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Collaboration without burnout: A guide for remote team leaders
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Collaboration without burnout: A guide for remote team leaders

Too much collaboration leads to burnout. Here are 5 ways to consciously develop healthy virtual collaboration in the workplace.

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Teamwork is like a bicycle chain—without it, you can’t get where you need to go. But it only turns smoothly if all the parts work well together. 

And just as a rusty chain can harm your bike, burnout can threaten the smooth working of your remote teams. Burnout isn’t just a feeling—it’s a psychological condition that’s caused by prolonged stress and overwork. It can take months to undo and only hurts your people and your company in the process. 

Remote workers can suffer from burnout due to over-collaboration, ineffective collaboration, or a lack of clarity at work. By being mindful of how you and your teams work together you can avoid harmful, unnecessary stress that can lead to burnout. 

By creating clarity for employees and making meetings as productive as possible, you can boost teamwork and make remote collaboration more enjoyable for everyone.

That’s why in this article we’ll walk you through five best practices to achieve collaboration without burnout and how you can implement them in your small remote teams.

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1. Be intentional about collaboration 

Healthy teamwork doesn’t just happen. It requires constant communication and effort.

The first step toward avoiding remote work burnout is being intentional and creating an environment where collaboration can thrive. 

By doing so, you develop a framework that gives your people clarity and lets them know the why behind what they do. This helps everyone prioritize their well-being and maintain a healthy work-life balance, while also achieving their goals.

Start by establishing clear guidelines for communication and teamwork, including:

  1. Expectations for response times. Encourage everyone to acknowledge and respond to team members’ messages and emails by a certain time. This doesn’t mean you have to always be online—let people know when you’re taking a break so they know when to expect a response.

  2. Defining roles and responsibilities. Make sure everyone understands their responsibilities and those of their colleagues. This way, they’ll always know what they’re supposed to be working on and why it’s important. This helps reduce stress, confusion, and duplicated work and ensures everyone can complete their tasks efficiently.
  3. Where to find what information. When people know where certain communications live and how important files are organized, they’ll spend less time searching for what they need. To avoid overwhelm, create in-depth Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) dedicated to internal communications. For example, you can highlight that instant messages and lower-priority information live on Slack, project-related documents on Asana, and newsletters and company policies on Notion.
Pro tip: Switchboard is a browser-based workspace that lets you work together on documents and apps inside a virtual room without having to share your screen.

Switchboard has persistent rooms that save your work. Keep all your important documents and SOPs in dedicated virtual spaces for people to access whenever they need them.
 Switchboard room with open files and notes
Switchboard’s permanent rooms save all your documents and files for easier access. Source: Switchboard

2. Know when to work async and in real time 

Collaboration doesn’t, and shouldn’t, just happen during meetings. Before starting to work together on a project, think about if it might actually be more productive to do it async. This way, you can receive input and move things along without having to play “availability Tetris” with everyone’s calendar. 

Working asynchronously also helps avoid collaboration overload because it lets your people tackle a task whenever they work best. If they need to go to an appointment in the morning or take a mid-day walk, they can do so without worrying about falling behind on a project. 

To set your team up for both synchronous and asynchronous work, start by asking yourself these questions: 

  1. Do you really need a meeting to move things along or can the different stakeholders work separately on their own schedules?

  2. If you do need a meeting, who absolutely has to be involved? If someone really doesn’t need to be there, don’t send them an invite. Instead, give them that time back.

  3. Are those Google Docs comments hard to interpret? Jump on a quick huddle or send a Loom video instead of a scheduled meeting to save time.
  4. How, when, and where do your people do their best work? If you know someone really isn’t a morning person, scheduling an 8 am call with them won’t be a good use of anyone’s time. Also, take your team members’ time zones into consideration and schedule calls inside everyone’s natural working hours to avoid burnout.
Pro tip: High-performing teams need to have the right tools for effective collaboration. 

Switchboard is designed to improve real-time teamwork, connections, and productivity through intuitive meeting rooms that double as virtual canvases. You can create cloud-based virtual spaces for brainstorming, spontaneous meetings, or connecting with clients.
Five team members working together in a Switchboard virtual room
Switchboard gives you a dynamic workspace where your team members can complete tasks before, during, and after calls and brainstorming sessions. Source: Switchboard

3. Set your team up for more collaborative meetings 

Sometimes, virtual meetings get a bad reputation—mainly because they can run too long, don’t have a focused agenda, or can be one-sided. But for distributed teams, they’re still an essential element of collaboration. The important thing is to implement some best practices to make them as engaging and productive as possible, because, when everyone works together during meetings, you create a chain of ideas and actions that can take you further than you ever could alone.

To run better meetings, make sure to:

  1. Have an agenda for every call to keep you on track and let participants know what they’re going to be discussing. If you’re using Switchboard, you can keep an agenda in your meeting room for everyone to access and add to before your meeting.

  2. Make sure everyone has equal time to contribute, whether that’s coaxing quiet colleagues out of their shells or using virtual whiteboards during calls to give team members the chance to add their points of view.

  3. Use the right collaboration tools. For example, tools like Switchboard have persistent rooms that save any files, apps, or documents you add so you can work on them at any time. It also gives your people more clarity because they’ll always know where to go to find the information they need. 

4. Foster psychological safety

When people feel safe to express their opinions, ask for help, and make mistakes without fear of humiliation or punishment, they’re more likely to engage in productive discussions and take calculated risks. According to the Harvard Business Review, this creates healthier group dynamics, improved problem-solving, and an overall positive remote work culture that reduces the risk of burnout.

