If you're anything like us, you probably imagined that by one full year from the first COVID-related lockdowns, we'd be back to normal, working in our old cubicles and offices, gathering around the water cooler with gossip or reviews of last night's episode of The Bachelor.
But here we are. One year later. March of 2021, and many of us are still working remotely. When it all started, many of us were thrilled at the idea of working from home, sitting in a cozy office space, being close enough to the fridge or stove to make a fresh lunch, avoiding that one person in the office who drove us a little nutty. Yes, we went there.
I don't think any of us really imagined that there would be so much stress related to the WFH situation, you know, once we figured out childcare options, new technology for ourselves and our children, and how to find toilet paper in the first several months. But it turns out, working from home comes with its own set of issues, even this far into the WFH new norm.
One of the worst unintended consequences has become WFH burnout. According to a July 2020 survey from Monster, 69% of Americans admitted to feeling burned out. We feel pretty confident in guessing that percentage is probably much higher now.
Today we're going to discuss some signals of burnout for all you remote workers and offer some tips on how to avoid it.

Signs of Burnout 

In  a time when employees are already feeling a lot of stress, confusion, and frustration over our pandemic-laden world, it can be tough to tell exactly what is affecting our mental health the most. Here are some of the most obvious signs to look for:

  • Not meeting work deadlines
  • Moodiness, including quick changes between sadness, irritability, and anger
  • Losing track of tasks
  • Feeling hopeless, depressed, fatigued
  • Losing interest even in things you used to love
  • Trouble sleeping (falling or staying asleep)
  • Feeling discouraged or apathetic about work (more than the "case of the Mondays" kind of feeling)
  • Increased alcohol consumption or drinking to cope
  • Physical symptoms include: chest pain, headaches, increased illness, heart palpitations, dizziness or fainting, or gastrointestinal pain

work from home burnout symptoms

These physical symptoms might be the easiest ones to recognize, but it's important to be aware of any and all of them, especially if they are new or have worsened since you began remote working. Many workers remember feeling some of these emotions even when they were working in the office; they just considered part of the job. But if your productivity is suffering now more than ever, you may be experiencing work-from-home burnout.
So what can we do? We can work to prevent and treat the condition!

Tips for Avoiding Work-from-Home Burnout

Benjamin Franklin once said, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." That means getting ahead of the feeling is more effective than treating it! Granted, since we're a year into this mess, we're probably all playing catch-up. But still. Consider the following:

Start a 4-day Work Week

According to Elizabeth Pearson of Entrepreneur, "In 2019, Microsoft Japan implemented a 4-day work week and saw a 40% boost in productivity." Pearson questions why more counties, including the US, don't make this leap and comes to the conclusion that restructuring the entire workforce would take too much time and effort for most employers to be interested. Makes sense, right?

But if you're working in a virtual setting, either as an entrepreneur or as an employee, it might be worth the effort. Benefits of a 4-day workweek include more time for social activities (even if they are also virtual), family, self-care, and even appointments employees would otherwise have to request time off work for anyway, just to name a few.
Pearson writes, "According to a global survey of nearly 3,000 employees across eight nations conducted by The Workforce Institute, 78% of full-time workers say it would take less than seven hours each day to do their job if they could work uninterrupted, with 45% admitting that their job should take less than five hours per day." If you're working for someone else and feel like the change to four 10-hour days is daunting, remember that your employer can't see you. It's so much easier working at home or at a co-working space to get up from your desk to stretch your legs, grab a snack, do some yoga, or even scroll through social media without feeling like someone is looking over your shoulder.
Additionally, having an entire weekday off can help you set and maintain boundaries between your professional working schedule and your home time away from your team and work.

Create a Dedicated Work Space

One of the biggest stressors we hear our members here at Paradigm talk about is finding STUFF all over their workspace at home. Whether it's laundry that needs to be folded or a dog toy or the dreaded Lego to the bare foot in the home office, finding non-work-related objects in our work-related space can be downright maddening. So while this common tip often centers around finding a room in your home with a closing door to keep out children, pets, and TV distractions, we have a little bit of a spin.
At Paradigm, minimizing distractions takes minimal effort. We have offices and spaces with closing doors, cubicles with walls and desks and filing cabinets you can lock and keep secure, meeting spaces with video technology, high-speed wifi, a kitchen space with snacks and coffee for members, and even a refrigerator where you can keep your own snacks and meals (see the Meal Prep tip below for info on why that is so crucial).
With these benefits in mind, consider making your dedicated space a space at Paradigm Workhub.

