Employees working from home are likelier to suffer burnout than they were when they worked in the office. This is why you should watch for burnout signs in your remote team, and take action to help them avoid burning out before it happens.
That advice comes from Rich Barton, founder of Zillow, Expedia, and Glassdoor. Barton took part in a recent GeekWire virtual event where he talked about the burnout dangers Zillow's more than 5,000 employees face while working remotely.
Barton tweeted in late April, "My personal opinions about WFH have been turned upside down over the past two months." In the same tweet, he announced that Zillow employees could choose to continue working remotely at least until the end of 2020.
At the GeekWire event, Barton reported that one of the biggest dangers of working from home is working too many hours. "What I'm hearing from people and what I'm observing in myself is that this ability to work all of the time when you're sleeping in your office -- some people will do that," he said. "It's a very distracting and wonderful thing that we have work to work on. So it's important to encourage people to take space and time to actually live their lives outside the office."
1. Make everyone take a day off.
"We were detecting this kind of Zoom burnout thing that was happening," Barton said. "People had really risen to the occasion to get through the really trying period at the beginning of this." And so, Zillow's HR team and leadership decided to give everyone in the company an extra day off. And they encouraged each team to take the same day off so no one would feel pressured (or tempted) to respond to an email or attend a Zoom meeting. Importantly, the leadership team set the right example by taking a day off themselves. "It was wonderful," Barton said.
2. Start all video meetings five minutes late.
Barton said he got this tip from Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, the parent company of WordPress and an all-remote-working company. People who spend all day in video meetings have a hard time stepping away from those meetings long enough to fetch a cup of coffee or use the bathroom, Barton said. "It seems that in the physical world, it's more socially acceptable to leave a conference room and use the restroom than it is in the virtual world. People feel like they gotta, gotta, gotta be there."
Ending every meeting on the hour or half-hour and starting every meeting five minutes late gives people a few moments to take care of these needs "or just breathe" before the next meeting starts, he said.
3. Have audio-only walking meetings.
Steve Jobs famously preferred walking meetings to meetings in conference rooms, and research suggests he was right. So if only two people need to meet and there's no visual component or need for note-taking, Barton recommends an audio-only meeting. That way, participants have the option to take a walk while talking to each other.
This obviously may not work in loud urban environments. But where it does work, employees get the benefits of exercise and being outside, and the relaxing effects of walking, at the same time that they're doing their jobs. That may not be enough to keep burnout at bay, but it can certainly help.