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  • Ethan Sprang

Virtual Burnout: Combatting Fatigue with Structure


As a virtual worker, I have significantly more time in the day to accomplish the things I want and need to do than I did while working in an office. I have time to try that elaborate dinner recipe, get some extra exercise, play with the dogs, or connect with friends and family. Over time, I began feeling too drained or uninspired to take advantage of these opportunities. At first, I attributed it to stress, but I quickly learned I was experiencing a bad case of virtual burnout.

Virtual burnout stems from a lot of different factors. It could be the psychological impact of having meetings where you stare directly at someone's face the whole time. For those that are more introverted, you may be having some trouble with self-isolating tendencies. The excuse of, "It’s a pandemic - we're supposed to stay at home!", turns into, "It’s a pandemic - we're not supposed to communicate with each other!". Or maybe we reflect on each day as one unified blob of work, social, and personal affairs. The point is that virtual burnout is real and organizations have an obligation to get ahead of it while they can.

1. Diversifying communication channels. If anyone remembers, conversations pre-pandemic included characteristics of asymmetrical body positioning, regular breaks in eye contact, and opportunities to move to new settings. Utilizing a webcam has revolutionized the way we operate, but are we relying too heavily on them? The psychological fatigue overwhelms the practicality of it at some point, which negatively affects our interpersonal experiences.

Tip: To combat this, try breaking up patterns of "cameras on" meetings with a meeting that is audio only. If collaborating on something, try using a shared web document to not only share ideas through chat, but also create content simultaneously without having to audibly communicate or see each other.

2. Awareness around social complacency. For extroverted employees, it has been a nightmare having to stay at home and avoid public interactions during the pandemic. The same people that would monitor the news diligently, waiting for a notification that restaurants would be opening their patios. Alternatively, those that skew introverted may have experienced some self-isolating tendencies.

Tip: Try to intentionally foster connective, inclusive work environments. If you're a leader looking to accomplish this, then click here to schedule a free consultation.

3. Commemorating the day. When I started working from home, I was so excited I'd never get stuck in rush hour traffic or have to time up my morning commute which played a huge role in my desire to stay remote. I quickly realized, I wasn't doing anything meaningful with the time I had originally spent, causing the day to seemingly melt together. Why does this happen?

Tip: The drive to and from my office served as a commemoration of the beginning and ending of my days. I would listen to music, podcasts, and enjoy my coffee to put myself in the right headspace for the day, while I would spend the commute home decompressing or talking to family. Without these, my days lacked structure. Now, I make sure to schedule the time before and after work I would spend commuting to get out of the house in some capacity. Whether it be taking a walk, going on a drive, or running an errand (socially distant of course), we need that time out of the house to structure and separate our days.

If you're feeling burned out from virtual work - know that it is normal and can be fixed. Together, we are learning about what works best for us, but it is easy to become complacent over time. We know that sustainable virtual operations are born out of intentionality in how we structure our days, so don't miss out on the sunshine, don't forget to connect meaningfully with others, and always give yourself a chance to commemorate your days in an appreciative way.

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