- Remote workers report higher than usual rates of burnout, according to many experts.
- Location-independent workers enjoy many perks; however, it can be harder to escape work pressures when your job follows you wherever you go.
- Communicating boundaries clearly to your employer (s) and incorporating these strategies below can reduce the chance of pandemic work burnout for WFH workers.
While remote work doesn’t have anything intrinsic to it that makes its workers any more susceptible to burnout than others, remote workers do often report a few factors that they commonly attribute to burnout:
- Working hours they were not scheduled to work.
- Receiving phone calls or other forms of communication during non-work hours.
- Being expected to work more than they normally would.
- Experiencing the pressure of not ever really escaping work, as work, home, and life have become an amalgam.
Independent workers, like freelancers and contractors, might experience these causes of burnout more saliently than full-time workers that just so happen to be working remotely. This is likely because independent remote workers are, at worst, tied to deadlines, not specific hours. Thus, the hours they decide to work are essentially up to them, making it often challenging to set proper boundaries between themselves and their work.
Likewise, because remote work is on the internet, it is extremely easy to get distracted. Social media, shopping, and YouTube are always lurking around the corner, ready to fulfill your dopaminergic needs. But, this is likely also contributing to your burnout. When you spend time doing non-work related things while you are supposed to be working, you’re not only stressing yourself out through procrastination, but you’re also stressing your future-self out by giving them more work to do!
This article is for remote workers who have trouble setting such boundaries. Here are some strategies to help you combat the causes of remote worker burnout:
Delete all work-related apps from your phone
Deleting your email accounts, work-related apps, and potentially your social media accounts might be challenging to some. Indeed, most of us reflexively reach for our phones each morning before even making ourselves a cup of coffee, primarily to check our emails or social media.
However, incessantly checking your email and having work-related matters with you at all times is stressing you out. And pointlessly so, at that. The vast majority of the tasks we need to get done for work are done on our computers. Hence, we are mostly checking our phones for pseudo-tasks when we are bored, and we usually don’t find them, which stresses us out even further.
It will take discipline not to re-download these apps onto your phone. I am guilty as charged for deleting and then redownloading my Twitter account from my phone within the same day. But, discipline is what it will take to free you from the constraints of burnout and stress.
Plus, there are way better ways to spend your time than checking your phone for emails.
Download the free SelfControl App
Sometimes, deleting our apps isn’t enough. Let’s face it: we are too easily swayed by the temptation to just go against our mantras for discipline, and redownload distracting apps.
Luckily, the SelfControl app makes it literally impossible for you to access certain features of your phone for selected periods of time. The best part about this app is that once you’ve set the timer, unlike simply deleting the app, the timer is irreversible.
What is particularly useful about SelfControl, is that it works for multiple applications at once. For instance, if social media is particularly distracting for you, you can block your own access to all of your social media accounts for a given timeframe.
Communicate Your Boundaries Early
Perhaps you don’t like being called after 5 p.m. Or maybe you need time off early on Wednesdays because you pick your children up for school.
We all have idiosyncratic needs which have the potential to interfere with our work.
However, if we communicate these needs to our managers as early on in our jobs as we can, these individualized needs will be less likely to interfere. And that is because asking early makes it more likely for managers to oblige. No one is a mind reader, and managers will assume your total dedication to your work unless otherwise specified.
For remote workers in particular — and even more so for independent and freelance workers, receiving calls or emails from managers or clients during odd hours is a common complaint. Freelancers always have the option of dropping a client that continually refuses to respect their boundaries. Boundary crossers are an unfortunate inevitability, but you don’t have to become their next victim.
Design A Schedule that Works For You
Especially if you are an independent remote worker, it is crucial to design a schedule that works for you. Specifically, you should create a schedule that is structured not only to get work done during times that fit your schedule: It should also accommodate your time and interests outside of work.
It might be more challenging to find employers who will adjust their deadlines around your preferred work schedule, but this will pay off big in the long term.
This might mean scheduling personal activities ahead of time. Of course, you may want to leave room for spontaneity — life will always throw good and bad things at you when you don’t expect them.
Creating and then adhering to a schedule that works for you will allow you to do your work when it needs to get done — when it suits you best.
Take a Day or Two off When Burnt Out
Burnout is going to happen to most of us at some point. However, if we just ignore it, burnout will only accumulate and get worse.
One thing I’ve always liked about the notion of the Sabbath day in Judaism is its insistence upon rest. Going back to the notion of “discipline,” it often takes us some discipline to actually go through with taking a day off from work.
Perhaps you’ve had a lucky streak, and have worked efficiently for quite some time without any rest. That’s great! Just be aware — and learn to recognize when the tension has become untenable.
Set boundaries with family
Being at home, of course, often involves being with family. However, overlapping family life and work life can be detrimental for both. On the one hand, family can distract you from work, reducing the quality of your work. On the other, it would be totally wrong to abdicate your familial duties in favor of work.
In light of this possible conundrum, it is worth sitting down with your family to discuss boundaries when you are working from home. This might entail expressing that there are certain times where you need to be alone, and that there are other times where it’s more appropriate to engage.
Open and honest communication is crucial to making all of this work. Doing so with your co-workers, managers, clients, family, and most importantly, yourself, will allow you to navigate the new world of remote work with proper boundaries, reducing the likelihood of falling prey to chronic burnout.