The mental health challenges of remote working

An event this week brought remote workers from around the world together to talk about mental health.

 

Remote working will become the norm and managers need to learn new ways of leading to deal with it, including getting office-based team members to work well with remote colleagues, a virtual conference of remote workers heard this week.

Rachelle Denton, co-founder of creative agency the Storm Collective, told the Minds@Work conference that remote workers also needed to take control of their working environment and that managers needed to listen more to their remote workers.

Jenny Varley, Global Head of Communications at HSBC and founder of Flink, a job share matching platform, spoke of her experience of managing a remote team member in the past and how it was not until she was forced to work remotely for a while that she realised the kind of support that was needed. “You need to be very self disciplined,” she said. “Isolation is a thing, including information isolation.”

She added that burn-out was also a big problem, with remote workers overcompensating for the ‘privilege’ of working from home. She advised taking regular breaks to walk around, being aware of overworking tendencies, networking and investing in your home office environment, for instance, in a decent chair. She spoke of the need for employers to create ways for remote workers to feedback, given they were at risk of being talked over in conference calls, and to have spontaneous conversations. Technology tools were good, but the main thing was for managers to focus on outputs and to trust their team members.

Understand the remote working culture

Brittnee Bond, founder of Remote Collective, told the conference reiterated the point about the need for senior leaders to understand what remote working meant. “Tell your CEOs to try working remotely for a week,” she said, adding that employers need “to create an environment where remote workers can thrive.”

She reiterated that isolation was a challenge for remote workers, especially since many people found their friends through work. She advised going to “where the community is already”, such as using co-working spaces at least one day a week, volunteering or business networks.

She said: “Sometimes employers hand employees the option of working remotely, but they do not realise it is a completely different culture. Everything at work is scheduled and there are meetings. At home you are completely on your own. It can be overwhelming.”

She thinks the future is likely to be a growing number of people mixing remote and location-based working around other responsibilities. “Employers need to continue to try to get better at managing remote workers and employees need to keep speaking up about what they need. They both need to work together,” said Brittnee.

Many conference goers were remote workers who had joined from wherever they worked while some participants were physically in a meeting room. Discussions took place between remote workers from Mexico to Canada to the UK on issues around mental health and support networks.



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