Remote work exhaustion: 13 tips to reduce fatigue

If today's remote workplace leaves you feeling more exhausted than ever, you're not alone. Consider these practical ways to restore your energy and ease the stress
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remote work fatigue - employee resting head on desk

Back in March 2020, I wrote that the age of remote had begun. Some thought the pandemic would be short-lived and everyone would soon return to the office, but nine months have already passed. Nine incredibly long, crazy, unprecedented months. “Tiger King” and murder hornets kept us distracted briefly during the pandemic, while the Pentagon announced the possibility of UFOs. It was such a crazy year that even UFOs didn’t seem that shocking.

While many of us have changed how we work, where we work has also changed. What started as “work from home” evolved into “work from anywhere.” Places like Aruba tempted remote workers with no visa fees and stunning beach views. Cities such as Tulsa, Oklahoma, offered as much as $10,000 for remote workers to relocate.

Remote work has become transformational, leading to an exodus of tech talent from the Bay Area. It’s also seen as a long-term cost reduction strategy: Tech giants HPE and Oracle announced they are relocating their Silicon Valley headquarters to Texas.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

Less screen time means less scream time

Another change we’ve witnessed is the Zoom boom. Once considered an enterprise video conferencing tool, Zoom went mainstream this year as schools, churches, families, and other organizations signed on. Videoconferencing technology allowed many organizations to remain connected and productive while their workforce went remote and Zoom became the de facto standard to replace face-to-face meetings.

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

But unless you are a television personality, it turns out being online constantly is exhausting. Psychologists suggest that Zoom fatigue may come from the intensity of being hyper-focused while attempting to constantly process non-verbal communication from other meeting attendees.

While many factors likely contribute to Zoom fatigue, there are practical steps you can take to reduce the fatigue you may be feeling:

1. Make some of your meetings audio-only

This will reduce the constant gazing into your webcam. This is my default mode when meeting with partners and vendors. Another bonus: You can move around the room (if you have a wireless headset) without distracting other attendees.

2. Turn off gallery view

Turns out a virtual room full of people staring at you can be daunting – so lose the gallery view. This Hollywood Squares-style layout can also be incredibly distracting: Really, why is Dave wearing a Hawaiian shirt in this meeting? It’s December and he lives in Pittsburgh.

3. Avoid constantly checking yourself on camera

Your focus inevitably shifts when you fidget to figure out what is your best side. Instead, select active speaker view and hide your own self-view. This reduces the number of attendees visible to just the speaker.

4. Schedule meetings only when they are necessary

If a meeting can be replaced with an email, an email can often be replaced with a Slack message or text. This is especially true for quick status updates or questions.

If a meeting can be replaced with an email, an email can often be replaced with a Slack message or text.

When you do need to schedule a meeting, be bold enough to reduce the total meeting time. Shorten one-hour meetings to 45-50 minutes. Keep attendee discussions concise and crisp. Reducing meetings to less than an hour allows attendees to have quick breaks in between meetings. It may take a few meetings to get the cadence, but attendees will appreciate getting more time back on their schedule.

5. Turn off the camera

Let’s face it – some days you just don’t want to be on camera. I’m not saying you should lie, but if you are experiencing bandwidth issues, wink…wink… turning off your camera helps improve the audio quality. With everyone working from home and many kids going to school virtually, it’s very plausible. Remember – in the end, less screen time will lead to less scream time.

6. Get up and get out

Another drawback of non-stop video meetings is that you’re constantly sitting in front of your computer. The pandemic has turned many into COVID-19 potatoes (it’s kind of like a couch potato, but instead of sitting on your couch mindlessly staring at your TV, you sit at your makeshift home office mindlessly staring at your screen).

Without co-workers stopping by to interrupt, it’s easy to get lost in Slack messages, emails, and social media posts. Get up and move. Not everyone has a Peloton, but that doesn’t mean you can’t burn up a few extra calories and feel better by being more active.

7. Schedule frequent breaks

I have found scheduling breaks in my calendar makes me more likely to take them. Some studies suggest you should take five-minute screen breaks every hour so try to get up from your screen and stretch every hour. It is important for your eyes, posture, and overall well-being to stop staring at your screen. Do not use the break from your laptop as a reason to check your mobile device. Think of that time away from your screen as a small mental health maintenance exercise.

Think of time away from your screen as a small mental health maintenance exercise.

8. Don't stay inside all day

If the weather is nice, take a walk during your lunch break or eat lunch outside. For some unknown culinary reason, food tastes better when it’s consumed outdoors – but even if you aren’t up for dining alfresco, do not eat lunch at your desk. Take a break and enjoy your lunch. Your work will still be there when you return.

9. Consider taking calls outside

If you are not an active participant on a call, consider going on mute, connecting with your phone, and taking a walk. “Work from home” is evolving to “work from anywhere.” I have taken plenty of calls on my back deck or at a public park.

10. Take time off to disconnect

While remote work has eliminated countless wasted hours of commuting, many are seeing longer workdays. Perhaps this is an attempt to have control over something in a year filled with uncertainty, but working non-stop will ultimately lead to burnout. Take time to disconnect from work, stay active, reconnect with others, and rest.

11. Stay healthy

While vaccine rollouts from both Pfizer and Moderna are underway, we are still months from returning safely to pre-COVID socializing. In the meantime, continue to follow the advice of the CDC, wear a mask, and socially distance.

Speaking of masks, did you think a year ago you would have a favorite mask? Crazy.

12. Maintain social connections

While you physically distance yourself from others, remember to connect in other ways. Set up a Zoom game night to catch up with friends, send a care package to loved ones, or drop off a home-cooked dinner for an elderly neighbor. Remote work won’t disappear after the pandemic subsides. It is here to stay.

13. Find harmony

Ultimately, working remotely is not about finding work-life balance but finding harmony. There will be days when work consumes more hours than your personal life does, but make these the exception. Work should not get as much of your time as your family does. Finding harmony will reduce remote work fatigue and lead to longer-term success in this new remote world.

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Jason James is CIO of Net Health. He has led IT operations for fast-growth technology companies for over twenty years.