Team development

Virtual burnout: why productivity isn’t everything

If we want to tackle virtual burnout then it’s important to choose our metrics wisely, because productivity can come at a human cost…

Most of us had no idea we’d be working from home for so long. When we packed up our laptops, post-its, and office plants in March last year, we probably only imagined we’d be doing it for a few short weeks. If we’d always wanted to work remotely but never had a chance to, it may have even had a bit of novelty value. Well, it’s probably safe to say that the novelty has now worn off. Even if we enjoy working from home – as many of us do – it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a slog.

Our homes have become the epicenters of our world and instead of coffee breaks, face-to-face meetings, and impromptu conversations with colleagues about everything from new business ideas to Netflix, we find ourselves staring at our screens hour after hour, day after day. Rinse and repeat. We may have done a lot of brilliant work over the past few months, but it’s worth looking at what it’s really taken out of us. Because, for many of us, virtual burnout is now really hitting hard.

First of all, it’s important to address the issue of productivity here. There’s been a lot of hype around productivity throughout the pandemic – and a lot of overwhelmingly positive findings being discussed. One study found that over 94% of employers said productivity was either the same or higher than it was before the pandemic. Another survey from September last year found that 58% of workers were more productive while working from home. However, is any of it really sustainable? Reports from later in lockdown discovered that the gains in productivity began to evaporate as the pandemic continued to grind on and that actually, there’s a “productivity illusion” going on.

It’s worth asking the question: what are we losing if we focus too much on productivity? As is argued here, a lot of productivity metrics don’t take into account that people are working longer hours, not taking breaks, or simply “packing more into the same envelope”. It’s also worth turning our attention to the other metrics of success in the workplace. Productivity is great, yes, but what else is going on? Are we still feeling connected with colleagues, have we still got time to focus on personal development, and are we able to prioritize our wellbeing so that we don’t burn out? Of course, productivity matters, but we also need to make sure it doesn’t come at a human cost.


Actionable tips to tackle virtual burnout…


Virtual burnout in individuals

So what are the solutions for addressing virtual burnout on an individual level? What can you do?

Well, we can all take small steps as individuals that can make a positive difference to our day. The winter months may have made us go into hibernation mode and work longer and later than we should. With spring now in the air, it’s the perfect time to create some new healthy habits.

That could be as simple as going for a walk at lunchtime to get some fresh air, making sure you take regular breaks throughout the day, or deleting your Outlook app off your phone so you’re not tempted to check emails after working hours – you could even set an out of office to that

effect. It’s also worth considering what you need. Is it more connection with colleagues, or time to focus?


Virtual burnout in teams

From a team perspective, it’s important to take the take team temperature regularly. Maybe we all started WFH with one or more team meetings a day – because that felt right at the time. It’s worth checking whether that’s still working or needs to be revisited. It all goes back to tone and trust. Do teams feel like the meetings are about checking in with them, or checking up on them?

As we mentioned, productivity is either the same or higher than it was before the pandemic, so there really shouldn’t be a need to ensure a team is working efficiently. What there is a need for is a focus on sustaining human connections and making sure that teams feel engaged and supported as they continue to work remotely. Keep the lens on the people stuff, and you can’t go wrong.


Virtual burnout in leaders

According to reports on Business Insider only 20% of executives feel like they’re leading effectively remotely. We’ve touched on this ourselves in another blog, where we talked about the struggles of leaders in the virtual space once that initial adrenaline rush of leading through a crisis wore off. The weight of expectations on leaders is huge at the moment and, while we need leaders to take the lead on tackling virtual burnout in their organizations, they really need to be supported too.

So, how do leaders manage virtual burnout? Well, it’s about understanding what they need to show up at their best. We’ve made big steps in terms of presenteeism in the past year, but some leaders may still feel the pressure to appear to be ‘on their game’ – even if they’re struggling. However, as in life, we all do better when we’re open, honest, and human. It’s been an extraordinary few months and it’s OK to acknowledge that and ask for support – so we can all avoid virtual burnout.


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