Work Burnout in A Virtual Team? Here’s How to Avoid It

(Image Credit:  B2C)

(Image Credit: B2C)

The workplace of today is ‘always connected’ and yet, strangely, often disconnected with the prevalence of technology and global virtual teams. With mobile devices keeping us plugged in anytime, anywhere, it’s easy to keep on working, and working, and working, until you lose all sense of balance and separation between work and personal life. The to-do lists and inbox never seems to get any shorter, and you may never get to know your team in person. Enter the age of Burnout Culture in the Virtual World. Where you are always just one click away from your never-ending projects, but you’re working on them in isolation. Here’s some quick tips on how to avoid work burnout in a virtual team:

(Image Credit:  Mother Nature Network)

(Image Credit: Mother Nature Network)



- By Julie Yamamoto

Relax! and You’ll Be More Productive

“More, bigger, and faster,” has been the relentless ethos of the market economies since the Industrial Revolution, but it’s grounded in a mythical, misguided assumption — that our available resources are infinite. Time, of course, is the resource we rely on to get more accomplished. When there’s more to do, we invest more hours. But time is finite, and many of us feel we’re running out, that we’re investing as many hours as we can while trying to retain some kind of a life outside work.

More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle today’s overwhelming demands. But paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less. A growing body of research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health. See how this can work, in this fascinating, extremely popular piece recently published in The New York Times.

9 Strategies for Defeating Workplace Stress

It’s not how whether you suffer from the stress you have – everyone has stress. It’s how you deal with it that determines how happy, and even how healthy, you’re going to be – in other words, your quality of life.

Nine Strategies Successful People Use to Overcome Stress

Here’s a potentially life-changing list of nine scientifically proven things  that successful people do to overcome workplace stress. And a hint: it might very well involve your being less productive.

Read the rest here, from

Today It’s Not Work-Life Balance, but Work-Life Blend

by Ron Ashkenas, Forbes

Last summer I had an early morning conference call with another consultant and one of his clients. As we were wrapping up, I asked the other two people from where they were calling. One sheepishly said that she was vacationing on the Jersey Shore with her family and had sneaked out early to make the call. The second person admitted that he was on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard and had done the same thing. I then confessed that I was calling from western Massachusetts where my family had rented a lake cottage. After a moment of silence, one of us said, “Boy! Are we stupid!” We all laughed as we ended the call — and then presumably went back to our vacations (and our e-mails).

What’s interesting about this story is not that we were doing work on our vacations, but rather that none of us questioned the timing of the work call in the first place. We all presumably knew that the call would occur during our holidays, yet no one suggested an alternative date.

The reality for many of us these days is that our professional lives bleed into our personal lives. The boundaries are increasingly permeable and movable. We check our emails in the evenings and weekends. We delay or miss family events because we can’t leave the office. And when we do, we take our communications devices with us so that we can stay connected to work.

In previous posts I’ve encouraged professionals to manage the work-life balance more proactively by thinking through their priorities and consciously addressing how work intrudes on their personal lives. But in light of how many of us blend work time with personal time, perhaps this advice is overly simplistic — unrealistic even. Maybe we need to accept the fact that the sharp demarcation between work and home is a thing of the past, and that the new normal is a life that integrates home and work more seamlessly.

Focusing on work-life “integration” instead of work-life “balance” has at least a couple of implications: First (and the one that I like the most) is that we can stop feeling guilty about scheduling calls during our vacations or checking our emails at night; and by the same token not feel guilty about talking with our spouses, friends, and family members during work time.

The second implication is that we no longer split up our time so rigidly between “work hours” and “non-work hours.” Instead, let’s be flexible about when and how we accomplish both our work goals and our personal goals. Obviously some of this has to be negotiated with others, both at work (who is on call for customers?) and home (who gets to use the car?). But the point is to make this a natural part of how we organize our lives instead of a special perk or exceptional situation.

Most organizations of course are not set up to accommodate employees who want to blend their personal and work lives, and in fact actively discourage it through work rules, inflexible hours, and other practices. A number of pilot projects, however, have shown that when teams of interdependent workers (e.g., customer services representatives) are empowered to create their own plans for how and when to get their work done, productivity improves considerably.

So maybe it’s time to rethink not only the way we organize work — but also the way we organize our lives. Instead of pushing back or feeling resentful when work issues interrupt us, let’s accept that interruptions are a part of life; whether they are caused by children, friends, family dramas, broken pipes — or phone calls during our vacations.


