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The year behind us remains marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the world of business, that has meant (and still means) embracing remote work as the new normal. This was nothing especially new for some companies, but for many, it was the first time establishing a work-from-home framework.
While it can be quite comfortable, working from home comes with its own unique challenges: less human interaction, less of a boundary between work and home life and more distractions. All of these challenges contribute powerfully to burnout.
To help prevent burnout, managers need to establish systems and processes that promote a healthy, productive and happy workforce.
Be Aware of the Pros and Cons of Remote Work
Remote work can often seem like the dream. For starters, workers get to set their own schedules and work from a more comfortable setting. They are free to take breaks when they feel they need them, and they can sleep in when they want to. They don’t have to dress up for the office, and they can choose their own white noise, be it music or Netflix.
However, the challenges are not to be dismissed either.
First, there is the burnout we’ve mentioned. And depending on where you live, you may be even more prone to burnout than if you were to live in a less stressful environment. This can easily turn into a slump in productivity and extra stresses.
Working from home can also pose a cybersecurity risk. Offices are equipped with the necessary software that will detect cyber threats, while most home computers aren’t.
As a remote manager, make sure you are aware of all of these aspects of remote work, and find solutions before the issues escalate.
Set Clear Expectations and Boundaries
The clearer your employees are about what is expected of them and where the line is, the easier it will be for them to comply.
Start by setting clear working hours. Don’t make them the usual 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and allow for some flexibility. For instance, everyone is required to be online between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for meetings and other important communication, but can tailor the rest of the day as they see fit. Don’t take all the benefits of working from home away for the sake of a uniform schedule.
Establish clear lines of communication by determining which app is used for what kinds of messages. Establish whether you’ll use a chat app, do everything over email, do calls or texts, etc. Also make it clear when the managers are expected to be in and when they are likely to be offline.
A clear line of communication for emergencies is also crucial, and it needs to differ from what you usually do. For example, it might warrant a call to someone’s cell. Define what an emergency actually is as well, as everyone will have their own definition.
Create Structure, Routine, Systems
While creating systems and processes is boring, it can save you a lot of stress and prevent burnout in the long run.
The clearer everyone is about how something is done, what needs to be done, and what the required steps are, the less need there will be for superfluous communication. You will likely save everyone some time and prevent frustrations caused by conflicting schedules.
Put everything in writing and share with the appropriate people.
Track, Analyze and Improve Time
Time tracking is often seen as unnecessary by remote workers, as it puts added pressure on them. They feel they need to be extra productive and spend every waking moment doing their absolute best.
If you explain the benefits of time tracking to them and that you are perfectly aware that they will spend some time of their day just staring at the screen, they will be more likely to accept the practice.
Analyze how your collective and individual time is spent, including your regular meetings and random check-ins with the team. This can often be a big time-waster, so identifying it on time can help you be more productive.
Find a way to manage your schedules and calendars that will suit everyone on the team. You’ll notice everyone is much happier to track time when they see the benefits of it, so discussing your analyses is crucial.
Be Realistic about Your Goals
Some teams and individuals will simply thrive working remotely. Others will feel isolated and find it very difficult.
Be very realistic about your remote work expectations, especially when it comes to collaborative tasks. Zoom can never replace in-person interaction, so you might have to settle for less stellar results than you’re used to.
Your main goal is to keep your employees happy, prevent their burnout, and keep your clients or customers satisfied. Finding the right balance between the two might be difficult, which is why establishing a team spirit is so important. Some people may take on a bit more if they are coping better while others take a bit of a breather and get used to their new way of working.
Make Health and Wellness a Priority
One of the main challenges of working from home is teaching yourself to set boundaries and limits that will enable you to balance work and non-work. It also makes it more challenging to move enough and to socialize.
While you can’t do too much about this as a company, managers can teach employees about the importance of wellness in a remote working space and what they can do to feel better.
You can set up your project management system so that there’s an obligatory stretching exercise in there for everyone every day. You can do workshops online. You can sign everyone up for some sort of exercise.
While it’s still challenging to socialize in person, you can set up regular video calls where you don’t talk about work, but chat and get to know each other instead.
Mental health support is also very important. Have a system in place that will help employees who are struggling with loneliness, pressure, or burnout.
Working remotely can be the best possible solution for your business, offering your employees freedom, independence, and a flexible schedule. But it’s a double-edged sword, as it can also quickly lead to burnout, loneliness, and mental health challenges.
Do your best to facilitate an understanding, easygoing environment that has clear limits and boundaries. Make sure the expectations are clearly defined and hard work is rewarded rather than just glanced over.
It will take time and effort, but it will certainly be worth it in the long run.
About the Author
Karl Kangur is the CEO of Result Compass.