If Nowhere Is Your Office, Is Everywhere Your Office? 5 Ways to Curb Telecommuter Burnout
By Alexis Lamb • August 07, 2017•Writers in Residence, Careers, Other Career Issues, Issues, Balancing Private and Professional Life, Other Issues
More and more lawyers are opting out of a traditional corporate path, which, for many, includes architecting a career that they can perform from anywhere with a laptop and an internet connection.
Similarly, more and more law firms are jumping onto the telecommuting bandwagon, structuring programs that will allow select attorneys the option to telecommute during the workweek.
Morgan Lewis & Bockius, for example, launched a flexible work program on May 1, 2017, which provides associates with the opportunity to telecommute up to two days a week starting in their third year. At least 100 associates have signed up with the program since its launch. 40% of Americans already work from home, and there are numerous studies which have linked telecommuting with a rise in productivity and retention for employees.
But, if nowhere is your office, is everywhere your office?
Many telecommuters who play key roles for their companies or law firms report the following:
- A need to be “on” all the time
- Urge to “retreat”, like into a cave, but inability to do so because your home is your workspace
- Inability to disengage for a short period of time (as short as one hour), since you are expected by your supervisor and team to be “on” and accessible 100% of the time
I type this as I’m hours away from boarding a flight to Croatia for my first vacation of 2017. Yep, it’s August – nearly two-thirds of the way through the year – and I haven’t taken a single vacation or sick day. Much of the touted benefits of telecommuting focus on the elimination of commutes and work distractions.
What are some of the drawbacks of a telecommuting lifestyle, and what can employees do to minimize their effect?
1. If You’re Sick, You’re Sick. Everyone talks about how sick employees should not physically come into the office. We’re lawyers. We’re type-A. And we want to save our PTO days for when we can best enjoy them. Not when we’re sniveling on the couch or nursing a fever. But, sometimes what your body needs when you’re not 100% is rest. One full day off work – no checking email, answering phone calls, writing memos – can be enough to reboot your body and recover quicker from whatever laid you low in the first place.
2. Set Boundaries At Home. Boundaries are the cornerstone of all healthy relationships, including our professional ones. If you have family living at home, you might find yourself juggling work responsibilities with family responsibilities – and doing a poor job of meeting either. Cordon off a space that is your work space, and blocks of hours in the day that are your personal “business hours”. Communicate to others living with you that you are not to be disturbed during those times.
3. Set Boundaries At Work. If you don’t want your team and supervisor to start expecting you to be “online” outside of business hours, do NOT answer emails outside of business hours. This goes for phone calls as well. Being a telecommuting employee does not give your office-bound team carte blanche to assume that you will be instantaneously responsive.
4. Disengage. When you feel burnout intensifying, give yourself permission to disengage for a day or an afternoon. Of course, this should be done when it least conflicts with professional demands. But, if you need to take a “mental health break” to collect yourself, you should. You need not even take a vacation day to do this. Allowing yourself time to “zone out” will enable you to refocus the next day. Think of your workflow like a workout – in interval training, periods of intensity are alternated with periods of recovery.
5. Take Your Vacation. Unless you’re saving your vacation days for a 3-week honeymoon, or a large post-giving-notice payout, you should be taking every single day a year. Especially if your vacation days do not roll over. The average American gets 10 days of PTO a year. Even if you aren’t traveling anywhere exotic, you should find a way to fit self-care into your professional schedule. And if your employer doesn’t encourage you to take all of your vacation time – especially if it doesn’t roll over – you may need to find a new employer.
Billable workers, such as lawyers, often find themselves at a higher risk for burnout than employees in other professions. On top of their workloads, they must also find time to track, record, and report each 6-minute interval in their day. Supervisors of billable workers should watch for signs of employee burnout, especially among their remote staff, who often feel external and internal pressure to be “online” 24/7.
Alexis Lamb is a recovering lawyer who served time as a transactions associate in the New York office of O'Melveny & Myers and the Hong Kong office of Linklaters. She is currently Associate Director of Talent at Bliss Lawyers.
Her work has appeared in online and print publications including Inside, the NYSBA Corporate Counsel Section’s publication, and Thought Catalog; and her fiction has appeared in Five2One Magazine: The Sideshow.
Connect with Alexis at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexislambesq/
Visit The No-Pants Life, Ms Lamb's blog on location-independent careers and lifestyles here.
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