Home Thinking Aloud Preventing Overwork Among Remote Staff

Preventing Overwork Among Remote Staff



by Tricia Sciortino, Chief Operating Officer, BELAY

There’ve been many times when I would have benefitted tremendously from the advice I’m about to give. There is truth to the adage that hindsight is 20 / 20. But that’s the beauty of experience, right? I’ve had to learn through trial and error and maturity to adjust my career practices in ways that complement my non-work life and enhance my overall well-being.

For virtual workers, the challenge is a bit tougher. I’ve been working remotely for several years. And though I’m no longer a newcomer to this space, I continue to learn about and implement strategies that keep potential pitfalls of being offsite at bay. One major risk for those whose commute is only down the hallway is that of being “on” all the time – that is, slipping into patterns that ultimately might lead to burnout.

How can we stop while we’re ahead? And, if necessary, what are some ways to reel it back in before overwork sweeps through every aspect of our lives?

Set Boundaries.

When you answer to a boss, have other team members counting on you and don’t want to rock the boat, it can be hard to raise your voice. But as a virtual employee, it’s critical to draw a line in the sand between your work life and your home life. In fact, it’s fundamental to success, performance and overall happiness.

The boundaries a worker can set are influenced in part by the culture of the employer. If the company doesn’t have an appreciation for work-life balance or integration, or if they are known as a round-the-clock operation where few ever really take time off, then creating separation may be more difficult, if not entirely impossible. In cases like that, the true solution may be to look elsewhere for a new role.

But for those who work in organizations that are reasonable in their demands – where employees are recognized as individuals with lives of their own – it is possible to set the tone for what you need and expect. First of all, team members should have a clear start time and end time, be it 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Also, they should give themselves guilt-free permission to not work nights or weekends. Turn off email notifications on the phone. Leave the laptop in your home office and shut the door. Take breaks – have lunch, go for a walk or rest in a different room in the house.

Stay in Touch.

One risk of being a remote employee is feeling isolated. The sense of being alone is often more of a perception than a reality, but that doesn’t make the sense less real for those experiencing it. Those who work from home don’t get to see and interact with coworkers in traditional ways. And this can lead to all sorts of issues. Overwork can be a symptom of feeling like one has to further prove or demonstrate their value. They may feel that they’re in competition with unseen peers, or they just may not have a fair sense of the shared workload – who’s doing what, when, how much and why.

Communication technologies can help lessen the gaps in awareness and outreach. Options available today mean people don’t have to feel like they’re in a silo or cast out. And this is important for reasons other than being in the loop. Feelings of isolation lead to employee dissatisfaction, disconnection and disengagement – all threats that can prompt their exit and lead to retention problems.

Instant messaging, video platforms, web-based meetings, employee portals and more serve as touchpoints for remote workers. It’s even more important to take extra steps to forge connections, like picking up the phone and speaking to a colleague to discuss an issue or just touch bases. Email and company social media channels also play a role. At my company, we are so intentional about this that we have two full-time staff members whose role is to create connections with our contractor community. They up the ante by hosting monthly webinars, which serve as gateways for professional development, and by sending out a monthly newsletter, too.

A Vision of Your Values.

Keeping overwork contained also goes back to what you stand for as a company. From an official perspective, this is usually found in the organization’s mission or vision statement. It’s the gauge that sets the tone for the culture of the company; it’s the internal standard that flows into all aspects of the business – the way customers are treated, the manner in which the brand is sustained and, yes, your position on employee fulfillment – personally and professionally.

Where I work, two key themes shape our values: Gratitude and Fun. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see, however, how hard it is to feel grateful about your job when your boss won’t leave you alone afterhours. At the same time, it’s even more difficult to enjoy life and have fun when the workplace always encroaches on your free time.

That’s why any perceived gaps must be filled with trust, instead of fear, denial or avoidance. Creating an atmosphere of trust allows for sincere conversation. It advances openness that will enable a team member to admit they’re working 60-plus hours a week and need to scale back. And they’ll be able to have that candor with supervisors and management without fear of discipline or losing their job. Vision, mission and values do not sit on a plaque on a wall. They are in everything we do.


tricia sciortino

Tricia Sciortino is the Chief Operating Officer of BELAY, a virtual solutions company that provides bookkeeping, copywriting, virtual assistant and webmaster services for growing organizations.