Warning: Employees Are Stressed Out (Here’s What You Can Do About It)


Organizations successfully achieved the goal of large-scale remote connectivity, but isolation and loneliness are threatening to burn employees out in the process. Blurring boundaries between work and home, groundless anxiety about work and the need to be always on signals a bigger problem for managers. Mark Robinson, co-founder of Kimble Applications explains how to watch out for the warning signs and steps managers can take to keep workers from feeling emotionally drained. 

Like many business leaders in the technology sector, I have had a great deal of experience dealing with remote workingOpens a new window . We have been doing this a long time, since the days when most people thought teleconferencing was a cousin of Telly Savalas, the actor who played Kojak. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is that whether online or in the office, a great business starts with a great team. Recruiting and retaining a high-performing team is a major issue for managers in many sectors and remote workingOpens a new window can add to the challenges. 

Learn More: Permanent Remote Work Is Here: 5 UC Considerations for a Home-Office Setup

Here are five suggestions for managing a remote team successfully.

1. Keep People in the Loop

When at home all of the time, people may feel as if they don’t know what is going on at work. They lose some of the opportunities for informal conversation that the office environment provides – perhaps a chance to check out a rumor by running it by a more authoritative source.

 Even organizations that pride themselves on transparency and openness have to make more effort with an all-remote team. Hold frequent briefings where you can keep people up to date with how the business is doing in meeting its objectives. Share your understanding of the underlying trends Opens a new window and discuss plans to affect those over the longer term. Even if the picture isn’t entirely positive and there are clouds on the horizon, it is important to share this information. 

Then people can play their part in improving performance. And the real challenges that lie ahead may not be as bad as the ones people imagine – as a recent articleOpens a new window in the Financial Times pointed out, some remote workers can fall prey to groundless anxiety about work.

Learn More: 5 Things That Are Making Your Virtual Meetings Ineffective

2. Don’t Micromanage People

It has been clear to those of us who are used to managing remote, international teams for years, that the digital workplace requires an autonomous, motivated workforce. The days of “command and control” style management were already numbered and I think the wholesale move to remote working that we are seeing at the moment will hasten that process. 

Breaking down jobs into small tasks and then looking over peoples’ shoulders, checking up on what they are doing, and generally undermining their ability to develop their own capabilities, is not an effective way to manage a remote team. 

At Kimble, we conducted a survey last year called the Boss BarometerOpens a new window and that showed the qualities people look for in a boss are the ability to motivate and coach. That is even more true today.

3.  Decentralize Decision Making

It follows on from the above point that people have to be empowered to make decisions. It is not practical to push every decision up to the management level with a remote teamOpens a new window , especially where people are working in different time zones or on flexible hours. Having your entire team sit on their hands until one of five people can check their work creates bottlenecks. The resulting decision-making latency can damage the organization’s ability to meet its goals effectively. It can slow everyone down and reduce productivity.

Creating an atmosphere in which remote workers feel supported to make decisions requires that they have up to date, accurate information constantly at their fingertips. They should have access to guidance as to the next best step in their process when they need it. Visibility of who is doing what is also important.

Learn More: 3 Ways Tech Can Make Remote Work a Success

4. Don’t Have a Blame Culture

Having an organizational culture that supports and encourages this kind of autonomous, empowered working means that you can’t have a ‘blame culture”. A blame culture is one in which the immediate response to mistakes is to search for someone to hold responsible. That’s obviously not helpful if you are trying to build a winning team. It means people will be reluctant to put their heads above the parapet and to move forward confidently.

Whatever the decision-making process is in any organization, it is inevitable that mistakes will sometimes be made. It is more important to learn from what doesn’t work and to build better processes in the future than to look for an individual to carry the can for every error.

Learn More: 7 Pro Tips To Help Developers Prepare for the New Work Order

5. Watch Out for Signs of Burnout

Burnout is a danger in any team, whether remote or in the office. ResearchOpens a new window we did at Kimble showed that many highly motivated professionals routinely put in many more hours than they report. In some organizations, the estimates of how long it will take to complete assignments are routinely lowballed, and people have to regularly burn the midnight oil just to keep on top of their workload.

Research also showsOpens a new window that it is fairly common, particularly in North America, for people not to take all of their paid time off. I suspect that this situation has been compounded by the uncertainties caused by moving to remote working in the shadow of the pandemic.

Managers have to keep an eye on these trends. Ask people to record how many hours they are actually working. Encourage them to set reasonable boundaries between home and work, and not to feel as if they should be online whenever they are awake. Also encourage them to take a vacation, even if it will be somewhere closer to home than they might normally consider.

Looking after your team at times of increased stress is vital to the long-term health of your organization.

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