Our Warped Work-From-Home World – 6 Tips to Avoid WFH Fatigue
In the work-from-home (WFH) age of business, how's it possible that I find myself having more difficulty fitting in lunch or going to the washroom between meetings than when I was in the traditional office?
I’ve been reflecting on some COVID-19 era cultural shifts in our workplace and noticing that we’ve started to adopt a warped view of time and productivity. Each and every minute is now optimized to produce, be it in brainstorming meetings, briefings or getting a decision on an important product, program or service. We book meetings during lunch, before business hours and sometimes even during the sacred 6 to 8 pm time slot. We send emails all through the night and expect people to be available because, why the heck not? It’s not like we’ve got other plans. Restaurants are closed. Gyms are closed. We’re all mostly at home, and should be able to respond!
(Note: this article applies to office workers who’ve been on WFH duty since March 2020. The stressors faced by our frontline and essential workers are immeasurable and there are many stories showcasing the impact of the pandemic on this group. Thank you all for your dedication and continued efforts that must feel like an uphill battle some days. You deserve a million breaks and we are so darn lucky to have you).
I’m not the first person to write about the erosion of space between our work lives and our personal lives. You’ll have read it countless times since March 2020. So how come we haven’t found ways to automate or digitize some standard processes or procedures to help us overcome these WFH challenges?
Here are some simple ideas of how leaders and employees alike can work together to build a healthier relationship with their WFH reality:
1. Dare to Time Block
Take back control of your calendar by blocking time to do work that requires focus. Or, build breaks into your day such as a 30-minute window to each lunch. Consider adding a 15-minute daily mindfulness practice reminder so that you can tear your eyes away from the screen and focus on your breath at least once a day.
If you're thinking, "WHOA, hold up, Lauren! I don't have complete control of my schedule", you're not alone! Many of us have no choice about certain meetings, but we can influence their length and time of day. While you might not be able to time block each aspect of your workday, consider implementing some blocks for specific tasks and integrating much-needed breaks to become more productive while feeling more in control of your time.
2. Disrupt Default Meeting Settings
Did you know that you can change the default meeting settings in Outlook? Consider changing the default 30 or 60-minute meeting to 25-minute or 50-minute increments giving you at least 5-10 minutes of space between each meeting to get up and stretch or tackle emails. Check out the video below to make this change right away:
Another tip is to limit longer meetings because you’ll likely use all of the time, even if it isn’t needed, simply because you’ve got 60 minutes booked. Make it common practice for the meeting organizer or requester to outline an agenda and desired outcome for the discussion. After all, time is money!
3. Ditch Back-to-Back Video Calls
Zoom fatigue is real folks! Here’s a thought... who said all of your meetings need to be taken on screen? How about going rogue, depending on the meeting, and setting it up as an old-school teleconference or phone call? I’ve found this a helpful way to get me up from my desk and moving. Taking a phone call versus a video call means I can walk around my space while also being engaged in the conversation and saving my eyes from the strain of staring at other humans on a screen for 8 hours a day.
4. Denounce After Hours Emails
This one is a no-brainer and the number one complaint I’m hearing from friends and colleagues these days. When we regularly send after hours emails for non-urgent work it becomes embedded into our organizational culture.
While urgent communications should be understood, communicating after hours conveys the message “you should always be on.” Research shows that receiving emails outside of work hours contributes to increased workplace stress. When leaders and employees come to a common agreement about after business hours communication etiquette, employees feel more supported.
5. Develop Guiding Principles
This tip is geared towards leaders who want to build burnout-resistant workplaces that retain top talent. You may wish to engage employees through surveys, focus groups or facilitated discussions to understand the pain points and co-create guiding principles that not only serve your business in meeting its targets, but also ensures employees feel valued and respected for their contributions.
Co-creating a set of WFH guiding principles will foster trust, accountability and ultimately lead to more engaged employees.
6. Design a New Commute
I heard this tip recently and thought it was genius! While most of us work-from-homers are not missing the morning commute – the mad dash to the train or the traffic headaches, we might not realize how that time helped us to transition (literally) from home/personal life to our work environment, and then back. Consider adding in a brief pre-work and post-work activity or habit to physically and/or mentally transition.
Personally, I've been using my morning and evening dog walks to mentally prepare to arrive at work and leave work each day. I also try to lock my computer screen post work to reduce the number of notifications I see given my desk is in my living room/kitchen.
These are my six easy tips to help alleviate WFH fatigue! As the days are getting colder and darker here in the northern hemisphere, I’m curious if you have any other tips to help us cope.
What should we all be doing now to ensure we're well prepared to thrive while working from home this winter?