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Remote Burnout: How to Handle Fatigue in the Digital Workspace

By Vanessa Ciabatti

Burnout has long been a challenge in the modern workplace; a state of physical and mental fatigue that often leads to increased feelings of cynicism and detachment from work responsibilities. Despite the rise of remote work and its promotion of greater work-life balance, this phenomenon continues to rear its ugly head – even in the comfort of one’s own home. 

Below, we explore the increasing struggles of “remote work burnout”, what it is, and how to best mitigate its risks.  

The state of remote work in Australia 

In a post-COVID-19 world, working from home has cemented itself as a permanent setup in the Australian workplace. According to 2022 statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 88% of workers express a desire for at least partial work-from-home arrangements, with a substantial 60% preferring a hybrid model – blending both office and home-based work. Furthermore, workers under 54 may even consider changing jobs if denied these flexible options. 

Experts have attributed this desire for remote work to increased levels of productivity and improved work-life balance. In fact, these factors are predicted to steady the trend of remote work throughout 2024. Skills shortages in certain industries could also grant employees more leverage in choosing how they work, with a predicted favour towards more flexible, remote work schedules.

What is “remote burnout”? 

As with typical office burnout, “remote burnout” is characterised by physical and emotional exhaustion and a striking lack of motivation and work engagement. The only difference, however, is that remote burnout is unique to those working in the digital space, and is often exacerbated by the blurred boundaries between work and personal life.

The absence of clear transitions, coupled with the pressure to constantly be available, contributes to heightened stress levels. This is often furthered by the relentless use of digital tools, back-to-back virtual meetings, and the expectation of continued productivity beyond business hours. Additionally, employees may find themselves feeling isolated while working from home, leading to enhanced feelings of detachment and loneliness.  

Signs of remote burnout 

It’s important to spot the early warning signs of remote work burnout before they worsen over time. Such symptoms could include: 

  • Persistent fatigue: Beyond ordinary tiredness, you may experience deep and unrelenting exhaustion, impacting both your physical and mental well-being.

  • Diminished productivity: Routine, everyday tasks may start to feel overwhelming, and once-manageable workloads become burdensome. 

  • Decline in quality of work: Since mental fatigue compromises attention to detail, you may find yourself making more mistakes than usual – leading to poor performance and quality of work.

  • Negative emotional changes: This could include heightened irritability, mood swings, or a sense of detachment. 

  • Disruptive sleep patterns: Some experiencing burnout may even find themselves having poor quality sleep, with the stress of work impacting their ability to relax and recuperate. 

How to avoid or manage remote burnout 

Establish boundaries and stick to them 

Convenient as it may be, the digital workplace could also easily blur the lines between one’s personal and professional life. It’s therefore crucial to establish and adhere to strict boundaries, setting the clear line between work hours and leisure time. Be sure to communicate this to your colleagues and family to set a shared understanding of when you are available and when you need to focus on work. 

Of course, it’s also important to stick to these limits yourself. Be sure to “unplug” after business hours, steering clear of any work-related emails, messages, and tasks. This ensures you get the well-deserved break you need at the end of the day, allowing you to focus on your personal activities, hobbies, or relaxation. 

Take time for yourself 

Allocating time for yourself is also key to maintaining your overall well-being as a remote worker. This could be as simple as carving out a few hours for exercise, particularly if you spend most of the day sitting in front of a computer. Regular activity will not only boost your physical health while working from home, but it can also help alleviate your stress and improve your mood. Other personal leisure activities (such as watching a TV show, playing a video game, or engaging in a hobby) could further offer that much-needed mental break from work-related stressors. 

Of course, it’s also important to get an adequate amount of sleep every night. Oftentimes, the temptation to overwork in a remote setting can disrupt your sleep patterns, leading to fatigue and reduced cognitive function. Prioritising sufficient and quality sleep will not only stave off burnout, but also ensures you stay at the top of your game each day.

Be sure to eat healthy

The convenience of a home office can sometimes lead to irregular eating habits or a reliance on quick, less nutritious meals. However, a well-balanced diet plays a crucial role in sustaining both your physical and mental energy levels throughout the day. 

Consuming nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can provide the necessary fuel for sustained concentration and productivity. These healthy foods can help contribute to better cognitive function, boosting your ability to tackle tasks more efficiently. Conversely, poor dietary choices can lead to energy slumps, impacting focus and contributing to feelings of fatigue and burnout.

Keep personal and professional spaces separately

Going hand-in-hand with establishing boundaries, having a clear distinction between your personal and professional spaces can also help prevent burnout as a remote worker. A dedicated workspace could foster a focused, task-oriented mindset when in “work mode” – and physically separating this from more “leisure” environments (i.e. your living room or entertainment area) could prevent the constant accessibility that often leads to burnout. It offers a clear signal of the beginning and end of a work day, helping you avoid the temptation of continuing to work beyond business hours. 

Additionally, a designated workspace could also lead to increased productivity by minimising distractions and creating an environment more conducive to focused work. 

Don’t abandon your social life 

The nature of remote work is an often isolating one, leading to feelings of loneliness and disconnection. Be sure to avoid this by maintaining your social connections – whether they be family members, friends, or colleagues. Take time off online to connect with them in person; this could include activities such as a chat over coffee, Friday night drinks, or attending a large social event. Doing so can also offer you that valuable change of scenery you may just be craving for. 

However, you could also take the time to nurture your personal and work relationships while online. Consider scheduling virtual coffee breaks or lunch meetings over a video call to recreate the informal interactions of an office environment. You may also wish to explore online communities related to your personal interests or professional affiliations, helping you broaden your connections outside of work. 

Ensure a positive work-life balance – no matter your professional lifestyle 

Whether in the office or working from home, maintaining the right balance between work and leisure is critical to sustained professional success and personal well-being. Though these tips, you’ll be better equipped to reap the many benefits of remote work while ensuring the lifestyle doesn’t take away from your personal goals and commitments. 

For more advice on working from home, SkillsTalk offers a wide variety of articles discussing the nature and challenges of the digital workspace. Take advantage of all that remote work has to offer, and explore our catalogue today. 


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