Having worked remotely for the last 10 years or so, when the coronavirus pandemic forced us to quarantine to the confines of our home, I wasn't really phased by it. In fact, being an ambivert (an extraverted introvert) I was secretly looking forward to a little social distancing.
However, I noticed that many of my clients who are also working remotely have been experiencing a heightened level of fatigue and overwhelm. While they're happy to skip the long commutes and eating out, and are grateful for the extra hour or two they can sleep in, they're finding themselves inundated with virtual meetings courtesy of Zoom.
Working remotely isn't all rainbows and unicorns, particularly if you're also home schooling. The added stress of trying to somehow recreate our lost social and physical connections through Zoom, however, is causing an entirely new workplace challenge. In a matter of a month, Zoom has morphed into both our place of business and our social hangout. Between virtual meetings and "quarantini" happy hours, many people are getting mentally exhausted and burned out. Also, if you're an introvert, you may have entered your worse nightmare.
For some employers and managers who aren't used to remote work, they're plagued by the vision of their employees sitting at home binging on Netflix on company time, so they fill the day with email check-ins and Zoom meetings. But what they don't realize is that they're impeding productivity and work efficiency by constantly interrupting the day with these often unnecessary interruptions.
In some cases, the need to meet is critical as many organizations are trying to move external events virtually, manage complex global operations, and onboard new hires from home. However, what has become a savior in a crisis, the weariness of online interactions, unstable internet connections, and eye fatigue caused by staring at a computer screen all day is having an unintended consequence.
In many ways, we're becoming socially overwhelmed even in the midst of little to no human contact. We're not leaving enough space to disconnect, process, or reflect and too often blurring the lines between work and our personal lives.
So, what can we do instead? Here's a few things to consider:
1. Try to keep meetings to a minimum. Before you casually suggest another meeting via Zoom, ask yourself whether or not the issue can be handled via email. Skip the daily "check-in" meetings to have your staff report on what they're doing. Look for other, creative ways, of connecting with your team. If you believe a meeting is warranted, make every effort to keep it short and on task. Don't drag it on for the purpose of trying to substitute face-to-face engagement.
2. Just say no. Ask yourself if you have to attend every meeting. If there's a big team meeting that doesn't really require your attendance, don't feel like you have to show up. Have a talk with your manager and let know you're going to sit the meeting out and you can connect via phone or email to get any vital information you need. Also, when it comes those "Happy Hour" meetings, embrace the mantra "less is more."
3. Set boundaries. Make yourself available for designated "video" hours at certain times during the day. This will help you avoid being constantly pulled into video meetings because you're perceived as being readily available like you used to be when you were in your office. Create some boundaries to keep yourself sane. Also, avoid back-to-back meetings so you can give your eyes and mind a break.
4. Take a break. Give yourself the evenings and weekends to completely unplug from your virtual world. Read a book, watch a movie, spend time with your family. Just give yourself a break from connecting with other over the internet. When working from home there's a danger of remaining in "work" mode all day and into the night. Studies have found that remote workers are actually more likely to overwork than under perform. When your living room becomes both your office and entertainment area, it's harder to switch off. Failing to do so will put you on the fast path to burn out.
We're already dealing with a heightened level of anxiety with all of the uncertainty surrounding us. Anxiety impacts our cognitive functions, ability to focus, and our critical thinking skills. Adding constant Zoom meetings to the equation may only serve to exacerbate the problem.
Employers and employees are going to have to be more mindful of the mental well-being of everyone involved while navigating this new work landscape. Working remotely can be very rewarding once we find a way that doesn't cause Zoom fatigue and enhances the current work/life conundrum.