Many employees are tired of working from home. Here’s what to do about it.
Working from home has been a positive and productive experience for many employees, but five months into quarantine, some may feel overwhelmed by working remotely for the foreseeable future.
With difficulties collaborating, tech breakdowns and projects continually pushed back, workers are reportedly feeling less connected and companies are struggling to prevent “work-from-home fatigue.”
“There was an initial burst in productivity, but what we've seen over time is that people are feeling claustrophobic,” says leadership team expert Mike Goldman. “Trying to get work done with family around you is difficult given the setup for a lot of people, and so is not being around co-workers or being in the office.”
More than half of employees (55%) want to work in an office environment again, according to a recent survey from Hibob, an HR and benefits management platform. For those that expressed interest in returning to the office, 42% said their primary reason for wanting to go back was to resume everyday work routines, and 20% said they were most looking forward to seeing their colleagues face-to-face.
“The novelty of work from home has certainly worn off,” says Rhiannon Staples, CMO of Hibob. “We went into this anticipating that it would be a short sprint, and it certainly has become a marathon.”
Staples says that work-from-home fatigue is best defined as the “deterioration of satisfaction and productivity of employees,” which can be caused by everyday monotony, or employees working remotely without the right resources in place to support them.
Working from home during COVID has presented new challenges that may not have impacted remote workers before, she says. In addition to health concerns and return-to-school uncertainty, social and political circumstances and economic challenges — including furloughs and pay cuts — are an additional strain.
“I'm feeling a very different experience right now than in other times,” says Staples, who’s worked remotely for years. “The fatigue that many employees are experiencing right now is the realization that we're not through it yet, and that we have to brace ourselves for months ahead.”
Break the monotony
Supportive, modern companies that have really managed hybrid workforces — whether it be remote, in-office or a combination — are finding unique ways to keep remote employees connected and make them feel like they're part of the organization, Staples says.
“Some companies are really innovative in how they think about keeping teams engaged and motivated,” she says. “Because we've been doing the same thing week over week for a couple of months, some companies realize that they have to make conscious decisions and investments to break the monotony.”
Staples says companies have implemented no-meeting days, or instituted summer Fridays. In other circumstances, HR leaders and managers are investing in team events to the extent that they can, such as getting small groups of employees together in an outdoor setting, like a park.
“Employers need to think about how they can continue to offer benefits, surprises and treats to employees to keep them motivated and help break up the monotony of working from home,” Staples says. “This is just as important online. I'm personally planning to do an online escape room with my team in a couple of weeks, just to do something different from the Zoom meetings we've been having.”
Lead by example
If employers want their employees to be more engaged and productive and adopt healthy work-from-home habits, executives as well as middle managers need to lead by example.
“I work with leadership teams and coach CEOs one-on-one, and I'm finding that it starts at that top level,” Goldman says, who has worked with companies such as Verizon, Chanel and Disney. “When a CEO is feeling overwhelmed and fatigued and stressed, that is absolutely cascading down to the rest of the organization.”
With the unique circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Goldman says leaders should “take the superhero cape off” and show vulnerability.
“By mastering self leadership and keeping your focus, it doesn't mean that you're always strong and always feeling great,” he says. “If you're feeling a little stressed, it's more than OK to be honest with your peers and team about that. Because if you're honest with them, they're going to be honest with you.”
Invest in employees’ mental health
The mental wellness of employees should be a concern for every employer and manager, but it can be hard to gauge when you're not in the presence of your employees.
“First and foremost is finding ways that [employers] can focus benefits and investments on mental health, well-being and motivation [in a remote setting],” Staples says. “Many employers are rethinking and assessing benefits to ensure that they're paying attention to these things.”
Besides check-ins and daily interactions, employers should also provide a more anonymous tool, such as an employee survey, to get insights on the well-being of their workers.
“It’s really important that managers and HR people understand what kind of stress the employees are facing so that it can be addressed,” she says. “Because ultimately, it can lead to damage down the line for the business, whether that be in terms of productivity or employee retention.”