Top tips for handling remote working fatigue
With the arrival of COVID came a swift and unplanned transition from office to home for many businesses. In the UK almost half of the working population (47%) are experiencing working remotely for the first time, and in the US at the beginning of 2020, only 3.4% of the population were working from home full time. This upheaval has been both positive and negative for employees. For some, this period has provided a much appreciated new way of working, yet for others being based permanently at home has led to negative feelings of isolation, loneliness, and burnout. In this article, we will take a look at some top tips for handling remote working fatigue, and how we at Snyk have decided what works best for us.
Snyk has always been a remote-friendly company. Pre-COVID, 21% of our employees worked remotely full-time, and others usually based in offices typically worked one day a week from home. As a distributed workforce with teams split between our various office locations (UK, US, Canada, and Israel), we have consciously utilized remote-friendly tools where possible in our daily work since our founding. So, when the decision was made to work from home full-time in early March, we adjusted quickly.
To begin with, it was exciting! Suddenly the entire company experienced the benefits of working remotely full time: the flexibility, the family time, and those extra precious hours gained from the disappearance of the commute! In terms of work meetings and teams socializing, little had changed, as the company rallied together and made further use of Slack and Zoom.
Yet as the days rolled by, and weeks steadily turned into months, a feeling of remote fatigue began to creep in. There was an increase in productivity, a lower attendance of virtual coffee chats and socials, and an overwhelming urge to turn the camera off on Zoom calls.
Why did this happen and, more importantly, what can we do to help ourselves?
Back-to-back zoom meetings
You’re sat wherever you like all day long, with a constant supply of snacks readily available, wearing your slippers if you want to be extra cozy. (Who’s going to see them on zoom, right?)
Why then do you feel so exhausted by the thought of a full day of zoom meetings? You have plenty of meetings when you’re in the office and yet don’t experience the same feeling of fatigue. As brilliant as it is to be able to converse with colleagues all over the world, Zoom cannot replicate in-person contact. In real life you’re not faced with a mirror when speaking, pauses and silences are a natural part of the conversation, and there are no interruptions from wifi and you don’t have to concentrate to hear someone’s tone or read their expression. You frequently change locations, you wander, taking the time to make a cup of tea, or to have an impromptu chat with a colleague.
What can you do to change this?
Build-in breaks: Give yourself 5 or 10 minutes between meetings to walk around and replicate the break you would usually get in the office.
Switch to Slack: Check to see if your conversation has to happen over a video call. Is it something that really couldn’t be discussed over messenger or voice call?
Take a video pause: By turning your video off you may actually be able to listen more actively as you won’t have the distraction of multiple backgrounds, or the stresses mentioned above.
Let others know: If you are feeling Zoom-fatigued remember it’s ok to let your colleagues know. It’s likely they could be feeling the same way! If a meeting could be rescheduled for a time when you feel more alert or recharged, you could suggest moving it.
Switching off for the day
Although you might not miss your time-consuming commute to and from the office each day, it did create a barrier between work and home. Whether it was your chance to exercise or tune out to music, your commute bookends the working day. At home, however, there can be no literal end unless you are mindful of it. At Snyk we found our productivity has increased while we work from home, as our employees unintentionally work longer hours and make themselves available at all times of the day.
So how can we learn to switch off?
- Set timed notifications: On Slack, for example, you can choose which hours you are happy to receive notifications, in your preferences section.
- Focus work around your laptop: Your phone apps are great for when you’re on the go, hopping around town between meetings but do you really need them when you’re not going anywhere?
- Don’t make your bedroom your workspace: If possible try to work in a different area to where you sleep in. Your bedroom should be a relaxing area where you can unwind, so by associating your bed with work, it can make it more difficult to sleep at night and get the rest you really need.
- Leave your working space: If you can, take some time out from your workspace at the end of the day. Moving to a different room or going outside for some fresh air can help you mentally detach from your work.
Remote team bonding
Encouraging trust, inclusion, stronger collaboration, and less conflict, building relationships with colleagues is hugely important to your job. Yet these relationships can be inherently more difficult and tiring to maintain when you do not have the opportunity to meet with your colleagues in person. Coffee chats, after-work drinks, or events provide a wealth of opportunities in the workplace to socialize with colleagues, but replicating the atmosphere of these interactions is hard when you have 50 people on a Zoom call, each conscious of who should speak first. Therefore instead of aiming to replicate these typical conditions, we must adapt to our new environment.
How then can we improve team bonding when working remotely?
- Activity-based meetings: Conversations structured around an activity often produce better results than group video chats with limited purpose. Games or quizzes in particular work well, as everyone can get involved.
- Prioritizing conversational time: Employees appreciate clear structure and organization of remote meetings. It might seem a strange idea to build in 5 minutes of purely conversational time into meetings but in reality, this could reassure employees that neither your nor their time is being wasted during this interaction. It is an important part of building working relationships.
- Break the monotony: Staying motivated and keeping engagement high while everyone works remotely can be tricky. Encouraging different and unexpected conversations though can pump some much-needed energy back into a team. You could set a fun challenge, or ask a question that is guaranteed to provide a talking point.
Working remotely on a full-time basis has opened our eyes at Snyk to many of the pros and cons of this situation. We love flexibility, but we dislike the loneliness. We admire the productivity, but we understand the feeling of burnout. We want to overcommunicate, but we also require quiet time to concentrate. The struggle of this balancing act has led us to rethink where we want to spend our working hours. When lockdown restrictions are finally lifted in each of our office locations, we are planning to balance our time equally between our office hubs and our homes. In doing so, we hope to provide ourselves with the benefits of working in both settings, and the much-needed sense of equilibrium we believe both work styles will bring.
Did you find these tips helpful?