Remote work: how to stay away from burnout

15 Apr 2020 5 min read
Written by Alina Luchian, Communications and Marketing Manager

As we're more than a month into the changes COVID-19 created, new questions arise: is remote working suiting all of us? do we know how to balance life and work from our homes? is remote work stressful and can we avoid burnout?

An SVP from a Texas-based company confessed in a LinkedIn post that "With everything going on these past few weeks, I’ve struggled to find the exact words to express how I feel inside. This new way of work/life is so surreal and I am constantly thinking about when it would all be over with so things could get back to being 'normal', sparking a debate on whether 'going back to normal' is even possible. As most of us will be working from home for the foreseeable future, our idea of 'normal' will, most likely, alter and create undesired stress. How can we deal with all that? 

Identify what you're feeling

stress: is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the “stress response”. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert.

anxiety: is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure (according to the American Psychological Association (APA)). When anxiety is constant or overwhelming—when worries and fears interfere with your relationships and daily life—you’ve likely crossed the line from normal anxiety into the territory of an anxiety disorder.

burnout: is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Physical symptoms that may occur because of occupational stress include fatigue, headache, upset stomach, muscular aches and pains, chronic mild illness, sleep disturbances, and eating disorders. Psychological and behavioral problems that may develop include anxiety, irritability, alcohol, and drug use, feeling powerless and low morale. The spectrum of effects caused by occupational stress includes absenteeism (the practice of regularly staying away from work without good reason), poor decision making and even lack of creativity. If exposure to stressors in the workplace is prolonged, then chronic health problems can occur. If you identify yourself with any of these symptoms or know someone that is feeling overwhelmed these days, reach out for professional help.

The challenge of remote work

Stress, in all its forms, has touched almost all professions, posing threat to mental and physical health. It has become common among the working people in this era because of competitiveness, job complexity, advanced technologies, and, now, the pressure of securing your job and staying healthy. Amongst them, remote working seems to be a ray of hope, a beacon that life goes on in a 'business-as-usual' manner. Yet, it doesn't. Many are experiencing working remotely as a new thing and they're caught unprepared for what it means. Right away, distractions are all around. The mental flow so easily achieved at your office vanishes. Your stomach growls at odd hours. The washing machine, crying children or noisy neighbors are testing your sanity. You either can't find the will to work or can't stop working. There is no middle ground. There's nothing to be ashamed of, most of us are going through the same experience. We need to acknowledge that isolation, anxiety, and depression are significant problems when working remotely, the most frequent sources being:

  • Work-life imbalance
  • Boring or repetitive work
  • Pushy/uncooperative users
  • Constant firefighting
  • Unmanageable workload
  • Improper executions (deliver on a Friday emoticon_smile )
  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics
  • Unclear job expectations

Take advantage of this state to identify work challenges, discuss them with your colleagues and improve procedures. The benefits will stick well after the pandemic is gone.

Change what you can, accept the rest

With remote work the "new normal" the pressure to publicly prove your productivity is amplifying workers' anxiety levels. In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Dr. Aisha S. Ahmad, an author and a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, draws on her experience managing through global crises to write about why we should ignore the onslaught of coronavirus-inspired productivity pressure. How can you do it?

1. Cut out the noise

Crises and changes require mental adjustment, so it’s OK and normal to feel bad and lost right now. Positivity is great, but it can also take a toll on you if you force it while you're not quite there yet. Take your time. Don't forget to respect yourself, your body and your time: 

  • Set regular work hours 
  • Take frequent breaks 
  • Limit your distractions 
  • Keep your workspace organized 
  • Make time for hobbies and interests 
  • Stay connected with friends and family

2. Create Meaning

We’re still at the beginning of this crisis. As Ahmad puts it, “Understand that this is a marathon. If you sprint at the beginning, you will vomit on your shoes by the end of the month.” Right. None of us know just how long this is all going to last, and that uncertainty will drive us crazy. This is not business as usual, so why do we pretend otherwise? For the author, this is the best time to create a routine that gives personal satisfaction and helps with motivation overall. This means catching up with the pile of books stacked on the bedside for 30 minutes, diving in the postponed online courses for an hour, and finally exploring yoga and its benefits, every two days. It hasn't been easy to create a routine out of this, and it still isn't, but it gets easier every day. If outcomes are not strong enough motivators for you, try gamification or challenges to achieve your wellbeing.

3. Put the tools at work

New technology makes all of this possible. Why not take advantage of it? As a Buffer study shows: "remote work isn’t always as Instagram-worthy as it may seem. In fact, many remote workers struggle with unplugging from their work, loneliness and communicating".


As a lot of the work will happen asynchronously, help your team stay connected (Slack, Twist, Riot, Skype, Zoom...) and collaborate better (CryptPad, XWiki, GitHub, Jira...), without jeopardizing their mental health. Don't put pressure on you or others to be available 24/7, establish communication rules (standard response time, dealing with one subject at a time), turn off notifications once you're done working and encourage social activity. For this last point, we have informal chats dedicated to cooking, sharing tips, news or memes, and we have started an end of the week video call called 'Vindredi' to share our thoughts, jokes or questions over a glass of wine.

Whatever your tools are, make sure all teammates are feeling included, that your strategy for the foreseeable future is transparent and that you all act as a team fighting against the external uncertainty, as opposed to individuals lost in the layers of confusion or burnout. 

Now, more than ever is the time to take care of your health and of the ones close to you: family, friends, and coworkers. Stay safe, healthy and let us know what other tips you have for protecting your mental health. Sharing is, indeed, caring. 

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