Get Outside & Move

When we were all working in offices or cubicles that felt a little like a panopticon situation, it could be difficult to justify--to ourselves or anyone else who could see us leaving the chair we often feel glued to--that getting outside would actually help increase our productivity.
When we're working from home, other employees can no longer see every move we make in the workplace. Take that notice with a little sigh of relief, throw on your shoes (and pants), and take a walk. Bring your phone with you if you're expecting a call. The physical aspects of moving around during the day, as well as information about how movement can improve mood and attitude, is rampant. We've all seen it. So do it. Get moving to help avoid burnout.

If you want to take getting outside a little further, you can visit the Paradigm Workhub balcony areas and set up shop with a view of the trees and skyline across from our building!

Maintain Work/Life Balance

This one has become a toughy! In fact, we could write an entire blog post just on this topic in these pandemic days, where people often find themselves working longer hours without even realizing they are. In fact, another article from our friends over at Entrepreneur says, "those who work remotely were 43% more likely than on-site workers to clock over 40 hours a week." Why? It can be difficult to separate work and home life when the office is in the bedroom.
That's why it's so important, now more than ever, to set specific work hours and boundaries and stick to them. It's also another reason to consider a nearby office space as a place to designate when you're being professional and when you're not.
Another way we've seen employees and business owners failing to take care of themselves is in the personal leave realm. Many of us grew up hearing that taking personal leave was a sign of weakness or detrimental in some way, that taking even paid time off would put our job in jeopardy. And now that we're doing more remote work, we seem even less inclined to want to ask for time off from the daily grind that is still work, even if it's not in our traditional setting.
Remember that COVID affects everyone, even those who are not actually experiencing symptoms. It has put added stress on our lives in innumerable ways, and it's important to schedule days off and take sick days when we need them. Work will survive for one or even a handful of days without you. And you can setup workflows for the days you know you will miss that will already be in place on the days you wake up feeling less than 100% and decide to take a day on the spur of the moment. You have to take care of yourself first!

Plan and Prep Meals

Even when I work from home? You betcha. Remote work does place us closer to our stoves and microwaves, but if we aren't planning ahead, they're just as useless as the ones in the office break room. Meal planning and prepping before the work week starts also cuts down on decision fatigue so that you can focus on job-related choices rather than meal choices. Yes, this one applied in the "before times," but that makes even more crucial now. If you haven't already made this a habit, it's time to start. There are a bazillion resources available on the internet to help you with this task, so don't worry. We promise we're not adding to your suffering by suggesting this tip.

Give Yourself a Break

More than anything else, physical and mental breaks are crucial. Working full time doesn't mean working ALL THE TIME. If you take nothing else from this article, hear us when we say:
  • schedule a break (or seven!) in your day
  • take personal leave and sick leave
  • stick to your boundaries
  • find some way to enjoy social time with friends
  • treat remote work like remote work - quit at quitting time!

Could WFH be the New Norm?

While mass vaccination against COVID appears to be on the horizon, and we can see a glint of light at the end of the tunnel for the pandemic itself, returning to what we once thought was normal may still be a long way off. And despite the negative aspects that can come with working from home, namely burnout, we as a nation and even a global community have seen lots of benefits to working remotely. Our air got cleaner, traffic and road rage improved, we saw people spending more time with family than ever before, and our pets thought they'd gone to heaven when their humans were suddenly around so much more.
Remote work also offered news ways to connect with a team, advance our career by attending events (sure, they were virtual) we may not have been able to when travel was an issue, and successfully make sales to customers without driving several hours one way for a 10-minute meeting. The list goes on.
So with all this increased productivity and the technological advances we've seen come along with it, could we be entering an era of remote working for the long haul? It's absolutely possible now, something we're not sure we ever imagined ourselves saying. But we love the idea!

When I opened Paradigm, it was before the pandemic but I had personal experience with the WFH lifestyle and knew there was a community right here in Hamilton Mill needed a place like this. I too have my own office in my house, equipped with all the things I need physically, (computer, printer, wifi, comfy chair) but I could not concentrate. I spent so much time self-distracting I was unable to ever feel done with the day's work. There was no separation of work and home life. I needed to shift MY paradigm and do something different. I define this idea on my About page as an important change that happens when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way.

And that's absolutely what we've seen over the past year here. A change in the way business owners and employees do business on a day-to-day basis. 
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