"Things finally came ahead when I had an emotional breakdown.
I wrapped up a completely normal and uneventful day at work, did my fifteen foot commute from my office to my living room.
[Them, I] found myself vomiting from stress, saying how much I hated–truly hated–my job, and crying as I realized how unhappy I was with my new life."
Benjamin Pollack, a senior software engineer, was recapping his first year working remotely. He wanted to enjoy it — just like his friends did. But, he was suffering from burnout.
Burnout is when you feel emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted due to workplace stress. You struggle to focus and appreciate your work. You become unhappy and irritable.
This tiredness robs you of a rewarding experience. Remote work has many benefits. Here's why Freelancer Shannon loves it:
"Freedom and flexibility are the two aspects of remote work that I would [struggle] to leave behind...I also enjoy the benefit of setting my own schedule. [These qualities] have allowed me to build a life that includes so much travel. There’s a near absolute freedom to create your own priorities alongside your work and then see them through."
Remote work increases your productivity, job satisfaction, and overall quality of life. But it isn't easy. There are many privileges of office life that you won't have when working remotely.
Managers and employees alike assume that remote work is the solution to workplace stress. However, DigitalOcean survey of 4,500 remote developers disproved that. Remote workers were more burned out than office workers — 66% vs. 64%, respectively. This is because they lack the structure and support that office people have.
For example, offices have work hours. When the clock strikes five, employees stop working and focus more on their personal life. But remote workers don't have this signal. They keep working, building up stress.
They also don't have people checking upon them. When office workers are upset, managers and colleagues can offer help. Remote workers have to fend for themselves. When they realize they're burnt out, it's usually too late.
But working remotely does have perks. It saves you time and money from commuting. Its flexibility lets you travel and take care of family members. You also don't have to see annoying co-workers all the time.
Avoid burnout by creating a work style that best fits your life. The tips below will help you better manage stress. And stop you from going to the emergency room:
Remote people tend to overwork. DigitalOcean discovered this when asking developers about their hours. Thirty-four percent of them worked more than 8 hours a day. In another report, Kimble Applications found that 22% of billable workers under reported their hours. These are people who usually don't work in an office. They thought working so much was normal.
However, this is one of the major causes of burnout. Working morning to night isn't good for your mind or body. It can also isolate you from friends and family. You need to create boundaries that separate your work and personal life.
Morning and evening routines are great ways to achieve a better work-life balance. First, don't start your morning with work. Instead, take a shower, eat breakfast, or walk the dog
Use your early hours to improve your health or relationships. This will not only strengthen your focus but also enhance your mood. Here's how Productivity Guild’s Justin DiRose starts his workday:
Next, create work hours. These are the times when you'll start and stop working. Just as if you were in an office. But don’t forget to schedule breaks!
Lastly, create a shutdown or evening routine. When it's a certain time, you close your laptop and dedicate the rest of the night to yourself or social life. Here’s how Buffer's Marcus Wermuth schedules his workday:
Another cause of burnout is a lack of social support. When working remotely, it’s easy to disconnect from your team. The lack of personal interactions can make you feel like an outcast. It can also make you feel guilty.
So, you overwork to show that you're not lazy. Scott Hanselman describes these feelings perfectly:
“We DO feel guilty working at home...We fear that you think we aren't putting in a solid 40 hours (or 50, or 60).
Because of this, we tend to work late, we work after the kids are down, and we work weekends...In my anecdotal experience, remote workers are more likely to feel they are ‘taking time from the company’ and pay it back more than others.”
But, it doesn't have to be this way. Don't overextend yourself to prove you're reliable. Instead, make yourself seen.
Start by sending status updates. Once a week, email your team the top three tasks or projects you're trying to complete. Then, follow-up and show your progress. Explain what tasks you have and haven't finished.
Also, ask for feedback. Find out if they’re happy with your performance. Ask questions like, “Am I on track with X? Do you like what I'm doing with X?”
Next, be transparent. Give your team your work hours. Explain at what times they can and can't reach you. If these hours don't fit their schedules, compromise and plan accordingly. Be aware of their different time zones like Customer.io.
Lastly, build relationships with your coworkers. Video and audio calls make interacting with others easier. Instead of dealing with matters via email or messaging, ask your team members to join a call. You get a greater sense of each other's personalities.
Or, try meeting them in person. Tigran Hakobyan shares a co-working space with another Buffer team member. He also attends annual retreats where he spends time with the rest of his team.
Greek psychologists reviewed studies on burnout and cognitive functions. They found that exhausted people tend to have attention and memory lapses. This made it harder for them to concentrate and finish tasks.
In Sweden, researchers compared burnout survivors to healthier people. The burnout group had more trouble controlling their negative feelings. This can lead to depression, aggression, and irritability.
In a Dutch study, researchers reviewed the relationship between "the stress hormone" cortisol and burnout. They found that burnt-out people had lower cortisol levels than relaxed people. These low levels are tied to health issues like heart disease, obesity, and substance abuse.
These conditions hurt your body and mental health. Prevent them by learning how to safely manage your stress.
As a remote worker, you're bombarded with emails, notifications, and project updates on a daily basis. This can be overwhelming. Mindful meditation gets you out of this anxious state and into a calmer one. It can also boost your focus and attention.
The New York Times advises that you try this S.T.O.P. exercise when you're stressed out:
Stop whatever you're doing and pause.
Take a deep breath. Then, exhale. Feel the sensation.
Observe what's happening inside and outside of you.
Proceed with whatever you're doing.
Another tactic is scheduling work and break sessions throughout your day. These cycles of stress and rest help you grow. However, don’t plan too many breaks or else you’ll lose focus.
For example, if you’re a programmer or writer, you need intense concentration. Working for only 15 - 20 minutes interrupts your attention. And it stops you from entering “flow.”
Flow is when you’re fully immersed or involved in an activity. It’s when you feel and perform at your best. To reach this state, you need 2 - 3 hours of deep work. Then, a 30 - 60 minute break. Some people have 4-hour sessions with meals in between.
These long sessions might seem intense. But with proper habits and guidance, you can achieve it. Constantly tweak your schedule to find the best work cycle for you.
If you notice that an IC is struggling with this, help them better organize their workday.
Lastly, sleep and exercise often. Sleeping for 6-8 hours prevents illnesses, increases your productivity, and improves your mood.
Exercise reverse bad sleep and help better regulate your emotions. When you do it, your body produces endorphins that reduce stress. Harvard recommends that you try swimming, walking, strength training, tai chi and kegel exercises.
Burnout sucks. It can make you fall out of love with your work. But the benefits of working remotely are too good to give up. The flexibility, savings, and control enrich your life like no office can.
That's why you must practice stress management. It's the key to an awesome and strong remote career. We suggest that you create healthy and strict boundaries. Use routines to separate your personal and work life.
Also, don’t overcompensate to prove you're reliable. Regularly talk and socialize with your team to appear hardworking. Lastly, protect your mind and body. Meditation, exercise, and rest helps combat the effects of burnout.
Remote work is a great opportunity to advance yourself personally and professionally. Take advantage of it.