your workspace affects your productivity and stress levels.
You probably use a computer, laptop, or tablet to complete your work. Make sure that you have a desk and chair that allow for good posture while typing.
3. Minimize All Distractions
While you may be tempted to watch TV as you work, it’s a distraction. Distractions keep you from getting your work done, which adds to your stress. This can also lead to irritability, frustration, and anger.
Turn off the TV and shut the door to your home office. If your home office is in a communal area of the house, consider wearing noise-canceling headphones.
You could also play background music, such as light classical music. Studies show that listening to classical music lowers stress. One study involved cataract patients undergoing surgery. If classical music can reduce the stress of a medical procedure, it can likely reduce the stress of teleworking.
4. Set a Schedule That You Can Follow
If you have family or roommates at home, you may not completely avoid distractions. Your kids may still need attention and roommates may disrupt your work. Setting a schedule can help create some boundaries.
People in your household are more likely to accommodate your work arrangement when they know your schedule. Roommates may keep the noise down and avoid distracting you during your work hours.
Setting a schedule has several additional benefits for preventing burnout. When you work regular office hours, your brain gets used to the routine. This structure helps improve cognitive function, keeping you more alert during work hours.
Maintaining a set routine also makes it easier to get adequate sleep. When you work late every other night, you throw off your sleep schedule. A lack of sleep reduces concentration and increases stress levels, making it difficult to cope with burnout.
If your sleep schedule is already out of balance, set an alarm, just as you would before you started teleworking. Getting up at the same time each morning helps reset your internal clock. After a few days, you should find it easier to get to sleep at a decent time.
5. Maintain Social Connections
Another common cause of burnout is a lack of socialization. This is especially true if you live alone. If your only face-to-face social interactions were with coworkers, you may feel isolated in your teleworking arrangement.
Teleconferencing and text messages are the most common methods of communication for teleworkers. However, they don’t replace the need for direct social connections. Spending more time on conference calls or texting can also limit productivity.
Look for other ways to maintain or build social connections. For example, you could try to set up a remote activity with a few coworkers outside of your work hours. You could video chat & commiserate about the drawbacks of teleworking or watch a television show.
It’s also very important to maintain your connections with people outside of work, such as your family & close friends. Take the time to connect with your loved ones in the afternoon or on the weekends.
If you have people in your household, you can make time in your schedule for socialization. Take a lunch break in the middle of the day and spend it in the kitchen with your kids or your partner.
6. Ask for Help When You Need it
For some reason, most people are afraid to ask for help. You may be even more hesitant to ask for help when working from home. It’s a new experience for many people and they tend to feel isolated.
You may be used to the office setting where you can walk by a cubicle or desk and quickly ask a question. Navigating the social and work protocols related to emails, text messages, and Zoom calls can be confusing.
If you don’t tackle these issues now, they will gradually become more of a burden. Ask for help understanding the technologies and business procedures involved in your telework arrangement.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to a coworker to discuss any concerns that you may have. If they’re experiencing the same challenges, they may be able to provide some advice or support.
7. Ask for Clearly Defined Expectations
Communication remains the main challenge when teleworking. A lack of communication can make it difficult for employees to understand expectations and responsibilities. This is a common course of stress for teleworkers.
When you’re not entirely clear about your role, job priorities, and goals, ask someone for more information. If you avoid asking for clarity, you run the risk of not meeting expectations or taking on more work than necessary.
Having clear goals and responsibilities adds more structure to your routine. It also allows you to start planning your workweek and creating daily to-do lists.
Lists provide more structure to your routine, which is the most essential coping strategy for avoiding burnout. Start with a weekly list of responsibilities. Prioritize the tasks based on time commitment. For tasks that may take longer than one day, divide the task into multiple blocks of the work.
Each morning you should choose the essential tasks that you must complete by the end of the day. Take care of the essential tasks first before you start crossing off items from your weekly list.
To Wrap Things Up..
Teleworking can be an effective way to keep people safe and productive. However, it can also lead to burnout without a structured routine. Create a dedicated work area, set a schedule, and minimize distractions.
If you continue to follow a routine, you’ll likely get used to the telework arrangement and thrive on the situation. When things get back to normal, you may not want to return to the office!
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.