Ways we can avoid digital exhaustion while working remotely
A study by the market research agency Wisemetry Research shows that people work harder when they work from home. The main reasons behind an extended work schedule when working from home are: several activities need to be solved spontaneously, we want to demonstrate that we can work efficiently, we prefer not to interrupt the pace of our work/concentration. Compared to office work, remote working encourages creative thinking, but for some employees, it can prolong anxiety and make communication between colleagues more difficult.
Over 70% of Romanian employees who participated in a survey conducted by the BestJobs recruitment platform say that the level of work-related stress has increased since the onset of the pandemic, and more than a quarter of them estimate that the stress level has even doubled. Several figures from Microsoft 365 quantify the digital exhaustion we all feel:
- Time spent on Microsoft Teams meetings has more than doubled globally;
- The time of an online meeting is on average 10 minutes longer;
- Users send 45% more messages on the service chat during work hours and 42% more outside work hours;
- 66% of people work on documents online;
- 62% of calls and meetings are unscheduled or ad hoc, with an exponential increase of pressure put on people to keep up;
Despite the overload of messages coming on all channels (phone, email, chat), 50% of people respond to all within five minutes or less. This proves the high level of intensity of our working day and that what is expected of employees during this time has significantly increased.
At the same time, the lack of outdoor activities in the cold season, the lack of social interactions, and vacations due to the restrictions imposed during the pandemic, made employees spend even more time in front of the computer than usual. And this leads to exhaustion and anxiety, to increasingly frequent mistakes, and even to the decrease of the quality of work due to the accumulated fatigue. There is a lot of pressure and we forget to disconnect, we forget how important leisure time is.
Entrepreneur and author of the bestseller Time Off, John Fitch describes the four stages of creativity in his book:
Few know that incubation and enlightenment are activated only during free time when we are not working. Basically, 50% of the creative process happens when we do NOT work. In those moments, when we rest or do any other activities that are not related to the daily job, our brain processes the information received and restructures it according to a new logic. Hence the saying “better sleep on it” applies when you have the impulse to respond to a message defensively, and a day later you end up regretting it because you see everything in a more detached way.
Creating a personal habit or an organizational culture that gives voice and promotes breaks or encourages you to disconnect in due time is important. Rest is not detrimental to work, but is an essential function that needs to be respected in order to do an excellent job.
Many companies around the world have already begun to understand this by limiting employees’ email access after business hours or introducing a “Live it” program that offers everyone a day off per month or a shorter day on Fridays with a summertime policy (“Summer Friday Policy”/“Short Friday”).
In the team I work with, we support each other as “disconnect buddies” and we signal one another when we respond to emails at late hours or consecutively work overtime.
We live in a time when “I’m busy” or “I am swamped” have become the most common answers when our parents or friends call us. Too often we put resting at the bottom of our “to-do list”.
And if the pandemic should have taught us anything, it is to appreciate more what truly matters: to take care of our health and that of those around us, to listen to the needs of others, to offer and seek support, to set boundaries when something is not going in the right direction.
Burnout rarely happens all of a sudden. It appears with every hour/day we spend under pressure, without disconnecting, with every project being treated as a continuous marathon instead of sprints we engage in only when they are truly necessary, with each “I just need a few more minutes to finish this” that turns into entire nights spent in front of the computer.
What do you do to reduce digital exhaustion while working remotely? Who supports you in this process?