How to work remotely and not get stressed or lonely

So many of us are remote working these days and there are many positives about that, but it is also important to be aware of the potential well being downsides and to address them.

Woman leans on a table looking depressed

 

Remote working aids work life balance, so they say, and it is true until, perhaps, you add homeschooling into the mix. There are numerous benefits to remote working which stretch from reducing commuting times and pollution to decreasing sickness and overall stress levels due to not having to rush.

But, as with most things, there are two sides to the mental health question. On the one hand, less rushing around can aid mental well being; on the other the isolation of remote working and the difficulty some people find with the blurring of the work/life line can create their own mental health issues.

A new guide highlights the mental health impact of remote working and is timely.

Remote working: a practical safety guide for businesses by communications business Glide makes the business case for focusing on employee well being, from recruiting the best talent to reduced absences and more motivated employees. The up sides of remote working include fewer distractions, less office politics and less sickness. The down side can be greater isolation, which is why communication is key.

Using tools such as shared calendars [to know who’s off, who is in meetings and who is around – and when], video or audio conferences, instant messenger, screen sharing and project management tools help connect people and smooth working processes.

Challenges

The biggest challenges for remote workers include blurring of boundaries between work and home, isolation and lack of collaboration.

A 2019 US study, State of Remote Work, found that, while there were a lot of positives to working remotely, 49% of workers said their biggest struggle was wellness-related; 22% couldn’t unplug after work; 19% felt lonely; and 8% couldn’t stay motivated.

The Glide report suggests:

  • Trying to create a dedicated workspace with clear boundaries for when you’re working – and when you’re not to avoid the blurring of home and family life
  • Making it a priority to keep up communication and organising events to bring everyone together, whether focused on business updates or for social reasons.
  • Using collaboration tools and thinking about new ways to collaborate remotely.

A culture of well being

The guide highlights the importance of organisations creating a culture that promotes mental well being. That means making sure everyone still feels like they’re part of a team. This can mean planning further ahead than you would normally do to ensure everyone feels included in any meetings or social events.

Another key issue is making sure that if an employee does some good work, they get recognition – whether they work remotely or not. Also, it’s worth remembering that if standards are slipping or things aren’t getting completed on time, it shouldn’t be assumed that it’s because of working from home. Managers should instead find out if the employee needs additional support or assistance first, says the guide.

Regular communication is vital, including company newsletters but also something more personalised for smaller teams, and trusting – and empowering – team members lies at the heart of flexible working.

The guide states: “Whatever methods you deploy to maintain culture among your remote workers, it’s worth tracking any progress and changes. This can be done informally, or with regular surveys to record any improvements in productivity and wellbeing, as well as any cause for concern.”

Showing you take mental well being seriously means not only looking out for symptoms of ill health [for instance, struggles with motivation, being short-tempered, withdrawal from usual conversation and activities and appearing distracted], but embedding it into reward and management accountability policies.

This includes role modelling positive behaviour and publicly reporting on your wellbeing performance in external communications such as annual reports, auditing the mental health risks as well as the physical ones and developing a plan for minimising them to recognising, rewarding line manager empathy and compassion and training employees and managers in active listening and open questions.

The guide states: “To succeed, you have to make mental health a priority – it should be seen as ‘business as usual’ for managers.”

The full guide can be accessed here.

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