Email Overload & More Unexpected Drawbacks of Working From Home

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When many workers transitioned to working from home, there was a sense of excitement about all of the newfound perks — sitting in commuter traffic was no longer part of the daily grind, work hours became more flexible and pants became optional. But there are a number of unexpected drawbacks that also became a part of work from home life, like overflowing inboxes and distracting housemates.

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A recent survey conducted by Superhuman examined how the pandemic and shift to remote work impacted employee satisfaction — and discovered some of the downsides of WFH life that negatively affect satisfaction the most.

Workers Have To Contend With Additional Distractions

There are several pros to working in an office, including fewer inherent distractions and less temptation to give in to distractions with watchful eyes all around us. But when working from home, the survey found that 11% of employees are distracted by keeping up with the news, 12% are distracted by talking to friends and family on messaging apps, 17% are distracted by checking social media and 18% are distracted by family members or roommates. But the No. 1 distraction employees face while working from home is work communications, with 30% saying they are distracted by constant emails and Slack/Teams messages.

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With in-person communication eliminated, work-from-home employees are getting more emails than ever — and this can become a real distraction. But, there are ways to not let the additional work communication derail your productivity.

“My tip for staying focused is to block time on your calendar,” said Gaurav Vohra, head of growth at Superhuman. “Just like you might have a meeting on your calendar, I like to block 30-, 60- or even 90-minute ‘focus’ blocks where I intend to get a piece of work done. During those times I close Slack and email, and turn off all systems that might distract me. Limit the time spent in your inbox to one to two dedicated time slots.”

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‘Zoom Fatigue’ Is Now a Real Issue

Pre-pandemic, video calls were pretty rare — but now they’ve become the norm. And many remote employees wish this were not the case: 44% dream of a workday without video calls, the survey found. However, there are things workers can do to make video calls less draining.

“My secret to fighting Zoom fatigue is to avoid looking at Zoom,” Vohra said. “I religiously turn off the view that shows you your own face, since as we all know quite well at this point that staring at your face all day can be very exhausting. Where possible, I determine whether the call can be audio-only. Some of my most enjoyable one-on-one conversations are spent walking through the park on the phone rather than being in front of my computer. And before scheduling a Zoom call, it’s also important to consider whether the meeting is truly necessary or if it can be covered over an email or Slack.”

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Workers Are Now Caught in the ‘Responsiveness Cycle’

Working from home has blurred the lines between “on” and “off” times, making workers feel like they must constantly be responding to work communications at all hours. Most employees (63%) said they are likely to reply immediately to an email from their boss or team. In addition, 46% said they check email before starting their morning routine, with 43% checking their email within six to 30 minutes of waking up.

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“For some people, the early morning may be an ideal time to catch up on email since there are minimal distractions,” Vohra said. “However, others may prefer to dedicate that time to personal commitments and activities, such as taking a child to school or working out. Both are completely fine. The key is making sure that people do not always feel pressured to check their inboxes and other work communications. It’s important to ensure there are clear and consistent expectations within your team and company around email read and response times.”

Read More: Working From Home Will Make Us More Productive, Study Says

It’s Difficult To Achieve and Maintain ‘Inbox Zero’

Nearly all remote workers (96%) say it’s important to achieve “inbox zero,” the elusive inbox status that is achieved when every email has been archived, delegated or answered. But with workers getting more emails than ever, keeping inboxes under control has become a bigger challenge. In fact, 40% of workers said they never achieve “inbox zero.”

Vohra offers the following tips to get your email inbox under control:

  • “Develop a system for triaging your email. You typically will only have a handful of actions for a given email: archive, mark to be responded to later (using a star or a reminder, for example), or reply and then archive. When handling your email, be intentional about when you’re in ‘triage mode’ versus when you’re in ‘deep work’ mode.
  • Use keyboard shortcuts to speed up repetitive tasks, such as archiving and deleting emails.
  • Recognize when an email is going to take more than a minute to read and handle, and defer it to a more dedicated block of time. Ideally, you can quickly get through your entire inbox in just a few minutes in ‘triage mode’ without getting unexpectedly bogged down in a single conversation for 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Rely on search instead of organizing your emails into folders. Oftentimes, it is easier and more efficient to just search your inbox using keywords.”

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Last updated: May 27, 2021

About the Author

Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and People.com. Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert. 

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