Greater IBMers: What are your thoughts about the increasing integration of home and work?

About the author:  

Ron Ashkenas

Ron Ashkenas is a senior partner of Schaffer Consulting, a Stamford, Connecticut consulting firm and the author of the book Simply Effective:  How to Cut Through Complexity in Your Organization and Get Things Done.

Leadership Insights from Raeleen Medrano, Vice President of Finance for IBM North America

(from Women at IBM, Facebook)

Meet Raeleen Medrano and read what she has to say about making a difference in her global career, tackling problems outside your comfort zone, and achieving the all-important work life balance

What made you decide to work for IBM?

IBM's Raeleen Medrano

IBM’s Raeleen Medrano

I joined IBM (in Australia) because it was a large international company and I believed I would have the opportunity to work in many different areas and would have the chance to use what I’d learned in gaining my degree.  Now, twenty-six years later, what makes me stay at IBM is very much the same – the opportunity to work on a global scale, and really apply my financial know-how to drive business performance.  I feel like I can make a difference every day at IBM, and no two days are the same.

Have you had any valuable mentors or sponsors?  How have they helped you in your career?

My mentors and sponsors really have made a difference in my career.  They helped me understand the scope of career opportunity at IBM, and helped me believe in myself, and sponsored me for opportunities – they helped me  and others believe that I could take on greater career challenges and be successful.  They’ve also been there for me when I needed business advice – for example,  how to tackle a problem in an area outside my normal scope. Just recently, one of my very first formal mentors, helped me with a client situation.  Being in finance, we’re not dealing with clients on a regular basis, and it was really important that I got this particular contact right – my mentor helped me prepare, and helped me role play with the questions the client was likely to ask me about the business.  It really made a difference by giving me greater confidence in tackling a conversation where I wasn’t in my comfort zone.

Can you describe an interesting project?

Beginning last year, I’ve had the tremendous opportunity to work on a project to better understand how IBM can be successful in Africa.  It has been a terrific learning experience and has given me the opportunity to build on my leadership skills and work with other IBMers on what actions we can take as a company to drive profitable growth in an extremely exciting and emerging market.  We gained hands on experience in Africa, and established many new relationships – both inside and outside IBM.

Has IBM provided you with any unique work-life integration solutions?

I’ve been a “working mother” at IBM now for almost twenty years.  I’ve learned many solutions to managing work-life integration, and I’ve found IBM to be an excellent partner in that journey.  I’ve always found my managers to be very supportive, and also the line leaders that I’ve supported over the years.  One of the cool things about achieving work-life integration at IBM is the fact that when you strive for it, it usually enables others to do the same.  When I’ve needed to attend to matters outside IBM, for example attending my daughter’s soccer games, I let my team know that I trust them to cover things for me while I’m away.  Not only does this help me cover work while I’m gone, it let’s my team know I have confidence in them too.  It also let’s them know it’s OK to do the same – and that I’ll cover for them, and they cover for each other when they need time away from the office as well.  It creates a positive teaming environment, and everyone feels like they can get the things done that are important to them – inside and outside the office.

What makes you proud to be an IBMer?

There are many things that make me proud to be an IBMer – and one of the most important is the foundation of integrity that we have at IBM.  It makes me feel very proud to know that IBM will always insist on doing the right thing, and really make a positive difference in society.  Our clients, shareholders and employees can all count on that – and that’s very important.


–Posted by Regan Kelly

Share your comments below – how have you achieved balance with your career in your life?

IBM Telecommuters: New Study Says You Can Handle 19 More Hours of Work

While 9-to-5 workers report work-life balance issues after just 38 hours, flex-time telecommuters work 57 hours before experiencing the same problems.

(from Datamation)

A new Brigham Young University study of 24,436 IBM employees in 75 countries has revealed another benefit of telecommuting: telecommuters report maintaining their work-life balance while working up to 19 hours longer than their traditional counterparts.

Woman working at home, sitting on bed with laptop and coffee mug

Appropriate attire for working at home

For the study, researchers identified the “tipping point” as the number of hours when 25 percent of employees said that work was interfering with their personal/family life. Among employees with traditional hours, that point came after just 38 hours. For flex-time workers who spent some time at the office and some time telecommuting, that point came after 57 hours.

Not surprisingly, IBM managers have increasingly been embracing these flex-time/telecommuting arrangements, with 80 percent agreeing that productivity increases when employees have this type of flexibility.


