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Combatting Communication Fatigue: Remote Work Productivity Tips

11/2/20 9:00 AM

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The accounting industry is exhausted. We all know it, and we’re all experiencing it – the CARES act, the extended (never-ending) busy season, and COVID-19 restricting much of how we blow off steam are all contributing to this feeling of exhaustion. It’s especially clear in the tenor of casual conversations online lately – from email auto-replies that someone’s team is taking a “much-needed break” to statements online that they “can’t handle another government announcement.”

This shift from a focus on productivity and interaction to “I can’t go on one more video call” led me to wonder, how are managers and senior leadership responding? Are they checking in on their people regularly or taking a step back to avoid even more Zoom fatigue, particularly close to the start of busy season ramp-up?

So I asked. Back in late March, a few of our long-time remote managers shared how they maintain productivity and employee engagement in a distributed setting. The message was clear: Go forth and communicate.

And now, seven months later, I’m checking back in with a few of them to see how they’re successfully combatting communication fatigue. Here’s what they had to say.

Allow Time for Breaks

Back to back meetings can quickly overload even the most dedicated staff member, something Jairam Padmanabhan tries to offset by encouraging his team to take regular breaks. “In the office, a break between meetings is built in. But when working from home, it’s easy to book back to back to back meetings and forget that we’re only human. As leaders, it’s important to set the standard and establish a culture where your team is comfortable taking a break.”

Consider encouraging a five-minute buffer between meetings or blocking off meeting-free times during the day. Even simply asking if everyone has a glass of water before getting the meeting started can encourage employees to build time into their day to grab a snack or use the restroom.

Tailor Communication Methods to the Individual

Video and teleconferences aren’t the only way to communicate. Each team member has a preferred communication style and frequency, something that Sue Nolan keeps in mind with her team. “Based on input from the team and what individual and team needs and preferences are, you may want to establish multiple communication protocols,” Nolan told us in March. She also emphasized that clear lines of communication and sharing of information help contribute to both company and individual success, something as true now as it was then.

What may have changed since March? Your team’s communication preferences and required levels of interaction. Some of your staff may need more frequent interactions than they did when remote work was first implemented. Others may be suffering from back-to-back meeting fatigue and are more productive when checking in via email, text, or chat. Rather than assume, ask your staff what communication methods are most productive – and least draining – for them and find a method that works for both of you.

Use Video… With Advance Notice

Working from home can be lonely (or very crowded, depending on your situation). And with approximately 55% of communication coming from body language, seeing the face of the person you’re communicating with can drive the success or failure of a meeting. Failed meetings tend to lead to more meetings, which tends to lead to communication fatigue.

This is why Jairam Padmanabhan recommends scheduling some of your regular touch-base calls with video enabled. “We’re always on conference calls,” Padmanabhan says, “but without enabling video, it’s harder to get a read on how your team is actually doing. A quick video call can help you check in with your team both professionally and personally.”

Whenever possible, give advance notice for a video call so that everyone can make sure to be in a location where a house-mate won’t pop into the background.

Celebrate Accomplishments and Recognize Team Members

One of the easiest ways to combat professional fatigue is to recognize and thank employees for their accomplishments. This is especially true in times of uncertainty, which is one reason Sue Nolan makes sure to recognize staff accomplishments of all types. “Each one of us is continuously working on addressing the challenges and impacts of the pandemic on our professional and personal lives,” Nolan says. “As the pandemic continues and we continue to address business challenges, it’s important to highlight accomplishments and celebrate wins, even small ones.

These celebrations don’t have to be big, either. Sometimes simple recognition such as sending an email thanking a staff member for their hard work to lift spirits and combat mental fatigue. Celebrations are an engaging way to let your team know that you recognize and value them and their individual and team contributions.

As the pandemic stretches onward and we continue to address business challenges, our levels of success are determined, in large part, by the actions and engagement of our people. As a manager, your job is to be a super-connector – keeping your team connected and communicating. Effective communication can be the difference between trying to combat employee burnout after it’s happened and recognizing that a team member needs more support (or fewer meetings) and reacting accordingly.

And as we continue to adapt to this new normal, individual and team resilience is more important than ever. The best managers will use every tool in their arsenal to combat communication fatigue to support employee resilience, increase productivity and employee engagement, and reduce the anxiety and feelings of burnout that your team may be feeling.

Hillarie Diaz, CPA

Written by Hillarie Diaz, CPA

Hillarie is XCM’s Marketing Content Manager and blog Editor-in-Chief. She has a passion for process documentation and improvement, as well as data-driven decision-making. As an accountant who enjoys writing, she brings over a decade of experience in accounting to her analysis of the industry.