The dark side of remote working

Ghilaine Chan, co-founder of Brilliant and Human, writes about avoiding burnout while working from home.

A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page

We are now heading into month eight of working from home (and lockdown number two) and the novelty has now worn thin. What started off as all hands-on deck; war-time community spirit; make do and mend; we can get through this hump; is now the inevitability of long-term uncertainty. With rules changing regularly and without a great deal of warning, how do you ensure your teams are feeling supported and included when you can’t see them in the office and give them a quick smile or a gentle hand on the arm to show you care?

As a massive advocate of remote or distributed teams, I understand I am biased, but a recent report shows that there are many good things about moving to this state fully for the future. However, that doesn’t mean that it is all plain sailing as you have come to realise. How are you leading your teams to reduce the frustrations and maintain team cohesion?

In the third sector, burnout in distributed teams is much more likely as the majority of your team are working towards a higher purpose already and they often look after others before taking care of themselves. This makes it even more important for you to pay deep attention to each and every one of your team.

When remote work is concerned, remember: plan, be intentional, listen actively, have patience with each other.

The one major part of remote working that cannot translate directly from being together is the organic nature of humans to see if people don’t feel the same as their words suggest. We are very good at checking in when we see people in the corridor or at their desk, but for some reason, when we have to pick up the phone, put a meeting in the diary or write the question down, we feel that it is forced or not necessary and we stop ourselves.

To stop this from happening you need to have intentional and planned touchpoints during the week to for people to check in with each other.

This can be with a reminder in your calendar that you act on, a scheduled gathering where everyone meets and doesn’t talk directly about work, 1:1 with managers or team-mates.

One of the simplest ways to remove the feeling of isolation is to show you care. You show you care by asking after people, speaking to them, and finding out what is going on in their lives.

You don’t have to have a full mental health qualification to know if someone isn’t telling you the full story and they are not themselves (over Zoom or in-person). But only if you really listen you can hear things in their voice.

But you can’t just do this once in a while when you think things are going badly. You must embed it consistently and regularly in all your business interactions.

People don’t open up when you ask them, out of the blue, how they are if you rarely speak to them. You need time to build trust and openness. They need to feel safe before they tell you what is troubling them.

As we know, people are struggling under the weight of being good employees, good parents, good teachers, good carers, good citizens, in differing amounts of each.

You need to listen, you can’t always solve their problems, but where you can, please do. This isn’t about doing generic surveys to see how people in general are doing. This is about each person in your organisation having someone know their situation and making the necessary and reasonable accommodations they need.

Hoping that people will play nice together doesn’t work, it can be hard and emotionally taxing. If you want help with improving the collaboration of your team and/or fancy a virtual coffee to chat it through, book one here.

Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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