Combat Remote Fatigue: Tips From the IDEO U Community

 Remote Work, WFH, Desk

This article is part of a 3-part IDEO U series on remote work. Read The Future of Work is Hybrid and How to Build Culture Remotely.

Remote fatigue—we’ve all experienced it at some point. Back-to-back Zoom meetings. Work extending beyond normal hours. Being disconnected from our friends, family, and coworkers. As we’ve adapted our lives to fit into a screen, we’ve been left feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

For many of us, the future of work will be some mix of virtual and in-person: our survey on remote work found that 86% of almost 1,000 respondents expect their organization to embrace a hybrid work structure. So how might we thrive in a new normal, where remote teams and collaboration will play a big role? 

We turned to our IDEO U community for ideas on how to overcome remote work fatigue, and we heard your best advice on staying inspired and engaged—from making a new commute to designing an end-of-day ritual. Here are some of the tips you shared.


     

    1. Find moments of connection

    Remote work Zoom fatigue Netflix party destress 

    In the workplace, we often connect with others in the in-between moments: catching up with a coworker as you pass by their desk, or chatting with your team before a meeting starts. With remote work, it’s especially important to create those moments of fun and spontaneity. Try team rituals, such as starting meetings with a moment of gratitude. We heard many ideas of virtual activities that have energized you, including book clubs, scavenger hunts, and gift exchanges. 

    The constant rush of meetings can leave us without time or energy to do deep work. Working asynchronously can help, as everyone’s schedule looks different. Many of you suggested building in buffers between meetings, designating one day or half-day a week for no meetings, and doing audio-only calls when possible. You can also experiment with new ways to meet—could you record meetings that are sent out, set up collaborative working sessions, or do casual “walk and talks”?

    "Use a personal photo as a Zoom background and explain. Bring one item that represents you. Introduce one person, pet, or plant friend while on Zoom." - Kristin L. 
    "Remote team events where everyone takes their own hike on a specific day and we share pictures and stories." - Jessica G. 
    "Because we are not having our usual interactions, we spend less time just chatting and being playful, laughing, and creating memories together. I'm thinking about incorporating memes and GIFs in internal communications." - Daniela O. 
    "Our team of four takes turns hosting a happy hour where we do things like play games, watch Netflix, bake virtually, or all go on dog walks at the same time." - Chris D. 
    "Sharing what we are learning, creating, or doing in our free time: must-watch movie and book lists; reviews; recipes; little video clips. It's helpful to know what's important and life-giving to people I work with." - Linda M.  

     

    2. Reimagine your meeting structure

    Time your meetings, hand holding clock

    The constant rush of meetings can leave us without time or energy to do deep work. Working asynchronously can help, as everyone’s schedule looks different. Many of you suggested building in buffers between meetings, designating one day or half-day a week for no meetings, and doing audio-only calls when possible. You can also experiment with new ways to meet—could you record meetings that are sent out, set up collaborative working sessions, or do casual “walk and talks”?

    "Communication fatigue has been far more an issue than remote work fatigue." - Casey C.
    “As a team, we had to learn how to stop a meeting, using keywords like: ‘as a wrap up,’ or ‘any last thoughts before we end’?” - Anonymous 
    “When we have meetings, they’re no more than 50 minutes. If we have to go further, then we take a 10 minute break and we come back. There is somebody in charge to let us all know that we have to stop.”  - Michelle A. 
    "I’ve appreciated the suggestion that I should add an explicit intention to the meetings I arrange, so if anyone joins they know exactly why I am calling a meeting and not sending an email. It obliges me to think deeply if the meeting is necessary. Is it likely going to achieve something that an email can't?” - Aoife C.
    "We have shifted to doing co-working sessions. Instead of leaving our meeting with a lengthy to-do list, we've spent our time together actually doing the work." - Leah K. 

