When the COVID pandemic swept through the country last year, companies rapidly transitioned employees to remote working. However, this shift led to growing challenges, including WFH burnout and Zoom fatigue. As we transition from pandemic to post-pandemic life, many companies are adopting hybrid models, where some workers come into the office part-time only while others remain fully remote. That model means our burnout and fatigue issues will remain relevant for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately, organizations treat these issues as simply day-to-day challenges. They fail to recognize their systematic, long-term nature; they don’t address them strategically. At heart, these problems stem from organizations transposing their “office culture” norms of interaction to working from home. Over time, we’ve learned that just doesn’t work well. We now know: Virtual communication, collaboration, and relationships function very differently than they do when we share a workspace.
To survive and thrive in the post-COVID world and within hybrid working environments, organizations must make a strategic shift. Specifically, they need to focus on best practices for those employees working from home–part-time and full-time.
Defeating WFH Burnout and Zoom Fatigue: A Strategic Approach
Take these steps to establish effective work-from-home best practices for the long term:
Gather information from employees
Talk to employees about their virtual work challenges. Not enough time to connect with everyone? Try conducting surveys, do focus groups, or organize one-on-one interviews with key personnel. Be sure to collect quantitative and qualitative data on the virtual work issues in your organization.
Develop metrics and determine a baseline
Structure surveys so that you can use the quantitative results to establish clear metrics on challenges to prevent WFH burnout and Zoom fatigue. Do follow-up interviews to gather qualitative data. Prior to beginning the interventions listed next, use both forms of data to develop a baseline.
Educate your employees about needs-deprivations
Human nature dictates that we don’t recognize a large component of what we perceive as WFH burnout. We don’t recognize the deprivation of our basic human needs; specifically, our connection to each other. So early intervention involves educating employees on this topic.
Cultivate a sense of meaning among employees
Withing the virtual workplace, help employees intentionally develop a sense of meaning. That includes using an evaluative tool to establish a baseline of purpose. Use self-reflective activities on identity as tied to one’s work. The goal: To connect work to something bigger than yourself.
Create mutual connections using native virtual formats
We want to connect. But compared to in-person meetings, our emotions just don’t process little squares during a video conference as truly connecting. The mismatch between expectations and reality leads to drain and dissatisfaction. So focus on creating human connection and a sense of trust, perhaps by replacing bonding opportunities from an in-office culture with innovative virtual bonding activities.
Provide remote-specific professional development
Intentionally focus on employee and team development highly relevant to virtual or blended work teams. Effective communication, collaboration, and remote relationship building are just a few of the development areas the best organizations will target in hybrid working environments.
Initiate formal virtual mentorship relationships
Ask your senior staff to actively mentor junior team members in business areas and ask junior staff to mentor senior staff in other areas, like tech. This approach to bonding, in addition to the guidance it provides, also helps address the lack of social connection in virtual workplaces.
Establish times for informal digital co-working
Ask each employee to spend an hour or more per day coworking digitally with their colleagues. Create a sense of presence by joining a videoconference call without an agenda. Turn your speakers on but microphones off (unless you want to ask a question or make a comment or simply chat, of course). Next, simply work on your own tasks.
Digital coworking replicates the positive aspects of being in shared cubicle spaces with your team members, even while doing your own work. Benefits include mutual bonding through chatting and collaboration, being able to ask and answer quick clarifying questions, and being able to provide guidance and informal mentorship.
Fund effective remote work environments
Since the pandemic began, many companies have identified inequalities within remote working environments. For example, some employees have high-speed internet and quiet workspaces at home, while others do not. Address any inequity by investing in the work environments of remote employees.
Reduce unnecessary meetings
Zoom fatigue is real. So don’t schedule meetings unless you need to make a decision or get clarification on something that requires synchronous discussion. And make the best possible use of time when a meeting is required by staying focused on the task at hand.
Conduct weekly check-ins
The most effective leaders check in with employees regularly. Not just to determine progress being made on work-related tasks, but to also determine the team members’ well-being. So check-ins don’t add to Zoom fatigue, keep check-ins to weekly 15-30 minute video conferences.
Support work/life boundaries
Too many leaders expect employees to work after hours, then refuse employee requests for flexibility. Some employees, scared for their jobs, voluntarily take on too much work. To reduce burnout, leaders must reinforce boundaries. Whenever possible, they must also encourage and welcome flexible working schedules.
Take things step by step
Start with education about basic needs. Next, use the data from your conversations and internal surveys to pursue the actions that seem to make the most sense. Resist the temptation to fix everything at once by focusing on the issues that seem to have the highest sense of urgency.
A Change in Mindset
To prevent or defeat WFH burnout and Zoom fatigue, reframe your company culture and policies.
As you initiate this strategic shift, be sure to consistently support your employees. If you do this, your partnership with them will enable your organization to survive and thrive in the post-pandemic world.