Updated: Dec 9, 2020
A recent survey from the Society of Human Resources Management found that 35% of employees reported feeling tired or having little energy often and 32% reported feeling that way sometimes. A 2019 survey by cloud infrastructure provider Digital Ocean found that 82% of remote tech workers reported feeling fatigued. All this before the pandemic!
Microsoft released the results of telemetry from the use of Office 365 which showed:
Across Microsoft 365, there was a 30% increase in scheduled meetings and a 1000% jump in video calls in the last few months. This abundance of meetings with 30% of them going over the scheduled time and a 52% jump in the number of instant messages between 6pm and midnight are also blurring the lines between work and personal spaces.
The Microsoft research shows that brainwaves reveal remote meeting fatigue is real:
A second study found that brainwave markers associated with overwork and stress are significantly higher in video meetings than non-meeting work like writing emails. Further, due to high levels of sustained concentration fatigue begins to set in 30-40 minutes into a meeting. Looking at days filled with video meetings, stress begins to set in at about two hours into the day.
The research suggests several factors lead to this sense of meeting fatigue: having to focus continuously on the screen to extract relevant information and stay engaged; reduced non-verbal cues that help you read the room or know whose turn it is to talk; and screen sharing with very little view of the people you are interacting with.
To help with this, we recommend taking regular breaks every two hours to let your brain re-charge, limiting meetings to 30 minutes, or punctuating long meetings with small breaks when possible.
The study also found that the remote working conditions many find themselves in has resulted in more empathy across teams, and team members feel more included and supported.
Helping remote workers draw a line between work and timeout
Just about everyone is looking for employees adept in robotic process automation, materials science, or simulations with machine learning that can predict outcomes and streamline processes.
They also need people who can master softer skills, such as managing teams effectively, gaining trust, working across boundaries, or applying neuroscience findings to increase their own stature and influence.
Upskilling is part of the answer. But you also need to rethink your jobs: redesign the workflow, combine some positions, add others, and probably eliminate some. You need to be more creative in finding and onboarding people, including through acquisitions, partnerships, gig economy–style freelancing arrangements, and talent pools oriented to flex work.
Finally, you must fill your enterprise with opportunities for continual self-renewal via modern learning strategies and digital technologies, so that becoming adept in new technologies is just part of everyday life.
Many business leaders realise that they can’t just hire the workforce they need. There aren’t enough prospective recruits, and the expense would be enormous. Instead, companies must upskill their existing employees or members of their communities.
This means expanding people’s capabilities entrepreneurial thinking, employability, often using adult learning and training tools, to fulfill the talent needs of a rapidly changing economy. But the old training needs analysis does not sit well in this every changing cog and an increasing number of remote workers.
A remote workforce transformation brings all these elements together, oriented specifically to your organisation. Your initiative must be led directly by the CEO and the other top executives of the enterprise, because your company’s success depends on the ability and commitment of all your employees.
In a successful initiative, you’ll do more than approve a budget and hold the leaders accountable; you’ll take part in the learning efforts yourself, engage in teaching others, and use this transformation as a genuine opportunity to improve your own skills and those of your direct reports.
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Because no two organisations have the same circumstances, there is no single recipe to follow. But together, the 10 principles below can help you ready your company’s remote workforce for the future.
Focus on a few concrete business outcome
Foster emotional commitment
Design a compelling experience
Start with the highest-impact roles
Change behaviour first
Promote citizens led wellness groups
Plan and commit to a comprehensive journey
Engage with cultural influencers
Include everyone but the unwilling
Track results and course
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