Is a remote-first workplace causing employee burnout?

November 30, 2022

A recent Fortune article authored by Sheryl Estrada explores how back-to-back Zoom meetings are leading to employee burnout. Sheryl points out how innovative CFOs recognize that burnout goes against their top goal of hiring and retaining top talent. For this reason, her articles describe several clever tactics deployed by CFOs of leading organizations to lower the stress level caused by constant screen time and web conferencing.

In one example, a CFO disallows any meetings between 1-5p on Fridays. This time is repurposed to allow employees to catch up on their individual work tasks. Another CFO discourages email during the weekend and includes one free day per month in addition to holidays.

This article sheds light on an important point regarding how humans are able to consume high technology. A lack of technology can lead to wasted time. No one wants to spend 10 hours a week consolidating disconnected spreadsheet files especially when there are tools out there that can automate this entirely.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, too much technology can make things so streamlined and efficient that it ignores a worker’s biological nature and begins treating them like machines. Zoom and similar modern web conferencing tools are so friendly and easy to use that many workers now find themselves on back-to-back calls throughout the day. This is an example of how a modern technology is so efficient it neglects a human’s bio needs. The technology can easily allow an employee to begin their day at 8:00 AM and spend the next 8 hours seamlessly navigating one call after another. That’s an extremely efficient technology, so much so that it ignores humans are not robots and cannot be on so many back-to-back calls without negative consequences as a result.

Imagine if you can for a moment the experience of employees of a former era attending multiple meetings within their physical office. Each time one meeting is over, there is time baked in for the employee to stand up, move their bodies, make small talk with coworkers departing the same meeting, walk down the hallway, take an elevator, stop by the breakroom for a refill of water or coffee or even use the restroom. All these activities could be performed in between every single meeting. Now they cannot! With Zoom, one meeting ends at 11:00 AM and the next also starts at 11:00 AM. Employees are now being asked to be in two places simultaneously.

If you’re a CFO today, your approach to technology needs to reach the right equilibrium. On one hand, you will have very frustrated employees if you don’t give them modern tools to get their jobs done. On the other hand, the way those tools are adopted cannot treat humans like they’re robots themselves.

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