How to Know if Your Remote Team is Overworked and Unfocused (And How to Help Them)

19 Mar 2021 By: Natasha Lane


Whether your team has gone remote due to the pandemic or you’ve always been working with remote employees, everything going on in the world has made burnout all the more probable. 

Add to that the fact that remote work can inherently cause work-life disbalance, long hours, and short to no breaks. It can be a recipe for disaster. 

If you are wondering whether your remote team is burnt out and how you can help them, keep reading. 

How to Recognize Overwork 

It can be difficult to determine whether someone is stressed out because of their workload or simply because they’re having a tough time in their personal life. The following symptoms are typically a tell-tale sign of impending burnout and overtaxation due to overwork.

Decrease in Productivity

When you notice an individual or a team is less productive than usual for extended periods of time, it’s safe to assume they are working too long, too hard, or too much.

Productivity and wellbeing are intricately linked, so if one is plummeting, chances are the other one is too.

Increase in Overtime 

Overtime is, contrary to popular belief, not a sign of productivity. It can either be a sign of short deadlines, an overstuffed plate, or an inefficient employee. If someone who has not previously been working overtime suddenly starts to clock in extra hours, chances are they are struggling.

When someone needs to fuel their day with extra coffee, even though it’s not bad for people per se, they clearly need to reconsider their schedule or their work-life balance. Just taking notice of if they have upped their caffeine intake can tell you a lot about their state of mind. 

Drop in Work Quality 

The sign most managers notice first is a drop in work quality. But by that time, it’s most often already too late and burnout has already taken a significant toll. 

However, don’t consider one mistake or a couple of subpar results to be a sign that something is seriously wrong.  It could be a result of other work conditions as well. For example, it could be poor planning, insufficient guidance, or a lack of the right tools for the job.

Increase in Complaining

If your remote employees suddenly become much more vocal about small annoyances and displeasures, they are dissatisfied with work. A huge red flag is when they begin pointing fingers and throw blame around. This could indicate they’re burning the candle at both ends.

Communication Friction 

Likewise – if communication starts to suffer and break down due to irritability and snappiness, your employee may be suffering from added pressure.  Many people lose their tempers much more often and more quickly when they are under stress.

How to Combat Overwork 

A combination of the above signs is often a signal that your remote team is working too much. Here’s what you can do to help them:

Track Their Time 

Start by asking your employees to track their time at work. This idea probably won’t be welcomed at the outset, but if you highlight its benefits (i.e. more structure, scheduled breaks), it should go down more easily.

Also, explain that the goal is to identify tasks that waste time, tasks that take too much time, and tasks that can be reassigned to someone who is more efficient in tackling them. Assure them it’s not used as a means of surveillance and judgment but rather as a tool that will help.

Reorganize Their Time 

Start by considering the data you have gathered through your time-tracking exercise, and then use it to make adjustments. 

  1. Cut your meetings shorter, as they are usually the biggest time wasters, especially over video. 
  2. If one employee is doing something much faster or much more efficiently than others, ask them to help and map out their personal process. 
  3. If someone doesn’t know how to organize their day and keeps jumping from one task to another, help them come up with a more efficient schedule.

Consider Their Time Off

Since what we do in our time off is just as important as what we do with the time we spend at work, talk to your employees about their work-life balance. 

Topics like sleep, exercise, nutrition, and mental health points that should be addressed in your meetings or casual chit-chats. Encourage each other and provide personal examples about the way you decompress and destress.

Highlight the importance of the simple things. For instance, a better mattress can improve someone’s quality of sleep significantly, and they might not even be considering buying a new one. Someone might not be getting more than 1000 steps in a day, and this might be making them feel extra sluggish.

Provide More Freedom 

You should also consider your company-wide schedule. Does everyone need to work the nine-to-five? Can you change that?

By providing your team with the freedom to structure their day as it suits them, you will instantly increase their productivity and boost their morale. For instance, some may prefer to start their shift later in the day, while others may want to start very early in the morning. As long as they fulfill their duties, let them. 

However, do assign certain compulsory hours to everyone (i.e. attendance between 2:00pm and 4:00pm is mandatory). This way you can still check in and communicate with each other efficiently. You’d be surprised how well this works.

Final Thoughts

Remote work is often prone to overwork. Fortunately, by spotting the signs early, you can combat its dangers more efficiently. Work to implement some of the practices that can provide more freedom to your employees, and, in turn, you’ll boost their wellbeing.

Management & Leadership
Small Business
Natasha Lane

Natasha has been working for and collaborating with, individual clients and companies of all sizes for more than a decade. She specializes in writing about productivity, digital marketing, and business growth.