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JOE SHERREN: Working from home: Dealing with the new reality

Since this pandemic started, most executives have embraced the work-from-home transition. But now we are finding that Zoom fatigue is taking over.
Since this pandemic started, most executives have embraced the work-from-home transition. But now we are finding that Zoom fatigue is taking over.

Let me start with a question: How many of you are now “Zoomed-out”? This is now a growing epidemic and there will be long-term consequences unless we start taking action now. This applies whether you are using Zoom, GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, or any of these amazing tools that allow us to connect with people all around the world.

Many of us are now working from home, rather than meeting face-to-face. We are spending hours and hours sitting in front of a computer screen. Should we be worried about the long-term consequences of this?

It is interesting that several years ago when I was with a large corporation, we instituted a “work from home” policy (called it flexiplace). Many executives, as well as most corporations, were against it because “how can you trust that the employees were really working?”

I argued that most employees are honest, hard working and self-motivated, and that we as managers need to transcend old attitudes and believe that most employees want to do their best. Now this new working from home is saving many corporations.

Since this pandemic started, most executives have totally embraced the work from home transition. But, guess what, the concern is now? Employees are working too hard and too long, and we are finding that Zoom fatigue is taking over.

Workplace burnout is now the issue – even though workers are not coming to the office. In fact, a recent survey by FlexJobs showed that employees were three times as likely to report burnout than before the pandemic! As well, there is the added family stresses due to the imposed restrictions.

My advice to managers – as you check in with you remote employees, recognize the symptoms of workplace fatigue. Some of these signs may include a lowering of work performance or drop in productivity, increase in sick leave or paid time off, or even just increased difficulty in completing normal tasks on a timely basis. Most of these are obvious if you are connecting with your employees on a regular basis.

Other signs include uncharacteristic negative behaviours – such as a snippy remark, abnormal cynical comments, or curt responses. Yes, I know we all have bad days, but if this is prolonged and more common, it is time to get concerned.

Work-life balance has always been a focus for most, but now that line has become blurred between working hours, family time and personal recharging for almost everyone. As this separation between family and work continues to blur, managers should watch for team member who are “always on” and are not letting go.

Even getting real time off is difficult since we are doing “staycations”. Since travel is limited and gatherings with family and friends are restricted, many people are delaying their time off until they can safely travel again. Unfortunately, this is compounding our stress and burnout. We all need a real break.

As leaders, what can we do?

Communicate with your staff and pay attention for symptoms of workplace fatigue. A one-time event may not be significant, but a pattern should cause you to probe further. Be sure to maintain weekly check-ins with all your staff.

Encourage constant communications. Whether you are facilitating a regular “check-in” on a weekly basis or encouraging small group discussions among your group, make sure everyone is conversing with each other and not becoming more isolated.

Limit on-line communications to working hours. Especially stay away from weekend emails. I know this is tempting because as managers we like to get things off our plate.

Provide mental health days. Some managers believe employees might be slacking off, but most research shows just the opposite. Encourage employees to shut down occasionally.

Provide flexibility. Employees should be able to arrange their day in a way that is comfortable for them. The only requirement is that they get their work done.

And finally … recognize good work and sincere effort. I have often said before that an encouraging email, a gift certificate or a handwritten personalized thank you will go a long way. That will also show their family that you are aware of the hard work being done.

Master team facilitator, Kristin Arnold of www.extraordinaryteam.com, who has helped many corporations successfully make this transition, warns: “As you do your weekly check-ins, probe beyond the basic (how are you doing?) question. Dig deeper. Show you truly care. Listen to what is working well and what is not. Ask how you can help. Just listening is extremely appreciated.”

My question for managers: Working from home is here to stay. What are you doing to help your employee’s transition to this new world of work?

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