There are obvious benefits for employees when they work from home: less wasted time traveling, flexibility, and more. However, recent feedback has shown that employees feel like they're unable to separate their work and home life, which can lead to burnout.
What can you do as an employer to help them better work from home in the long-term, instead of just getting by with short-term fixes?
An important factor in supporting your remote employees is providing them with the right equipment. This point is often overlooked, but it is essential that each team member has the basic necessities to do their job.
Tools like monitors, wireless keyboards, and desk chairs will have an impact on all the work the employee does. That means they should have access to at least the same equipment available in the office – if not more.
Now is the perfect time to revisit the possibility of upgrading your equipment. It doesn’t necessarily make sense to ship out old chairs and desks to employees - instead consider sending out a new replacement that allows them to feel comfortable working at home.
Setting boundaries at work is easier said than done. Some of your employees may not feel comfortable speaking up about physical or social boundaries, while others may not have the skills to set them on their own.
Teaching your staff strategies for how they can set boundaries at work is essential since it will help them avoid burnout and feel less obligated to be online 24/7.
For example, try helping them craft a routine that will allow them to transition from home to work. Encourage them to get dressed as if they were coming into the office, then taking their normal commute time to prepare. They can use this time to listen to music, put on a podcast, or call a friend – the usual things they used to do to prepare themselves for a work day. You can even promote the benefits of taking a walk around their neighborhood, or even inside their home, before sitting down for a full day’s work.
If your team feels obligated to check emails after hours, it can lead to increased anxiety and burnout – even if they don’t actually check them!
Another way you can help your staff set boundaries is by imposing blackout hours. Studies conducted by Virginia Tech have shown that if your team feels obligated to check emails after hours, it can lead to increased anxiety and burnout – even if they don’t actually check them!
Give your team the green light to turn off their chat and email notifications as soon as they are done working each day. While standard working hours may vary for each employee, there must be clear schedules set on an individual basis for what those timeframes are.
If you need your team to be contactable out of hours, set a rota that alerts only one person at a time about out of hours requests. That person can contact other team members by phone if necessary. This way, the rest of the team know they don't need to check their emails 24/7, but your clients still get around the clock service.
Offering flexibility can also reduce feelings of burnout. When we say flexibility, we don't just mean the option to work from home. Being home can often make sitting in front of their computers during regular work hours even more difficult.
According to one study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the standard workday is almost an entire hour longer now than it was before the global pandemic. Workers feel obligated to sign on the moment they wake up and have a hard time signing off right at the end of the day.
Also consider the fact that many employees now face additional responsibilities during standard work hours. This may include things like caring for family members and children. In other words, a 9 to 5 schedule may not be realistic for every employee.
Create intentional schedules and utilise out-of-office messages when someone can't be online during standard work hours.
You should work with each team to determine the best times for them to work and be productive. Create intentional schedules and utilise out-of-office messages when someone can't be online during standard work hours. Doing so will meet the needs of both the business and the individual.
For instance, if there is no strict deadline for a project to be completed, does it matter if someone is online from 11 am to 8 pm instead of the traditional 9-to-5? You want to avoid employees simply ‘logging on’ because they have to, even if they are not working or being productive.
Instead, encourage them to hit a minimum number of working hours per day. As long as they can complete their required tasks and you can find a schedule that works for everyone, you will be able to minimise burnout and unproductive hours.
Taking time off when you work in a traditional office environment is pretty straightforward. If you're not in the office, you can't work, right?
Unfortunately, employees who work from home often have a hard time requesting a day off since they know they will still be at home anyways. Similarly, when they take a day off, it's hard to separate their personal time from work because their laptop or email is so accessible.
The global pandemic has stifled travel, and there is a good chance your team has not had a real vacation in quite some time. However, that doesn't mean they shouldn’t be using their time off.
Encourage your staff to take time away from work - the right way. Even if they do not have plans to travel or leave their homes, make it clear that a day off is exactly that. They should be discouraged from responding to emails or messages while taking time off, and make it known that you expect them to take that time for themselves.
Your team is working longer hours being at home, and they need a break. An employee that takes time to refresh, be with family, and recover will be much less likely to experience WFH burnout.
Just because your workers are no longer in an office setting does not mean that you should stop fostering a team environment.
Consistently check in with your employees and see how they are doing. You don't want them to feel like they are on an island alone at home, so reach out to them on a regular basis - multiple times per week - to get feedback on their stress levels and needs.
Regular communication also reduces uncertainty. A lot has changed over the last year as employees shifted to a work-from-home model, so let them know when things are changing – and when they aren't. This will help reduce the amount of stress they feel by not knowing where they stand with management.
Positive social encounters are the best way to strengthen teamwork, boost engagement, and minimise the risk of burnout.
Likewise, provide your team with opportunities to engage with each other outside of work. Positive social encounters are the best way to strengthen teamwork, boost engagement, and minimise the risk of burnout. Research published in World Psychiatry demonstrated that workers who feel like they are part of a close community within their company are less likely to feel burned out.
Try hosting virtual happy hours or coffee breaks and reward your staff by sending something to their homes that allows them to participate. The key here is making them feel seen and connected.
In times of uncertainty - including the long-term shift to WFH - it's always better to over-communicate than to leave people to their own devices. Don't forget, when your employees don't know something for certain they'll create a story for themselves. For example, believing you're ignoring them because you're unhappy with their performance when, in fact, you were just leaving them to their work.
Show you care by giving your employees the tools to succeed, encouraging them to take time away from work, and checking in more regularly than before - even if it's just for 30 seconds. Explain what you've done to help them be successful and that it's now down to them to do their part... to let you know if there's anything further they need.