CTO and CISO at BeyondTrust, overseeing the company’s technology for privileged and remote access solutions.
Many of us have been working from home for more than eight months now. We have not visited the office, seen our peers in person, had physical contact with our direct reports or experienced the mundane tasks associated with being in the office.
We had taken many of them for granted, like water-cooler conversations and cramped conference rooms. We are now leveraging technology as a substitute for working in the office, operating almost exclusively through email, videoconference meetings and our phones. It’s beginning to burn people out.
We have a slew of new catchphrases that prove the monotony: “You’re on mute,” “You’re breaking up” and “Zoom me.” We are taking calls outside of business hours to accommodate the lack of geographic travel, and almost everyone has experienced some form of Groundhog Day in the last eight months. In fact, many friends, family and peers might even be discussing this pandemic and working from home as a mild form of depression.
Unfortunately, it does not look like this situation will come to an end in the next few months. Many organizations are discussing work-from-home at least through the end of the year, and some well into 2021. We will continue to expand and rely on technology as a substitute for an in-person office environment and continue to stress the lack of separation of home and work life. This has led to many people feeling like they need to be always available, fearing that they could be considered slacking if they do not respond quickly to messages. The last thing anyone wants to do is to lose their job during this crisis.
The lack of human contact and the feeling of endless days blending into weekends has become a big problem for many employees, and there is no foreseeable change. From a management perspective, however, there are a few lessons I’ve learned that can help mitigate the threat of burnout.
Set clear boundaries.
Consider establishing simple rules of engagement for remote employees. This can include:
• Establishing acceptable hours for videoconference calls.
• Requesting that all employees’ cameras are enabled for videoconferencing.
• Requesting emails be sent only during business hours and make after-hour emails for emergencies only.
• Providing flexibility for homeschooling or other personal requirements that do not burn into employee vacation or PTO.
Give your employees the technology they need.
If your budget allows, you can also accelerate their laptop refreshment cycle to ensure all your employees have the best technology possible when working from home. Employees with good equipment generally are less frustrated and feel more valued when given the best equipment their companies can offer.
Break up the workweek.
Breaking up the work-from-home monotony is essential without water cooler chitchat or upcoming travel on the calendar to break up the routine. Here are a few ways you can add some variety to the workweek:
• Determine one day a week for employees to catch up on work. For example, establish “No Meeting Fridays.”
• Schedule virtual events to replicate normal office celebrations, such as work anniversaries, happy hours, retirement, birthdays, sports pools and holiday-themed events, like Halloween costume parties and gift exchanges.
• Switch to a flexible four-day workweek of 10 hours each day. Odds are, many remote employees are already putting in 10 hours a day at home anyway.
• If funds are available, periodically reward employees using home delivery services for food or swag. Employees who would frequently go out to lunch are feeling social distress by not having this activity as a part of their work routine.
• Do not forget to ask or require employees to take vacation time. It may be a staycation, but everyone needs some downtime from the endless cycle.
Revamp your HR.
An effective human resources department is vital to fighting burnout. They can embrace the health care plans for your employees and send reminders to make sure everyone is aware and feel comfortable contacting any mental health services you provide. New employees can be especially overwhelmed by the lack of person-to-person contact when onboarding in a remote setting, and self-doubt can set in. Some successful organizations have established the following additional onboarding operating procedures to ensure the process is productive:
• Establish a regular cadence of peer communications via email and videoconferencing to establish a comfort level and inclusion with their new team.
• Establish a mentorship program for the new hire outside of their hiring manager to provide inclusion within the larger organization.
• Ensure HR, IT and key personnel establish regular touchpoints with the new hire to gauge whether there are any issues.
• Create and maintain an ombudsman deck for new hires to help answer business questions that would normally be handled by in-person office staff.
To be fair, these are not all my ideas. I have spoken with many of my peers, and they have offered these solutions to combat work-from-home burnout.
Sharing the best ones, unfortunately, has not coalesced outside individual executive teams and close-knit management circles. Burnout has become a very real problem, and documenting my experience and conversations with others feels like the right thing to do as we all manage through this pandemic together.
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