The unexpected shift to remote working during Covid-19 is taking a toll on workers’ mental health, with many unable to find respite, even in the comfort of their own homes. The pandemic has triggered stressors in careers, personal finances, and family life, with nearly 70% of workers citing this crisis as the most stressful moment of their career.
I believe one of the major culprits for this stress is the “always-on” culture that has emerged from hyper-communication. Digital connectivity is at an all-time high, which is helping businesses adapt, circumvent, and respond to the disruptions waged by Covid-19. But suddenly, work meetings can take place at any time of the day without warning, and instantaneous responses have become the expectation. Recent data shows that remote workers are likely to clock an additional 60 hours a month.
Even before the pandemic, remote workers were particularly squeezed by the trend toward hyper-communication. For example, those who work remotely were already 43% more likely to clock over 40 hours a week than those in an office.
Although working times appear to be on the rise during this crisis, stress can compromise overall productivity. Eventually, if we’re not careful, it can lead to information overload, constant distraction, and burnout.
Since it doesn’t appear that this always-on culture will be switching off any time soon, here are key strategies that can help during this critical time.
Honor thy balance.
For starters, it is important to understand why work-life balance benefits you and the organization you work for. According to one survey, more than half of workers lose sleep because of workplace stress, and a quarter of workers say it impacts work quality.
The onus is on each of us individually to set feasible boundaries and destress because achieving work-life balance can help increase engagement levels. In fact, research by Gallup has shown that “highly engaged business units realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity,” as well as 24% less turnover.
Intentionally disconnect: Let airplane mode be your friend.
This crisis has changed how and where we work, resulting in unique clashes between our work and home lives. But despite new demands at home and at work, nobody needs to be omnipresent.
Visualize how you would like to spend each day and how to be most productive. As Stephen Covey has said, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
In the remote workforce, many workers go without designated lunch breaks. But mental health breaks should still be scheduled and prioritized. Additionally, think about other priorities that are important, such as family dinners, video calls with friends, reading, exercising, etc.
Another key is to preemptively control some of the residual effects of hyper-communication by using airplane mode, removing yourself from group chats which are not relevant, declining unnecessary meetings and working with your team to delegate tasks.
Delegate workflow for ‘off-hours.’
There’s no way around it. No matter what is happening at work, life is happening simultaneously, especially right now. Family members may get sick, or child care needs may take precedence. If your team is seriously incapacitated when someone is unavailable, there’s a personnel issue. And as hyper-communication demands more of our time, it is important for teams to plan for how work matters are addressed at various points of the day.
Often, I find that positive changes in a team’s communication patterns can be attributed to interactions outside of the workplace. Making arrangements for how the workflow is handled outside of regular business hours establishes expectations — and helps companies better navigate the new normal.
Mind your physical health.
The body and mind go hand in hand. When stress disturbs the brain, the rest of the body suffers. Exercise can help alleviate this cycle — physical activity has been shown to help manage stress levels. Research has also shown that exercise can reduce anxiety.
Forming healthy habits such as maintaining a balanced diet can also help your body and mind deal with work-related stress.
Become sustainable beyond the crisis.
With unemployment rates soaring in many countries, employees must approach work-life balance with caution. In other words, you’ll need to ensure that work remains a priority and that your schedule does not compromise your job security.
But occasionally taking a breather doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can help you do more and go further in the long term. After all, success is a marathon and not a sprint. And if you respect your own time, others will come to respect it too. This can lead to more efficiency and higher-quality work.
Time is a critical resource, and it is only commodifying amid fast-paced digital transformations activated by the current crisis. Sticking to your priorities and scheduling them with intention will help maintain work-life balance and maximize productivity long term. This shift can also open up opportunities for teams to better distribute workflow and nimbly adapt to the changing demands of an evolving workplace — one that is remote and always connected.