     

    3. Remember self-care

    Person Painting, Destress, Self-care

    When you’re working from home, it’s easy to forget to take breaks and to do things that refresh you. Build in active pauses throughout the day and be intentional with self-care, whether it’s reading, yoga, or running. To make it clear to yourself and others that personal time is important, add it to your calendar. And don’t be afraid to ask your company if there are any resources for wellness, or to take a day off if you need it—taking care of your physical and emotional health will help you to show up to work at your best.

    "Get outdoors in nature and build in body breaks. Find outlets for creativity such as dancing, drawing, and DIY projects.” -  Jennifer M.
    "I set my FitBit to remind me to move every hour, take a lunch break away from my computer, and meditate before working.” -  Ann C. 
    “I check my schedule on Sundays to make sure I have a social time or two during the week.” - Anonymous
    "Make a new ‘commute’! Take a walk in the morning as a way to have a few moments that provide a mental break, inspiration, and reflection.” - Suzanne F.
    "Keep lunch sacred." - Sarah L.

     

    4. Draw clear boundaries between home and work

    WFH, home office, Work Life Balance

    Without a commute or office, it can feel like there aren’t any barriers between home and work. Having daily rituals, like journaling or preparing dinner at the end of every workday, can allow you to shift from one to the other. Many of you mentioned sticking to consistent routines, setting alarms and other signals, and communicating team expectations on remote work best practices. And if you can, experiment with different workspaces—whether it’s a home office, a patio, or a park.

    "I have an end-of-day ritual to signal work is done and home time is on—a 15 minute clear the day and prep for tomorrow ritual that includes wiping down my desk and closing my laptop and home office door.” -Gina D. 
    "It's a matter of being bold and true to your colleagues. Do they ask you to work overtime? Do they schedule calls too early in the morning? Tell them it's not feasible because you have something else to do. It seems like a high mountain to climb, but you realize you are not the only one.” -Gianvito F. 
    "It’s all about the workspace. A comfortable desk and chair setup, and all the technology available to support remote work.” - Raquel B.
    "Personally, I have to set alarms on my phone for boundaries: an alarm to start work and an alarm to stop.” - Anonymous
    "Being intentional with my workday. Starting as if I were going to the office, getting ready at the same time every day. Treating lunch as I would when in the office and ending my workday at the same time. My workday pattern allows my team to understand and trust my availability." - Richard D. 

     

    5. Be human, because you are

    Work from home, House pet cat

    In the midst of Zoom calls, Slack messages, and Microsoft Teams meetings, we sometimes jump right in with our teams without recognizing the human side of things. Take a few minutes at the beginning or end of meetings to see how people are feeling in order to build psychological safety. Set up coffee chats with coworkers you know well and not so well. Be open and vulnerable about your life outside of work. And have empathy with yourself and with others.

    "We give each other a lot of grace and understand each is dealing with their own basket of challenges, whether it's childcare, living alone/isolation, or experiencing COVID directly.” - Samantha B.
    "Make sure that in one-on-one meetings you always check in on how people are doing.” - Arlene K.
    "Knowing their family members, pets, likes, and dislikes has connected me to co-workers like never before.” –Cynthia M.
    "Maintaining a regular cadence of team meetings where we end by sharing how we're feeling has helped open the door to psychological safety.” - Sandra E.
    "Don’t try to force your work-at-home routine to be what was the office routine. Be transparent and honest with your feelings and mental health to others. If you’re struggling, say so—don’t struggle on your own.” " - Jency C. 

       

      Designing for remote work

      Now that you’ve read ideas on combating remote fatigue at work, try putting some into practice. Before jumping on your next video call, take a minute to mull over this question: How might you make this moment energy boosting, rather than energy draining, for yourself and your team?

      If you’d like to explore more of IDEO’s resources on remote work:

      Have your own tip on how to tackle remote fatigue? Let us know at hello@ideou.com.


      Get more tips on facilitating collaborative work to unlock innovative ideas in our online course, Cultivating Creative Collaboration.

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