In March 2020, millions of people worldwide were suddenly switched to remote work. This had unprecedented effects on everything from the environment to our social and business. In nearly every sector globally employers and employees faced a daily challenge of changing routines and mindset into a new world of working. And perhaps unsurprisingly, employee health took a hit too.
Two years on, with many people still working at least partly from home, proactive employers need to be aware of the risks to their employees’ wellbeing as we all navigate our way through new our new normal.
We spoke to two of Career Moves’ experts on employee mental health, Ryan Harvey and Katharine Lamba, to get their insights on the effects of remote work and what employers can do to combat them.
How remote work affects wellbeing
A predictable effect of remote work is that employees feel less connected to their colleagues. According to one survey, 59% of remote workers said they felt ‘isolated’ when working from home — which can be damaging to mental health.
‘Everyone is very well connected online,’ says Katharine Lamba, Career Moves’ HR Consultant, ‘but not being able to have those chats in the kitchen, or calling over to somebody, or going out to lunch with that person. I think people felt that.’
Many people have also found that they work longer hours with WFH, especially during lockdowns when there was little else to do. A recent RSPH survey finding that 56% of remote workers find it harder to switch off. Others felt the need to prove their productivity by pushing themselves to work at unsustainable levels. When left unchecked, this can quickly lead to burnout.
To add fuel to the fire, whilst WFH can offer lifestyle flexibility the comfort of working in pyjama bottoms, it can also lead to a more sedentary lifestyle. It turns out that pesky commute helped keep us that little bit more active. A lack of physical activity is positively associated with an increase in health problems, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and anxiety.
4 ways to look after your remote employees’ well-being
Here are a few things employers can do to help protect their remote employees’ physical and mental health:
Track wellness with polls and surveys
Even when everyone’s in the office, it can be difficult to tell when someone is struggling.
‘It’s difficult to pinpoint,’ says Katharine, ‘and at the same time, you don’t want to overstep and make people feel that you’re invading.’
A solution that we use at Career Moves is to conduct regular one-to-ones between heads of department and their team members. These meetings include a discussion on whether any additional help or support is needed. We also conduct feedback polls which allow employees to anonymously report how they’re feeling and any further support the company could offer.
These all help to give leaders an overall picture of the feeling on the ground — and a heads up when morale drops.
Provide a healthy work environment (even at home)
More than one in four employees working from home do so from either a sofa or a bedroom. Others work at kitchen tables, on chairs that simply weren’t designed to be used for eight hours at a time. Ensuring employees have the equipment they need for an appropriate home workspace is one of the simplest things an employer can do — but it can have big effects on employee health in the long run.
Keep check-ins regular and face-to-face
Regular check-ins can help teams to feel connected to each other, even when they’re apart. Try to use video calls for these — with cameras on. After all, while tools like Zoom are never going to be a replacement for real life, they’re a lot closer than an email — or even an audio call.
Ryan Harvey, Career Moves’ Mental Health Champion, says that ‘encouraging movement’ is as an effective way to help employees to look after their bodies and minds.
‘At Career Moves, I spearheaded a points-based sports initiative to encourage employees to move more,’ Ryan says. The initiative was run like a competition with employees gaining one point for every day they participated in a sporting activity. Those who achieved 5 points over the course of a week got to finish early on Fridays. Introducing such policies not only tells employees that it is OK to take time for their health, but it was also a brilliant way for teams to connect and forge strong social connections.
"We ensured to keep the initiative fun, always optional to take part, sharing regular updates and pictures helps keep everyone involved and open different lines of communication so everyone can feel included with what works for them best", Ryan commented.
Building a culture of wellbeing and wellness
There’s a huge number of tools and resources available to employers who want to protect their employees’ health. But nothing is more important than building a culture where employees feel it’s OK to look after themselves.
Here at Career Moves we’ve been working on a mental health feedback survey alongside a ‘wellness check in’ for our hard-working team. We also provide an Employee Assistance Programme for confidential advice and support. Alongside this we have our amazing Mental Health champion Ryan Harvey who runs wellness initiatives and extra support for anyone who needs it.
Employees should feel that you trust them to know what they need to do to take care of their health — whether that’s figuring out a hybrid schedule that keeps them balanced or taking an unplanned day off to recharge.
It also means leading by example and showing employees that switching off their computers at 5.45 pm when their day is over is fine — and even encouraged. We all need to keep work and life balance at the heart of everything we do.