Burnout - the Dangers of Remote Work Forces

Burnout - the Dangers of Remote Work Forces

Summary: The problem is as old as work itself: you're working as part of a team and seem to be doing twice as much  - or more - as your colleagues, yet no one seems to notice. It feels as though you're carrying the weight of entire projects on your back and no one appears aware you're a key decision maker and have done most of the heavy lifting, and you feel devalued.

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The problem is as old as work itself: you're working as part of a team and seem to be doing twice as much  - or more - as your colleagues, yet no one seems to notice. It feels as though you're carrying the weight of entire projects on your back and no one appears aware you're a key decision maker and have done most of the heavy lifting, and you feel devalued. These and various other manifestations of work overload are difficult enough to resolve when you're showing up to work in a single physical location with your management present.

The rapidly increasing prevalence of distributed workforces - you might be working from home or mostly on the road - can make demonstrating to those overseeing you the extent of your workload incredibly hard, and often even harder to resolve.

The result is burnout, and the impact of 'always on' work patterns in organizations of all sizes can ultimately have a significant negative effect on results.

It's not just modern collaboration technology which is increasing the challenges of sharing tasks equally - unified and mobile communications and time zone shifts can have a devastating impact on morale in a new twist on an old problem.

Email is frequently the delivery mechanism of communication which raises the blood pressure, and is rooted in the old form postal letter, but now on steroids. In a tightly hierarchical organization, unrealistic orders can be delivered by email which can be time consuming to tactfully challenge and triage.

One of the great advantages of modern collaborative techniques, which can be enabled by appropriate technology if work flows are designed and utilized successfully, is to provide visibility into workloads and activity to help distribute effort more equally.

Ultimately this results in increased efficiency over time - but failure to use these powerful modern tools intelligently can result in the rapid burnout of key remote team members. This can have disastrous results for larger projects as these people become overwhelmed, resulting in illness, time off and frequently their leaving the company.

Part of putting the 'social' in social business software is nurturing people, as good management should do, both at distance and at scale.

Geeky technology and entrepreneurial types pride themselves on a culture of jolt cola and espresso, all night coding and other physical excesses. While this will work for some, as any doctor will tell you it can't last forever and there's a physical price to pay. The cultural reality is this stereotype is a tiny percentage of the population who scare the rest of the world, who work to live, rather than live to work.

Designing viable work flows which make individuals feel valued and part of a team that's pulling together equally, even if they have never physically met, is key to excellent management.  There's more to it than that however. Individuals who feel valued and appreciated are far more likely to share information and insight with their colleagues, and to contribute and help each other more freely.

Conversely, isolated and overburdened individuals are far more likely to horde information and not participate in attempts to set up collaborative environments. These realities are fundamental to the acceptance and uptake of new ways of working and are far more important than the internal launch of shiny new technology objects to a harassed and overburdened team,with an expectation that software will magically transform people's work practices.

image from despair.com demotivators collection

Topics: CXO, Collaboration, Enterprise Software

About

Oliver Marks leads the Global Digital Enterprise Team at HP, having previously provided seasoned independent consulting guidance to companies on effective planning of business strategy, tactics, technology decisions, roll out and enduring use models that make best use of modern collaborative and social networking tools to achieve their business goals.

These are Oliver's views and not those of his employer HP.

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  • That brought back some memories

    The conditions you describe reminded me a lot of my experience as a remote employee back in 2003-4.

    One small nitpick: toward the end of the article, you should have said individuals are more likely to hoard information (rather than "horde").
    LeonBA