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October 17, 2017

Steps Remote Employees Can Take to Prevent Burnout


Get started on your information technology degree at American Public University.

By Dr. Karen Hand
Faculty Member, School of STEM, American Public University

Once considered futuristic, telecommuting is commonplace in today’s increasingly interconnected business world. In some career fields such as online education, working remotely is now the norm for many faculty members and administrators.

In other career fields, employees may be offered the option to work from home a certain number of days each week, in lieu of working in the office every day.

Working Remotely Increases Productivity, but May Lead to Burnout

Although remote working has many benefits for employer and employee alike, it also carries the risk of employee burnout due to the blurred lines between work and home life. Fortunately, there are concrete steps remote employees can take to increase productivity, while also protecting themselves from overwork and burnout.

Studies Show Remote Workers Put in More Hours Than Office Workers

At the advent of telecommuting, employers worried that without monitoring, remote employees might not put in the full hours required of them. However, various studies over time have shown that remote workers actually put in more hours than their in-office counterparts. This fact is due in part to the difficulty of separating work from home life when a home is also an office.

In addition, most remote employees carry smartphones. With smartphones, a work-related email, text or phone call can interrupt remote employees during their time off, even when they are away from their home offices. Remote workers should set boundaries to help prevent their work from infringing on all aspects of their life and time.

The following recommendations can increase productivity and guard against burnout:

  • Start your work day early. Research confirms that early risers are happier, healthier and more productive than those who get to work later in the morning. If you can start your workday at 5 or 6 a.m., you can complete a significant amount of your day’s work before your boss and co-workers are even awake. This strategy guarantees you several hours of uninterrupted productivity at the start of each day.
  • Set up a home office in a room dedicated only for that purpose. When you are in your office, make sure your family understands that you should not be disturbed except for emergencies.

When you leave your office, shut the door and leave your work behind. A closed door establishes a physical boundary between your work and your home life.

  • If your work email comes to your smartphone, turn notifications off for your email app. This action prevents pop-up notifications from interrupting you every time a work email arrives.

This lessens the sense of urgency you feel about checking each email immediately upon receipt and allows you to schedule specific times for managing your email. You can still check work email on your phone periodically throughout the day if you are away from your home office, but you are in complete control of when and how often you look at your work email.

  • Take regular breaks throughout the workday. Often, it is easy for remote workers to become so engaged in their work they work straight through lunchtime without even realizing how many hours they have been sitting at the computer.

Try setting an alarm to alert you to take a small stretch break every hour or so and for lunch. Scheduling some break time for regular exercise also increases your productivity and reduces stress.

  • Establish a quitting time for your workday and stick to it. If you start your workday early in the morning, your quitting time should be correspondingly early too.

After quitting time, avoid the temptation to keep checking your work email or to go back online to do “just one more little thing,” because returning to your computer can quickly lead to many more hours of work. Instead, reassure yourself that anything needing your attention can wait until first thing in the morning.

  • Finally, to ensure you wake up early, refreshed and ready to work, set an early bedtime for yourself and stick to it. Avoid the temptation to “burn the midnight oil” to meet a deadline.

Instead, put your own health first and make sure you are getting adequate sleep. You will be more productive in the morning hours and can complete those deliverables before your boss even wakes up and comes looking for them.

Many of the world’s most successful people report that they rise early to get a head start on the day’s responsibilities before anyone else is up to interrupt them. Try this strategy for a month and you could find that you never have to stay up late to meet another deadline again.

About the Author

Dr. Karen Gail Hand is a professor of information technology in the school of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math at American Public University. She has been working in the information technology field for over 30 years and teaching for over 20 years. Karen has dual master’s degrees in computer science and in open and distance learning. She also has a Ph.D. in instructional systems and learning technologies from Florida State University. In addition to teaching information technology, Karen leads a weekly conversation group for English as a Second Language (ESL) adult learners and volunteers in her community as an ESL tutor.

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