Remote work: 3 ways to prevent IT team burnout

Remote work: 3 ways to prevent IT team burnout

Between pressure to accelerate digital transformation and external stresses,  IT teams are in serious danger of burnout. IT leaders can take these three steps to make a difference

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The unprecedented global shift to remote work has been a boon for many workers, who are enjoying perks like shortened commutes and diminished costs. With 82 percent of business leaders now planning to allow their employees to work from home at least some of the time on a permanent basis, it’s clear that remote work is here to stay.

But these benefits come at a cost: Workers are feeling pressure from an always-on mentality and blurred work/home lines, resulting in longer workdays (an extra 48.5 minutes on average) and increased employee burnout.

No one has felt this more than IT teams. In a span of months, IT professionals have been forced to implement years of digital transformation to enable distributed workforces, in a transformational shift that no one saw coming. Many were caught underprepared, requiring a frenetic pace of innovation and implementation that continues to this day to keep organizations running smoothly and securely.

[ How do your team meetings stack up? Read also:  Zoom tips: 6 ways to make meetings better. ]

Added to this are new external responsibilities and stresses stemming from the pandemic, social unrest, extended childcare needs, extreme weather, a looming national election, and whatever else 2020 decides to throw at us next.

Remote work: Three tips to fight burnout on your team

IT teams are in serious danger of burnout, a true innovation killer. Here are three steps IT leaders need to take today to keep their teams running full speed ahead.

1. Redefine resilience

The concept of business resilience has come into focus during the pandemic as IT teams have been forced to adapt on the fly while facing overwhelming workloads. The gut response to these challenges is often to work harder, faster, and longer. While that may be necessary sometimes, maintaining a mindset of always-on resilience is damaging in the long term.

It’s time for IT leaders to adopt a new understanding of resilience, one that incorporates rest. Since the pandemic started, we’ve found that our employees can only push themselves so far before falling victim to burnout. Paradoxically, the best way to push ahead is by pausing.

Our employees can only push themselves so far before falling victim to burnout. Paradoxically, the best way to push ahead is by pausing.

This means reevaluating your approach to time off. Recuperation time isn’t a nice-to-have, but a must-have, and refreshed employees will have higher levels of motivation and productivity. But even with a bountiful balance of PTO days, employees may still be hesitant to take time off out of a sense of guilt or from the pressure of an always-on culture.

To change this, it’s up to IT leaders to set a norm by also taking time off. And make sure your day off really is a day off: that means no emails, no texts, no calls. Not only will this benefit you, but it will show your teams that it’s okay to disconnect. There’s no resilience without regular rest.

[ Also read: COVID-19 leadership lessons: 5 ways to help your team recharge. ]

2. Rethink the traditional workday

Replacing the centralized, traditional workplace for dispersed home offices during the pandemic gives us the opportunity to ditch outdated management policies based on tying work to place and time. Unfortunately, too many leaders are still trying to manage their teams like everyone is still in the office. Instead, IT leaders need to shift their fundamental approach to work from time spent to productivity, and from structured workdays to flexible, personalized schedules.

Let your employees work when it’s best for them – even if that means scheduling blocks of time during the middle of the workday for family responsibilities. The traditional 9-to-5 workday model had been fading even pre-pandemic, but in a world of remote work and pandemic stress, it’s more crucial than ever that employees are allowed to choose their schedule.

What really matters is getting the job done, not holding your team members to a strict regimen that only adds more stress.

Remember: What really matters is getting the job done, not holding your team members to a strict regimen that only adds more stress. Of course, there will still be times when everyone needs to be on, but there should also be plenty of time when you are hands-off.

Tailor your engagement approach to each individual team member and ask them about their preferred communication style so that you aren’t scheduling syncs that end up wasting everybody’s time. When employees have the ability to structure the workday around their needs, they won’t run into walls of frustration and stress.

3. Get your priorities straight

Prioritizing the emotional and mental needs of employees often gets overlooked as businesses struggle with the economic implications of COVID-19. We’ve already seen examples of companies rushing back to the office or pressuring employees to return when they simply aren’t ready. But business decisions shouldn’t be made at the expense of employee well-being. When that occurs, leaders forget that their employees really are their greatest assets. What hurts employees hurts the business, and if employees are struggling emotionally and mentally, the business will struggle as well.

What hurts employees hurts the business, and if employees are struggling emotionally and mentally, the business will struggle as well.

In today’s hyper-charged environment, it’s critical for IT leaders to develop emotional intelligence. In the context of the workplace, this means leaning into empathy and putting yourself in the mindset of each of your individual employees.

[ Read also: Be the boss working parents need now: 6 tips. ]

A great example is Salesforce, which recently extended its remote work option through next summer. This decision recognizes that employees need stability and enables them to make long-term plans. Additionally, Salesforce is helping working parents who are struggling to balance childcare with work by expanding its family care leave, giving parents an additional six weeks off, and offering childcare support reimbursement. Understanding that many home offices are hastily designed, the company has twice provided funds for employees to purchase necessary equipment.

If your company isn’t willing to make major policy changes, that’s okay too. Empathy isn’t defined by the size of an initiative. Check in on your employees and show an authentic interest in their goals and concerns. Initiate interactions that have nothing to do with work. Ask your employees about any barriers to their work and how you can best help them.

Remember: Sometimes the smallest actions make the biggest difference.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

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Peter Jackson is chief executive officer of Bluescape.  He is an innovative and experienced CEO, president and board member with over 30 years of executive management experience including 12 years of public company management. He is known in the industry as a visionary for taking start-up companies to acquisition and IPO exits.

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