With its promise of bunny slipper chic and bed desks galore, working remotely has seemed like the holy grail of the world of employment ever since companies like Google and Apple began promoting it as a preferred way of working. Pre-2020, employees were so keen to escape the office that 55% even stated they’d take a pay cut to regularly work from home!
However, when the pandemic hit, the switch to remote working didn’t go quite as planned. Overnight, thousands of workers worldwide realised that remote working during lockdowns and restrictions resulted in compromises where mental health is concerned.
Not only has life changed as we know it, but the security and routine of the office has been snatched from under us. This fact has, perhaps unsurprisingly, negatively impacted mental health for around 80% of Brits.
Reasons for this vary, but a recent survey by Nuffield Health shows that the most prevalent struggles include:
- Isolation from colleagues (25%)
- Struggles with work-life balance (30%)
- Difficulty switching off (27%)
- Pressure to continually remain at workstations (36%)
Whatever the reason, it’s clear that working from home and mental health are inextricably linked. What’s more, this is an issue that’s falling under the radar as employers worry about physical health rather than the very real mental risks.
Luckily, this needn’t be an either-or situation. As we’ll be exploring here, it is possible to keep your team physically safe while also improving mental health. Let’s find out how you can make it happen.
1. Set routines to give your employees structure
The ability to stay in bed a little longer might seem like a remote perk, but this lack of familiar routine is behind mental struggles for many. Most notably, an inability to switch off, as experienced by 27% of home workers, is making way for issues such as anxiety and depression, while 30% also report finding it difficult to separate their work and home lives.
This latter point, especially, poses worrying challenges from a mental health and wellbeing standpoint. As well as making burnout likely, an always-on mindset can lead to home life challenges. Pair that with the fact that employees typically work longer hours at home (28 more hours a month on average,) and it’s plain to see where the problem lies.
Luckily, daily routines are the ideal remedy. Your influence here is, obviously, a little different when employees are at home and left to their own devices (quite literally), but some routine-setting steps you can still take include:
- Regular video call check-ins (preferably in the morning for same-time wake-ups)
- Set lunch/break times across your business
- Reliable finish times
- Work in a dedicated office space if you can, away from where you relax. Those lucky enough to have this space shouldn’t take it for granted — a cramped flat might have to do!
This will, hopefully, make it easier for employees to differentiate between their work and home lives, like they usually would in the office.
2. Incorporate human interaction into home working
Much as we like the idea of hiding away some days, we are a social species. Being stranded on our home islands could certainly see us going a little Tom Hanks from Castaway if we aren’t careful, Wilson and all.
Speaking of which, the role of Wilson nicely proves this next point — human interaction is fundamental to healthy mental functioning. Rather than balls, though, you need to provide team members with human interaction to see WFH succeed.
In large part, technology is the best way to ensure your team doesn’t join the 25% feeling isolated in home offices. Video calls not only set routines but also provide some much-needed face-to-face. Equally, tools like Slack and Zoom make for easy and continued inter-team communications, and can make a huge difference. Schedule phone calls where you can. After all, it’s much easier to get to know someone over the phone rather than over email. This also helps encourage social communications as well as business chat.
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3. Continue prioritising personal development
As a species, we’re tailored towards progress at all times. This is especially vital in our careers but is increasingly difficult to achieve while so much in the world seems paused. With priorities shifting, personal development has become less pressing. However, it may well be this lack of progress that’s causing employees to stagnate.
In reality, there’s no reason to stop training. In fact, redoubling your efforts could be the ideal way to help teams adjust and continue to grow. But what exactly does training look like in a world where we’re miles apart?
- Video content like those offered by Video Arts are the heart of any remote learning focus. Humorous options that your team can access as and when suits could actually see their skills soaring more than even traditional training. Whether you’re teaching teams how to succeed remotely or developing key employees for higher roles, engaging videos can help you do it.
- Increased one-to-ones. Regular one-to-one communication is vital, and now that you can’t walk up to your colleague’s desk to have a chat, you need to make more of an effort to speak to employees. By arranging one-to-ones with developing employees at least once a month via video calls etc., you can check in on how their learning is progressing and offer praise that will give your employees the boost they’re lacking right now.
Equally important is offering constructive feedback when necessary, as well as having difficult conversations when problems arise. While it’s harder to orchestrate these while remote, regularly reaching out and checking in will help create a culture of support and make it easier to help your employees.
4. Provide access to support
While prevention is better than cure, it sadly doesn’t provide foolproof solutions. For that, you need to think about how to help employees who are already suffering. The good news is that focusing on communication in the ways already mentioned can make a difference, but you need to push even further for colleague peace of mind.
So what does a robust management mental health learning programme look like? This programme should help:
- Spot the signs — while this is harder to do remotely, it’s important that managers check in and look after employees (as we discussed, increased one-to-one communication will help with this). This will help you identify when someone may not be ok, even if they say they are fine. For example, this person could be falling behind with their work, showing disinterest or their general mood may have changed. Spot the signs and then…
- Have a process in place — liaise with HR on a process, including where the employer stands and what support mechanisms you have in place. For example, a line manager needs to know the protocols and HR support available should the need arise, and is able to advise on time off that can be given, etc. Being empathetic to your employees is vital during this time and managers should know what steps and actions can be taken.
- Embed a culture of self soothing — Ensure your employees know that it’s ok to not be ok. Create an open workplace and make it known that going through a tough time is normal, but it is temporary and they can bounce back. However, even if employees do feel ok, there is no guarantee that they won’t feel down at some point so it’s important to check in with yourself — after all, this is a unique situation and many people are having a difficult time.
You might also consider providing other resources such as remote counselling services. Without asking employees to go anywhere, implementing solutions ensures everyone can access the help they need when they need it.
Mental health matters — make sure it doesn’t fall by the wayside
There’s a lot to focus on in health terms this year, with continued pandemic stresses putting physical wellbeing understandably at the heart of any managerial focus. But taking steps to also oversee mental health is fundamental, and achieving this largely comes down to finding new ways to operate.
When paired with remote-specific mental health solutions, these simple steps could save your team, or at least stop them from feeling the sting of remote isolation.
If you’d like to learn more about delivering effective remote learning experiences to your employees, get in touch. We provide digital bite-sized learning and development videos that will engage and entertain your employees. And a bit of humour thrown in makes a nice change of pace given the current situation — it’s just what’s needed for the remote workplace right now!