Watch Out for 3 Challenges Driving Remote Work Fatigue

April 26, 2021

Contributor: Swetha Venkataramani

To mitigate remote work fatigue, target three key stressors: digital distractions, virtual overload and difficulty disconnecting.

Many employees have been working remotely for more than a year, and most favor the flexibility it offers, but remote work fatigue is setting in. Ninety-three percent of HR leaders report being increasingly concerned about employee burnout. Recognizing and addressing key sources of stress can help.

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“While exploring the differences between on-site and hybrid environments, our research uncovered that a number of features native to the hybrid environment are driving fatigue, and this is putting employee well-being at risk,” says Alexia Cambon, Director, Gartner. “In addition, many of the strategies that organizations are employing to ensure productivity are actually exacerbating these fatigue drivers.”

Flexible work is a win for employees and employers

“ 55% of employees say that whether or not they can work flexibly will impact whether they will stay.”

Sixty-seven percent of employees agree that their expectations for working flexibly have increased since the pandemic, and 55% agree that whether or not they can work flexibly will impact whether they will stay at their organization. 

Learn more: Reinvent Your EVP for a Pospandemic Workforce

Where employees have some choice over where, when and how much they work, 55% are high performers, compared to just 36% among those working 9-to-5 in an office.

Embracing the new hybrid environment is fast becoming a key business decision for organizations that wish to attract and retain top talent, and early research also suggests that adopting a hybrid workforce model may yield greater returns for innovation, productivity and team collaboration.

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Top Distractions Impacting Employees Performance

Read more: 9 Tips for Managing Remote Employees

Three key sources of remote work stress

To capture the opportunity of new remote and hybrid workforce models, organizations must design a model that tackles three challenges that are specific to the remote and hybrid environment:

Digital distractions

Employees in the hybrid world are 2.54 times more likely to experience digital distractions than employees in the on-site world. When asked to select the distractions they found that most adversely impacted their ability to concentrate, hybrid employees overwhelmingly selected digital distractions as the top culprits.

Investing in virtual tools to drive productivity — as 84% of HR leaders have done — has only increased the exposure of employees to many of these distractions.

Virtual overload

Employees in the hybrid world are 1.12 times more likely to feel they are working too hard at their jobs than employees in the on-site world. High levels of virtualization are cognitively draining to the employee, with 75% of HR leaders agreeing that an increase in the number of virtual touchpoints employees face in their work puts them at risk for burnout.

However, 83% of HR leaders also encourage frequent virtual touchpoints between peers in a bid to recreate the “watercooler moment,” inadvertently exacerbating virtual overload.

Always-on mindset

Employees in the hybrid world are 1.27 times more likely to struggle to disconnect from work than employees in the on-site world. Employees are struggling to know when and how to switch off at the end of their workday, with 40% of hybrid or remote employees reporting an increase in the length of their workday in the past 12 months.

This phenomenon is exacerbated when HR leaders adopt monitoring systems: Knowledge workers, for example, who feel tracked are 94% more likely to sometimes pretend to be working due to the pressure to be “always on.”

“Imagine driving a car and a squirrel jumps in front of your car every 40 seconds. That’s your digital distraction. Now add a passenger next to you who won’t stop talking. That’s your virtual overload. Finally, put this car on a highway with no exit signs. That’s your always-on mindset. So you’re in a car that’s start-stopping every 40 seconds, with a passenger who won’t stop talking and there’s no way to take it off the road. Wouldn’t that make you tired?” asks Cambon. 

Creating a more human-centric work design 

HR leaders have traditionally focused on work design features believed to be organic to the office. Most organizations are striving to recreate these features in the virtual world. However, the virtualization of office-centric work design is compromising employee well-being.

Rather than recreate the on-site features of our past, HR must redesign a model that works for our hybrid future — one that offers opportunities for improved performance and employee well-being: a human-centric design. A few key actions HR can take to design a more human-centric work environment rather than an office-centric one are:

  • Provide flexible work experiences
  • Enable intentional collaboration
  • Drive empathy-based management                           

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