Current IBMers: is this news to you? Do you put in more hours when you’re working at home?

‘Best’ Is the Enemy of ‘Good’ – The Imperfect Balance between Life and Work

by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business Review

You can have it all. It just won’t all be perfect.

After years of observing individual struggles to achieve work-life balance — and of enlightened companies to provide it — I’ve concluded that one major hurdle is artificial images of perfection. Certainly institutional structures don’t make it easy to balance work and the rest of life. This is especially true in the U.S., where vacations are short, sabbaticals are rare, school schedules don’t align with office hours, and working parents cobble together their own costly support systems. But in addition, American culture holds up myths of perfection — the perfect body, the perfect job, the perfect child, the perfect lawn — that consume time, money, and attention. This plagues everyone, but especially women who are candidates for high-powered careers.

Woman working in an office and cradling a toddler

Having it all?

Some pundits posit a polarizing argument about the prospects for work-life integration between Princeton’s Anne-Marie Slaughter and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. Slaughter went public with her decision to leave a top-ranking U.S. State Department job to return to academia and her family of teenagers because, she indicated in an article in The Atlantic, women simply can’t have it all. She thereby imposed on everyone her experience in a high-burnout job demanding extensive international travel and a commute between Washington and New Jersey. Not exactly your typical job. In contrast, Sandberg, whose own career as Facebook chief operating officer is presumably pretty demanding itself, has used numerous public speeches to urge young women to keep their ambitions high and find a job they love before they have children, so they will want to keep the job while growing the family.

I’m with Sandberg in seeking a guilt-free zone where people have more choices and don’t turn trade-offs into insurmountable obstacles. One way to do this is to stop seeking perfection and settle for good-enough, or even not-at-all. Far be it for me to argue against high standards. But the leaders I know who integrate work and life particularly happily have chosen to let a few things slip here and there in order to focus on the important things. They pick their areas of excellence and ignore others. A woman executive who doesn’t drink coffee never learned how to make it, thus saving many hours of time over the years while never being forced into coffee-service role early in her career. At home she talked to her children while someone else made the coffee.

Perfection myths have a do-it-yourself flavor. DIY might work well for hobbies, but for everything else, successful work-life integrators delegate like crazy, resources permitting. Arlie Hochschild’s book The Outsourced Self decries paying for services like dog-walking or babysitting (plus some California specials like dream-finders) but except for the most basic human interactions, like a family member in the hospital, or strategic decisions only you can make, why not find or hire others who specialize in that service and can fill gaps? Only subsistence farmers make everything themselves. The division of labor built modern society.

Sometimes what is assumed to constitute perfection can be counter-productive. Babies kept in sterile environments without exposure to a little dirt seem to get more illnesses as adults. Co-workers who bond with one another over after-hours beer and pizza do not necessarily form better teams, but they pressure others to think so. Companies that delay a product launch until every detail is perfected do not necessarily have better-received products; they can miss market timing and the chance to get user feedback to make rapid adjustments.

Lack of perfection has an honorable tradition in some religions. Flaws are built into Amish quilts, for example, out of the belief that only God can make things perfect. Does that kind of belief system make it easier to accept limitations and tradeoffs? “The choice to do anything doesn’t mean you can do everything,” said Debora Spar, president of Barnard College and my former HBS colleague, in response to the Slaughter’s article.

For those who get over the perfection trap, there are numerous tricks to find more time and thus more balance. Robert Pozen, chairman of mutual fund company MFS who also teaches at HBS, has written Extreme Productivity to show how focus and a stream of small wins can make major achievements possible. In her book Sleeping with your Smartphone (not a how-to guide) Leslie Perlow shows the virtues of device-free time in a consulting firm, when team members have the freedom not to respond.

A European executive takes six weeks of vacation in the U.S. with his family while activities continue at his firm, but he’s willing to live with temporary discomfort. “I’m micromanaging from afar, not always the best solution, but that’s what comes with trying to do it all,” he said in a cheerful email.

“Best is the enemy of good,” it’s often said. A cultural shift to get out of the perfection trap can also free up time to work on the bigger changes needed to bring work and life into better alignment.


Got comments? Let us know, in the Leave a Reply box!

About the author:

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Rosabeth Moss Kanter is a professor at Harvard Business School and the
author of Confidence and SuperCorp. Her 2011 HBR article, “How Great Companies Think Differently,” won a McKinsey Award for best article.