As remote work becomes a permanent fixture in many employees' lives thanks to social distancing, more people are starting to feel the impacts and are finding it takes more adjustment than they first thought.

For instance, speaking as a long-time remote employee I remember one of the things that caught me by surprise when I started working from home was the loss of physical barriers between my work and my private life. My commute to work had always been very manageable, taking just 45 minutes per day both ways. At first, I was thrilled to gain that time back, but a few weeks later I realized that in losing my commute I’d also lost the physical separation that let me leave some of the demands of my workday behind me. More than anything, the drive home was like a mental reboot to transition from work life to family life.

After just a few weeks, my new remote job had substantially blurred my work and my private life. I started having very long workdays thanks to my company being in a different time zone. I tend to be a morning person, so most days I started working at 7am, but I’d also have last calls that ran until 10pm and sometimes later. That’s when I realized that I had to make some changes.

Many of the employees on your teams are probably starting to feel a similar way. The novelty of working from home, if there was any for them to begin with, has worn off as the timelines have extended. And the additional pressures of caring for children, pets, and household responsibilities while juggling full-time work are building. So how do we as HR professionals help keep our employees feeling balanced and avoid burnout as they navigate their new normal? Here are a few tips.

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Two important changes to make

To help employees stay sane in a remote work environment, I typically look back at two key steps I took when I started seeing the unhealthy shifts I just talked about in my own work-life balance. The first step was finding times throughout the day to focus on my family and the things that needed to get done in a household that at the time had three kids, three dogs, and three cats.

The second and equally important step was to find a way to maintain energy and focus throughout the day because I wanted to be fully present and focused not only on what needed to be done at work, but also during time with my family.

The first step will vary a lot based on the different household structures your employees have, so let’s focus on the energy piece because HR can really set some good guidelines here to help employees relieve stress through what I call micro motion breaks.

Keeping energy up while working remotely

The concept around micro motion breaks is simple – invest just 90 seconds of movement once an hour to increase the flow of oxygen to the brain and provide a boost of energy. When I started doing this, I found that boost of energy lasted about 60 minutes when I repeated the process.

There are a number of different movements you can suggest to employees as energy boosters. The most important aspect is engaging the largest muscles you can in your body. Remember, the goal here is to boost oxygen, so while walking for 90 seconds engages large muscles it’s more effective to climb steps for 90 seconds to also slightly increase your heart rate and speed up breathing a little. 

If you don’t have a flight of stairs close by, you can do a few chair squats by getting up from your chair and pretending to sit back down but coming back up before you touch the seat. Repeat the process at your own pace for 90 seconds. My personal favorite micro motion break is 20 standing squats followed by 20 push-ups. Be careful and pace yourself – you shouldn’t break a sweat during the activity. Also, make sure you have guidance around some alternative routines for employees with physical limitations and advise all team members to consult with a physician if they’re unsure about what level of activity is safe for them.

The best time to get started is in a remote environment

While doing chair squats or push-ups in the office might look a little bit funny, nobody’s watching you at home other than maybe your family, who you can invite to participate as a way to break up their days as well. Now is the time to help your organization build a healthy habit that will do wonders for everyone’s energy levels throughout the entire day. If you follow the schedule of micro motion breaks I mentioned earlier, it takes only 12 minutes a day, which is likely to be significantly less time than the commute most employees had just a few weeks ago.

If you’d like to take micro motion breaks for a test drive before rolling out to your organization, I suggest that you commit to five consecutive days and see what difference it makes. That tends to be enough time for most people to notice a change.

Benefits of increasing activity

The additional energy throughout the day is only one of the benefits employees can gain from micro motion breaks. Here are some other things you and they may notice:

  • 200 to 300 additional calories burned
  • Increased metabolism
  • Reduced fatigue
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved mood
  • Enhanced long-term memory
  • Enhanced reasoning, attention, and problem solving

Tracking progress

To make sure you and your organization stay on track with micro motion breaks, I recommend trying the following:

  • Use a phone, a kitchen timer, or something similar to set hourly reminders.
  • Try a few different movements and determine how many of each make up 90 seconds, as well as which ones work best for you. Also, feel free to mix and match your movements, but make sure to elevate your heart rate and increase your oxygen intake.
  • Use a tracking sheet similar to the one below to monitor your energy levels throughout the day and check off every time you complete a micro motion break. This will help you stay accountable and record the progress you make. Add a check each time you complete a micro motion break and rate your energy level from 1 to 10.

Micro motion break tracker chart

Conclusion: Even the simple things help

I know some of you may be thinking this whole thing sounds silly and that you have bigger things to worry about right now. It’s definitely true that HR departments and the employees they care for are facing an unprecedented situation, but hear me out – sometimes the best thing we can do is introduce a little normalcy. Taking your mind off all your daily concerns and just moving for a little bit every day can take the edge off the stress we all face, help us stay balanced and have energy for our families at the end of the day, and of course tackle our day-to-day work tasks with a clear head.

If you or your organization need any additional ideas for managing through this time of uncertainty, I invite you to visit Kronos’ resource page. It’s packed with a wealth of helpful materials designed to help you with remote work, business continuity, productivity, and above all maintaining employee well-being in this difficult time. Stay safe and keep moving.

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Published: Friday, April 10, 2020