Remote workers work more hours than their in-office counterparts. For some employees, it's a simple tradeoff for the commute they no longer have. For others, it’s a runaway time management train with no brakes, overrunning personal time and leaving individuals burned out. What is a remote worker to do when the flexibility you seek becomes the ride you can’t get off?
For teams distributed across multiple continents, the strain can be compounded as potential working hours extend beyond the predictable. Some find themselves tapping into work from their first waking moment until late at night. Here are some practical tips that remote workers can use to combat burnout and keep productivity levels at an all-time high. If you’re a remote manager, you can help make these hacks the norm in your team.
In many companies, a blank calendar is an open invitation to schedule a meeting. In a digital workplace, meetings are a massive blocker to productivity. Having an unpopulated calendar gives the impression that you don’t have anything going on, and any open time is a good time for a meeting. Reducing meetings at an organizational level is a whole other topic for another time, the focus here is how to keep your calendar from ruling your life.
Your calendar might look empty, but we all know it's not. So, how do you tell your colleagues that you’re not available for a meeting when you don’t already have a meeting scheduled?
Here’s my top tip. Schedule a meeting with yourself.
This is how it might look if you book time for yourself on your calendar to take care of high-priority items during the course of your week:
Imagine your calendar for next week filled with these important events. There would be some time available for a manager to put a meeting in, but not all day every day. The available time would be a time of day that works well for you and contributes to your productivity rather than detracts from it. Meetings that don’t fit in your open time slots can be negotiated, but it’s not open season on your time.
Some organizations are less receptive to sharing personal labels on calendar events. I’d love to see self-care and family-care events being normalized in the workplace, but for employers that aren’t there yet, a label of “unavailable” or “busy” can work as well.
We can’t always rely on our time management willpower to regulate our working habits, especially as day turns to evening and night, and the overworked human brain craves more stimulation. With geographically distributed teams becoming the norm, “regular working hours” lines are more blurred than ever. Inbound notifications don’t pay attention to time zones, and your colleague's day may look very different than yours. You can help yourself by building a safety rail that keeps your online activity at a healthy level outside of working hours. Some ways to do this involve making it just a bit harder to check on work while you’re enjoying dinner with the family.
The truth is that few things are truly urgent, and even if your work apps are silenced, in a true emergency your team will find a way to reach you. Give yourself permission to silence the requests that you don’t need to see until tomorrow and set healthy boundaries to minimize the microstress from your life.
I recently calculated how much time I’ve recouped over the past 6 years by not needing to drive to an office. I’ve put more than 2000 hours back into my pocket. That’s more than 83 days' worth of time that I’ve been able to reinvest into other areas of my life.
For some, being able to sleep right up until that first meeting of the day is a dream come true, but there are countless ways to utilize the time you’re not spending on a commute. Finding a routine that sets you up for success will undoubtedly pay dividends in terms of time management. For example:
Instead of having an instant log-on and get-down-to-business kind of morning, think about the commute time you used to plan for and fill it with a meaningful activity that maximizes your effectiveness during the working hours of your day.
For many remote workers, the canceled commute is a major benefit. Surveys show that remote workers tend to work longer hours than their in-office counterparts. The data suggests that many remote workers are trading that commute time for more working time. The habit of working longer hours may not serve you well if it comes at the expense of higher-priority items. Consider committing to the reinvestment of your commute and making space for more than just work.
For many, ‘working remotely’ is more of a ‘working from home during structured working hours’ kind of experience. Companies that create the best experiences for their people embrace non-linear workdays and asynchronous communications. Flexibility is one of the biggest benefits of not being tied to an office. So, if you have the autonomy to flex your workday, use it to your advantage.
Some things just have to happen during the 9-5 hours. School pickup, dentist appointments, banking errands, piano recitals, etc., used to require taking unpaid time off or using the preciously accrued PTO. Not anymore. Flex your schedule around non-negotiable events and make up those lost hours throughout the course of the week. One early morning at the keyboard might be a great tradeoff for an afternoon at the lake during the summer.
By focusing on results rather than input, the demand for structured linear workdays diminishes. Does taking a break to go for a walk, to the gym, or to your local book club mid-day supercharge your productivity during the afternoon and evening hours? Are you an early riser who gets your best work done before the neighborhood is awake? If flexing your workday leads to a more fulfilled and productive lifestyle, then by all means, flex. Feeling the freedom to do the things that you want to, or need to, during a weekday removes the stress and pressure of trying to fit everything else in around bankers' hours.
One of the greatest time management gifts employers can give to their team members is normalizing the concepts outlined here. By codifying the company’s cultural norms, business leaders take away the guesswork and share meaningful insights on how to thrive.
Empower your remote teams to thrive! Create a workplace culture that values well-being, autonomy, and results. I’m here to help you establish a remote-friendly environment that boosts engagement, satisfaction, and retention.