And this, boys and girls, is why burnout happens

Remote working and burnout go together like milk and cookies

Gabriela Motroc

It turns out that working remotely is not such a good idea since it often leads to burnout. This might make sense every once in a while but if you choose to work from the comfort of your home, you should brace yourself for burnout. How come?

Working away from the office every once in a while has its perks — not having to commute saves time and energy, you don’t get interrupted (that often) so you might accomplish more in less time. However, doing this often may lead to burnout; according to UniqueIQ, a remote workforce management expert, home workers are tempted to overwork.

The same reasons that make remote work great are also the reasons why people who work from home are at risk of burnout. They don’t have to commute, get dressed, go into meetings or do any of the things that may cause stress or lead to interruptions so they only have to focus on the task at hand. Wrong. It appears that with no supervision and no time spent commuting, chatting with colleagues or even having lunch, all that’s left is work and then some.

The dark side of remote working: burnout

Scott Hanselman, programmer, teacher and speaker, wrote about the disadvantages of being a remote worker on his blog:

I propose that most remote workers work at least as hard, if not more so, than their local counterparts. This is fueled in no small part by guilt and fear.

Hanselman believes that people who work remotely feel guilty because they assume colleagues think they waste time and not put in “a solid 40 hours.” Because of this, home workers tend to work late and even work weekends. When Marissa Mayer of Yahoo banned employees from working remotely, Hanselman, a former Microsoft employee reacted:

I see this ban on Remote Work at Yahoo as one (or all) of these three things:

  • A veiled attempt to trim the workforce through effectively forced attrition by giving a Sophie’s Choice to remote workers that management perceives as possibly not optimally contributing. It’s easy to avoid calling it a layoff when you’ve just changed the remote work policy, right?
  • A complete and total misstep and misunderstanding of how remote workers see themselves and how they provide value.
  • Pretty clear evidence that Yahoo really has no decent way to measure of productivity and output of a worker.

SEE ALSO: 5 reasons why you should fire workaholic programmers

Hanselman identified at least four disadvantages of working from home:

  • Being unseen might make you invisible at times (this sounds like a no-brainer but it really isn’t). To make sure this does not happen, you should go into the office from time to time to reassure everyone that you’re still working there and you are fulfilling your tasks. While you’re at it, you can have some one-on-one meetings, crack a joke with your colleagues and meet new people. So basically that old saying “out of sight, out of mind” is true, which means that you need to make your presence felt — and seen.
  • The ‘guilt’ card. This topic was covered above — the remote worker often puts in more hours than required to make sure colleagues don’t think they are slacking off.
  • You shall not pass. You may have access to everything you need but every now and then there’s this problem that you can only solve if you are in the (actual) office.
  • Feedback pending. Receiving feedback on your work sometimes means that you have to ask for it. Your remote status may feed your paranoia and you may think that silence is trouble. But it really isn’t! You simply have to ask for feedback.

The solution

Getting into a routine is just what the doctor ordered. If you work from home, you need to remember not to skip some important things such as: eat, blink (yes, that might happen when you are too focused), take breaks, drink water etc.

JAXenter covered this topic a couple of years ago and identified a few tricks that can make this more bearable (and healthy!).

  • Make your presence known – when you arrive at work you’re saying hi, making small talk, catching up. There’s no reason you can’t announce your arrival in the same vein via whatever chat applications you’re utilizing. A simple “Good morning all” lets the rest of the team know that you’re present, along with messages updating them when you’re out or on a call.
  • Have a set lunch time – okay sure, you don’t always go to lunch at the exact same time, but it would be counterproductive to pop into the kitchen for some grub when the rest of the office has already landed back at their desks. On top of setting your lunch time, let people know about it! Set your status just as they do by leaving their desks; and keywords, people! “At lunch”, etc etc.
  • Finish work when you’re supposed to – signing off and announcing as such should also be part of your routine. Again, you’re reminding people that you were around and that you’re now unavailable, regardless of where it is you’re actually working. Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you’re expected to put in longer hours, but alas, it can often feel that way.

You might say “I knew that already” but when it comes to taking a break or calling it a day if your answer is “just this thing and I’m done” you clearly need to change something. Take that break, get up, pour yourself a glass of water — it’s ok!

Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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LP Fitz
LP Fitz
3 years ago

Great post and so true. I’m not a développer but in sales but I have the same experience.