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COVID-19 has introduced an entirely new way of working for many of us. As we lead our companies and departments through this challenging time, it is important to keep in mind that as leaders, we have a responsibility to support our employees and to provide them with the guidance and resources to not only perform at high levels, but also to maintain their work-life balance and a healthy mind-set.  Many employees are working from home, some while also trying to juggle having their children home all day and managing remote schooling.  These circumstances are challenging without the added stressors of a pandemic, struggling economy, and trying political times.  What can corporate leaders do to help ease the burdens of this new way of working and avoid burnout for themselves and their employees?  Here are ten ideas to help.

  1. Workspaces. Having a designated area in your home to work can help you stay focused and set boundaries between work and personal hours.  For some, this could be a guest bedroom or basement space.  For others with smaller living spaces, it may just be a specific corner of a bedroom or even a converted closet.  If possible, try to find a space with a door to help reduce noise (and stress) during conference calls.  Architectural Digest presents a few inspirational home office ideas in this slideshow.

  2. Get the Right Tools. To successfully work from home, you need to make sure that you have the right tools.  Depending on your role, you may need a more powerful printer, a scanner, or a shredder.  It is appropriate to request that your company pay for these items – when making the request include the reasons you need it and how it will increase productivity and effectiveness.  If you are a leader in your office, proactively offer your team assistance with acquiring office items. To the extent possible, consider giving each employee a home office budget that can be used to acquire office necessities that they may not have needed prior to the pandemic.  AARP has a helpful article detailing ways to upgrade your tech for work-from-home needs.

  3. Vacation Time.  When employees are working from home and travel opportunities are limited due to the pandemic, they may feel uncomfortable taking vacation time since travel opportunities are limited. Taking a vacation from work is so important to avoid burnout, especially during stressful times like these. Encourage your team to use their vacation days to connect with their loved ones (or to take time for themselves) without the added stress of work.  Set an example for your team by taking vacation yourself – a real vacation where you put your smartphone down and focus on other parts of your life. 

  4. Get Outside. Though not having to commute is typically a welcome change brought on by our new work from home circumstances, one consequence is that we’re not getting outside as much. Just the short walk to the car, the train, or the office was a good dose of fresh air and a good transition into “work-time”.  Try to get outside before your work-day starts – by yourself or with your kids if they’re home with you.  Use this time to transition to your work-day. As discussed below, setting time boundaries can help reduce stress and a walk is a healthy way to start your day. If you’re able, consider going for a walk around lunch as well – thought we’re not eating out for lunch right now, it doesn’t mean we can’t take a breather from our desks for a bit. Short breaks can help your productivity at work rather than reduce it. 

  5. Set Time Boundaries. When working from home, it can start to feel as though you’re working 24/7 since you’re never far away from your “office”.  Pre-pandemic you may have waited to respond to the dinner-time email until the morning, but now people feel an added pressure to respond since your desk is close by.  If you’re working in a home with your family, this can increase the chances of burnout and stress as your family members will get frustrated with what can feel like constant distractions. Try to set aside time that is dedicated to personal and/or family matters. For example, 8:00 am to 9:00 am may be reserved for exercise and 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm to time with your family. Respect these boundaries by putting your phone down and focus on something else other than work.  Support your employees by encouraging and respecting their boundaries as well.

  6. Find the Right Schedule. If you are juggling your schedule and the schedule of others living in your home, try to set some structure around expectations of your time both at work and at home.  Though not workable at all companies, you may be able to work more hours in the evening or early morning to cover some hours you need to spend helping your children or elderly parents during the day.  If that’s not a possibility, try to communicate clearly to both your company and your family what you’re able to do and when. Structured schedules don’t work for everyone, but they can help reduce stress throughout the day for some people.  If you have direct reports, try to recognize that your employees may need more flexibility regarding their work hours than they otherwise would.

  7. Mindfulness. It’s starting to sound potentially cliché, but “mindfulness” can help with stress relief and productivity and it doesn’t have to be limited to meditation.  Mindfulness can translate into many activities depending on what helps you.  Anything that helps ease the stress of the current moment and prepares you to better manage stress in the future can be considered part of a mindfulness practice. For some, meditation works wonders. For others, it’s a quiet repetitive activity that gives your racing thoughts and stress a break – restorative yoga, walking, or knitting can be examples for those of us who are not quite ready to try meditating. Set aside time at least weekly for some type of activity that allows you to slow down and breath.  There are free mindfulness apps available that are a good place to start.  

  8. Find Peers in the Same Situation.  At times it may feel that we are the only ones struggling with added stress amid uncertain times. That is clearly not the case.  Seek out peers who are in similar circumstances and set up a time to check in.  The check-in doesn’t have to be about avoiding burn-out – it can just be a friendly chat.  Checking in with others and realizing that you have resources to help work through these challenging times can be reassuring when the stressors of working from home weigh heavily.  If you’re in a leadership position at your company, consider ways to encourage these more casual interactions among your staff. Weekly check-ins with staff on a one-on-one basis are a great way to connect and make sure everyone is staying positive. Consider checking in over the phone rather than videoconferencing, which can add stress for many employees who are trying to juggle working from home.

  9. Ask for help.  Everyone needs support professionally and personally now more than ever. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.  Your company may have mental health resources available to employees that you can utilize.  If you don’t feel comfortable asking your human resources department about options, reach out directly to your health insurance company.  Ask family members for help if you need more support at home.  ACC Docket has a very helpful article about managing your mental health.

  10. Be Patient. Stress levels are high across the board. Help ease everyone’s stress (and your own) by making a conscious effort to be more patient when tensions flare. This can be harder than expected but can also be very important to making working from home more successful for everyone: your co-workers, employees, families, and most importantly yourself.

Working from home has its benefits, but it also can add stress and contribute to burnout, impacting both your productivity at work and your relationships at home. Taking steps to proactively reduce the stress of working from home can have a positive impact on your career, your family life, and even the long-term success of your company. This list is a starting point to help you make positive changes to help avoid burn-out and to try to make working from home a more positive experience.

Author: Stephanie Prevost, General Counsel and ACC Member