Enough already! Remember when this was all going to be over in a few months? Many of us sheltered-in-place, homeschooled children and adapted to remote working with the belief that we’d be back to our normal routines by the summer. Instead, almost 9 months later, we are likely entering the most challenging months of this pandemic.
Remote working burnout is yet another negative consequence of COVID. At a time when our stress levels are already elevated, job-related burnout is on the rise. A recent survey conducted by FlexJobs and Mental Health America found that 75% of people have experienced burnout at work.¹ And according to a MetLife report on the mental health of the U.S. workforce, 66% of employees report symptoms of burnout while the same percentage of employers expect a mental health crisis in the U.S. within three years.² Now is the time to take proactive steps to address this growing problem.
Now that nearly 70% of the world is working remotely,⁴ how many of us long for those commutes that we used to dread? Instead, our commutes have been replaced with more Zoom calls. I have several coaching clients who are not only working longer hours but are seeing their families less despite being home with them all day long. The lack of separation between work and home is a big contributor to remote working burnout. In this new world in which work/life boundaries are blurred, it is imperative to create separation for you and your team:
Another big contributor to remote working burnout is the lack of breaks between meetings. We no longer walk from our offices to meetings or from meeting to meeting. Similar to our commutes, these natural breaks provided important downtime and a chance to turn our brains off. In this new remote world, meetings are usually back to back to back with most running late, which then causes the next meeting to start late and so on and so on.
A positive trend that COVID has accelerated is increased work flexibility and job control. In a recent announcement about going “Virtual First”, Dropbox explained that one of the best ways to increase employee productivity is to embrace a non-linear workday.⁶ One of my clients has a coder in Colorado that does her best coding between 3-6 am. She then takes a hike during the middle of the day to refresh and innovate. Providing more flexibility and control to your colleagues is an important way to address remote working burnout. A recent study on the effects of remote working found that our mental health and mortality have a strong correlation with the amount of autonomy we have at our job.⁷
Another important, but underrated, aspect of our pre-COVID office experience was the small talk with our colleagues between meetings or at the water cooler. It was a chance to discuss something other than work. We would ask about each other's families, what we were watching on Netflix or our plans for the weekend. Making personal connections is invaluable in enhancing our professional relationships and improving team productivity. As the legendary “Trillion Dollar Coach” Bill Campbell explained: “People on your team are people, and the whole team becomes stronger when you break down the walls between the professional and human personas.”⁹
Some important scientifically proven facts about our health: sitting and being indoors for extended periods is bad for our physical and mental wellbeing, and exercise is a great way for us to combat stress.
A Mayo Clinic analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that “prolonged periods of sitting lead to obesity, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels… and also seem to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer”¹⁰ Our bodies are not built for sitting for extended periods, but COVID has accelerated another bad habit: being tied to our desks for longer periods of times. Try not to sit for more than 20 minutes at a time:
The unfortunate reality is this most difficult wave of the pandemic is occurring at a time when the days are getting shorter and the weather is getting colder (for most of us anyway). But, getting outside is a key way to avoid remote working burnout. This past spring, I had a client who did not leave his house for 5 straight days, and it was because of his workload rather than the need to shelter in place. In addition to providing a healthy break between Zoom calls, many studies have shown that getting outside contributes to:
At a time when we need it the most, we are exercising less with gyms, yoga studios, and many of our athletic activities closed down or limited. In his book, “Become a Strong Mental Athlete”, David Silverstein cites many studies that show that exercise is the most effective way to reduce stress.¹² The good news is that COVID has accelerated the trend toward online/remote exercise. There are many options from Peloton and The Mirror to other online fitness and yoga options to DIY home gyms. I have footnoted a recent listing of the “The 9 Best Online Exercise Classes of 2020”.¹³
In 2019, American workers were already forfeiting half of their vacation days.¹⁴ This is yet another negative trend that COVID has accelerated. According to a recent survey by staffing firm Robert Half, more than a third of workers postponed their vacations this year, and more than a quarter planned to take less time.¹⁵ While traveling is challenging, there’s never been a better time to take a staycation and detach from your screen.
While the COVID pandemic will come to end, remote working is here to stay for many of us. Remote working burnout represents the culmination of negative trends that existed pre-COVID: overworking, increasing stress/burnout, more time at our desks/on devices; and less time with our families, exercising, and taking care of ourselves. My father always emphasized to me the importance of a work/life balance. More importantly, it was how he lived his life. Since his passing, I am trying to do the same.
Almost all of us need more work/life balance, and by tackling remote working burnout, we can all hopefully look back and say we did not let this crisis go to waste.
¹ Avenue, Next. “How To Deal With Covid-19 Burnout At Work.” Forbes, 1 Oct. 2020.
² “Mental Health, Resilient Workforce, Business Recovery Study | MetLife.” MetLife.
³ “Zoom” refers to all video call providers (Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, etc.)
⁴ “State of Remote Work 2020.” Owl Labs.
⁵ Google Speedy Meetings/End Outlook Meetings Early
⁶ “Employee Productivity: The Ultimate Guide for Managers.” Fellow.App, 23 Oct. 2020.
⁷ “Is Your Job Killing You? Stress, Lack of Autonomy, Ability Can Lead to Depression, Death.”ScienceDaily, 19 May 2020
⁸ Oppong, Thomas., “For a More Creative Brain, Take Breaks.” Inc., 30 May 2017
⁹ Schmidt, Eric. “Trillion Dollar Coach”. HarperCollins, 2019.
¹⁰ “Sitting Risks: How Harmful Is Too Much Sitting?” Mayo Clinic, 21 Aug. 2020
¹¹ Cluett, Megan. “Get Outside and Live Longer” Yogi Times, 7 Sept. 2017
¹² Silverstein, David. “Become an Elite Mental Athlete”. BMGI Corporation, 2013.
¹⁴ Dickler, Jessica. “US Workers Could Forfeit a Record Number of Vacation Days This Year.”CNBC, 10 Dec. 2019,
¹⁵ “Survey: The State of Summer Vacations For Employees.”Employees Robert Half Finance & Accounting
¹⁶ Errico, Leigh. “Why Taking Time off Is Key to Nurturing Creative Ideas.” Fast Company, 5 Aug. 2020