To foster psychological safety in distributed teams: 

  1. Establish company values that build trust and promote kindness. They are the bedrock of your organization and help guide people’s decision-making, as well as define the company culture. When everyone is aligned on shared values, it’s easier for them to support each other and work together well.
  2. Lead by example. When you live your values, practice transparent communication, and display vulnerability, your people are more likely to do the same. This means they’ll feel more comfortable bringing up any issues so you can solve them effectively.
  3. Keep the lines of communication open to make sure team members feel heard and can speak to each other quickly and effectively. You can do this by choosing three or four communication tools for your remote teams, each suited to different situations and working styles—whether it’s in real-time or async, through instant messaging or video conferencing.
  1. Ask for and give honest feedback regularly. Empowering people to share their honest input with leadership is a great way to build trust and demonstrate your commitment to your team. Giving actionable, objective feedback also shows that you’re invested in their growth and want to see them shine.
  2. Set up regular check-ins and 1:1s so you can spot burnout before it happens. Use your check-in sessions to discuss people’s work and any challenges or issues they might be facing—from unmanageable workloads to isolation from their colleagues.
Pro tip: When you use Switchboard for 1:1s, you have access to private rooms dedicated to your conversation with that person. Anything you put in that room will stay there, all ready for your next conversation.
Screenshot of a user starting a 1:1 meeting
Holding regular check-ins and 1:1s helps your people feel heard and gives them a space to discuss any issues they might be having. Source: Switchboard

5. Make sure you and your employees feel comfortable setting boundaries

Not everyone feels comfortable saying “no.” But burnout only worsens over time so you need to encourage your people to take ownership of their workload and set clear boundaries when their workdays start to get too much. 

This is especially important in remote work environments where it's harder for you to see the signs of burnout. By communicating with your teams, you can protect their work-life balance and help them become their most capable selves.

Additionally, some projects and roles are at greater risk of scope creep due to increasing client demands, staffing shortages, and poor communication. That means you, as the leader, need to know how to set boundaries to protect your employees. 

Here are three ways to help your people set boundaries to avoid burnout:

  • Respect everyone’s work-life balance. This doesn’t just mean telling people to only work and respond to messages during their normal work hours, but setting this example yourself. It also means being mindful of team members’ time zone differences. Remember, a bicycle chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so it is important to support and lift up your teammates to strengthen the chain of collaboration.

  • Provide training on time management and prioritization. Effective time management and prioritization skills can help teams manage their workloads better and avoid unnecessary stress. By training your people in this way, you can help them develop skills that will ultimately lead to better teamwork and productivity. For example, you can train them on setting SMART goals, Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), and time blocking.

  • Avoid overload by implementing the 3Ms framework. The 3Ms framework is a system designed by cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Sahar Yousef and involves taking three types of breaks at work to destress. “Macro breaks” (a half or full day off every month), “meso breaks” (two to four hours off every week), and “micro breaks” (a few minutes off every day). As well as not actively working, this also means taking a complete mental break and detaching from any responsibilities you have during that period. 
Pro tip: A good way to destress while helping your people make deeper connections with their team members is through team-building activities for remote workers. Think about which activities, events, and games might bring your employees closer together. When you’re able to engage and motivate your teams and have some fun in the process, they’re more likely to have each other’s backs and allow collaborative work to come naturally.

Collaboration without burnout: The key to creating a well-oiled machine 

Like a rusty chain, too much teamwork can lead to burnout and slow your team down.

One-sided meetings, a lack of clarity, and unnecessary notifications can create stress for your distributed workers. It can also be harder to collaborate when your team lacks a dedicated workspace where they can find each other. 

To create a culture of mindful collaboration and keep your remote employees on track, you need to establish clear communication channels, minimize roadblocks to working together, and make meetings as engaging as possible. 

That’s why in this article we walked you through five best practices for collaboration without burnout, including: setting your team up for more collaborative meetings, fostering psychological safety, and knowing when to work async or in real time. 

When it comes to giving your people a place to do their best work, Switchboard is the oil that keeps your team working smoothly. Switchboard gives you an interactive online collaboration hub that brings all your people, remote work apps, and documents together so everyone can focus on creating a thriving, healthy collaborative work culture. 

Happy riding!

Ready to ride past collaboration overload and reduce team burnout?
Switchboard is the virtual collaboration workspace your remote teams need to work together more productively and spontaneously.
Sign up for free

Frequently asked questions about collaboration without burnout

Why does collaboration fail?

In remote companies, collaboration can fail for a variety of reasons, including: 

  1. Communication breakdown: When teams don’t communicate effectively, they face misunderstandings, missed deadlines, and unmet expectations. 
  2. Lack of clarity at work: Collaboration needs clear and agreed-upon goals and objectives. Without a shared understanding of what you're trying to achieve, your people might have conflicting priorities, leading to disagreements and, ultimately, failure.
  3. Poor planning and execution: Teamwork needs careful planning and execution. If teams don’t put in the necessary time and effort to plan and execute the project, collaboration can fail.
  4. Lack of trust and psychological safety: Effective teamwork relies on trust and mutual respect among partners. If collaborators don’t trust each other or feel safe enough to discuss their concerns and ideas, they may withhold information or not fulfill their commitments. 

What are some strategies to collaborate without burning out?

Some strategies to collaborate without burning out include: 

  1. Be intentional about collaboration
  2. Know when to work async and in real time 
  3. Set your team up for more collaborative meetings 
  4. Foster psychological safety 
  5. Make sure you and your people are comfortable setting boundaries

Is too much collaboration a bad thing?

Too much collaboration or ineffective collaboration can lead to lowered productivity and burnout. That’s mainly because it can slow the decision-making process, reduce individual accountability, and increase meeting fatigue and information overload.

Stop, collaborate, and listen

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Ready to ride past collaboration overload and reduce team burnout?

Switchboard is the virtual collaboration workspace your remote teams need to work together more productively and spontaneously.