Around the world, managers continue to worry about the productivity of their unexpectedly-remote workforce. With household distractions like children, pets, laundry, entertainment, and cooking, it may feel impossible to stay focused on work during business hours, so companies apply more and more pressure to maintain efficiency. However, it’s not underperformance that leadership should be worried about — overperformance is what is actually killing the output of work-from-home teams.
The irony of virtual employee monitoring this is that, on average, remote workers actually work longer hours than their in-office counterparts, even without supervision or incentives. These longer work hours contribute to the financial rewards that employers notice after distributing their teams, but can also lead to higher-than-average rates of worker burnout, which can eventually lead to long-term health and career regression.
Due to these unique circumstances, remote workers and virtual managers need to be extra vigilant in spotting and resolving professional burnout. Here are 5 common warning signs to look for in yourself or your teammates, that are easy to see in virtual channels like video calls and chat apps:
Burnout Red Flag #1: Avoiding Work
Is your inbox piling up? Are you letting phone calls ring through to voicemail? Are you consistently late to meetings? Have you caught yourself procrastinating? Often, when we’re feeling burned out at work, we suddenly want to do everything… except work.
Burnout Red Flag #2: Declining Performance
Have you been consistently arriving late to meetings? Is the quality of your work declining? If you make a mistake, do you try to blame others? In the early stages of burnout, our brains are constantly in a state of stress, which switches them into “survival mode,” causing us to slip in our ambition and responsibility.
Burnout Red Flag #3: Apathy or Exhaustion
Do feel a lack of pride about your accomplishments? Have you been neglecting your usual self-care habits? Are you staying silent during meetings and conversations? Is it difficult for you to focus or be patient with others? In general, if you’re feeling bitter or you just don’t care about things that you usually do, you’re probably headed toward a full-blown burnout.
Burnout Red Flag #4: Inability to Disconnect
Are you consistently working more than your contracted number of hours? Do you respond to work-related calls or messages during personal events? Is the first and last thing that you look at every day your phone or work device? Too much of a good thing can be bad, including work.
In a remote work environment, professionals don’t have the benefit of officemates to notice subtle changes in behavior, prompting an intervention. Therefore, each professional is responsible for self-management, including a self-awareness of these symptoms and the discipline to enforce a solution before it sabotages their career.
So, here are five easy strategies to nip remote work burnout in the bud, and revive the creativity, organization, and motivation that you need to professionally thrive again in your location-irrelevant career:
Burnout Buster #1: Set Office Hours
Human brains like structure, but remote workers seem to have a feast-or-famine problem with it. Either we’re on the road with little-to-no control over our environment, or stuck in a home office without delineation between work life and personal life. The key is to find a balance. Implement office hours by silencing notifications and activating an out-of-office response outside of certain time blocks. This way, no matter if you’re on the road or on the couch, your brain (and your clients or coworkers) knows that it’s time for you to relax.
Burnout Buster #2: Take Time Off
A little counteraction goes a long way. Refresh your clarity and enthusiasm for work by stepping away from it for a little while. Whether you decide to travel or just enjoy some time at home, make sure that you completely unplug. Turn off all notifications (or even your entire device – gasp!), forward your inbox and tasks to a co-worker or virtual assistant while you’re away, and make a rule to not talk or think about work at all. After a few days, you’ll feel recharged and ready for action.
Burnout Buster #3: Have a Hobby
Intense work needs to be balanced with intense play. If work is the only thing that you feel passionate about, it’s time to discover other parts of your personality. Join a sports team, learn a new art, or even just strengthen your self-care routine with challenging workouts and more creative cooking. (Bonus points if you choose a group activity, since it can help you combat remote work isolation!)
Burnout Buster #4: Update Your Job Description
If you’re feeling stuck in a rut, steer yourself out of it. Schedule a meeting with your supervisor or mentor to discuss what you do and don’t like about your current role, and brainstorm ways that it could be updated to better cater to your strengths and interests. Your scope of work may also need to be addressed — either simplify your tasks to streamline your productivity or diversify them to allow for more creativity and spontaneity.
Burnout Buster #5: Tell Your Team
Hiding your concerns will only make them worse. If you’re feeling burned out, tell your boss and coworkers as early as possible. They can collaborate with you to redistribute your workload, update reporting rituals to provide more recognition and motivation, or provide sideline encouragement as you bust through blocks. Who knows, some of your teammates may be feeling the same way, so you’ll be doing a favor for more people than just yourself.
Remember that location independence requires management independence. If you’re wanting an untethered career, you need to be willing to integrate a higher level of self-discipline and self-awareness into your work day than you might be used to. But don’t worry, by keeping a lookout for these warning signs of burnout and implementing a few daily ritual changes, you’ll not only be able to keep racing forward as you continue in your remote career, but gain momentum along the way.
A version of this article appeared on forbes.com, posted on May 29. 2020.
EXPERD, Human Resources Consultant, Jakarta – Indonesia