When working from home, you may often listen to people’s perceptions of how it is so amazing.
At times, they even give out envious comments, such as no manager looking over your shoulder, wearing comfortable clothes all the time, working in your comfortable surrounding, and whatnot.
However, only the remote employees know the reality; it is often different from others’ perceptions.
COVID-19 has presented us with new and exciting opportunities to blend work and life; this has forever changed the working landscape.
Remote work is tricky to navigate when it comes to navigating the challenges and maintaining the work-life balance.
While people’s perception of how relaxing and comfortable work from home may not be 100% accurate, there are definitely a plethora of benefits.
Some interesting facts-
- 99% of employees reported that they would prefer to work from home for the rest of their careers.
- 40% of remote employees consider that having a flexible schedule is the biggest benefit of remote work.
- 84% of employees reported that their home is their primary work location.
- 30% of remote employees enjoy working from any location that they wish.
- 14% of employees reported that work from home increased their family time.
Though these facts represent life-changing shifts in how employees work, it is not just employees who are loving this new transformation; 91% of the companies also intend to always support remote work.
The message has been clear – the employment model is changing, and everyone seems to approve of this change.
Why can unbalanced perceptions of work from home be damaging?
Though it is easy to get excited about a new approach to working, especially when there are several benefits, we see the drawbacks when we take a step back and cut through the novelty.
Here’s a glimpse into the statistics of the struggles that remote workers tackle every day –
- 22% of the employees reported that work from home has made it difficult for them to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
- 19% of employees cited loneliness as a significant factor impacting their quality of work.
- 43% of remote employees took only 10-15 days of vacation each year.
- 10% of employees struggled with distractions at home.
- 8% of employees had trouble staying motivated to work.
The statistics present a tricky picture. 95% of employees reported that they would encourage other employees to work remotely – even though the ongoing trend seems to be filled with pitfalls.
Remote employee well-being depends on employee engagement and their interest in work, healthy work/life balance, manageable workloads, feeling included and visible, and most importantly, psychological safety to work and participate without anxiety.
Six Common Challenges that Remote Employees Encounter
Employees are fighting heightened levels of depression and anxiety at work. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, 76% of employees feel that their employers should be doing a lot more to support the mental health of their workforce.
Before understanding how to enhance the well-being of your remote employees, it is important to understand the challenges that the remote workforce faces.
Isolation and Loneliness
Remote employees feel isolated when their comfortable space – their home – becomes their office space.
They begin to miss their coworkers, random chit-chats while coffee/tea breaks, and celebrating little milestones and occasions together.
In particular, extrovert employees suffer from loneliness as they are used to gain their energy from those around them.
These employees may suffer extensively from such feelings when not supported in the right way.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation increase stress levels and disengage employees from their work and the company, both of which negatively affect emotional well-being.
Anxiety and Stress
The boundary between home and work life gets blurred for people who work in the same place they sleep. In such situations, they feel the pressure and stress 24×7.
This way, work seeps into an employee’s personal life and makes them feel that they have to contribute more because they aren’t present in the workplace.
This lack of work-life balance leads to high stress levels, ultimately leading to burnout, if not resolved.
Anxiety, loneliness, stress, and isolation for prolonged periods of time can lead to depression. As a result of this, employees feel stuck, and it causes a loss of productivity.
Employees feel frustration, loss of interest, sleep disturbance, restlessness, tiredness, trouble concentrating, irritability, and several physical problems as well.
Working from bed
Research says that two-thirds of employees don’t have a private workspace at home, which means that they cannot simply close the doors on distractions or cannot find a secure place to have a confidential conversation.
Distractions and interruptions do more than just destroying focus and wasting time. It floods the body with cortisol and other stress hormones, disrupting our internal processes.
When employees are sleeping and working in the same place, the brain gets confused. It further reports insomnia and sleep disorders skyrocketing, another cause of stress.
Lack of Private Space
Employees aged 18-34 are least likely to have a proper office setup and twice as likely to work from their beds as older employees.
As offices are evolving into places for collaboration and social interaction, work that demands reflection and focus needs to be done effectively from elsewhere.
Existing solutions to support working from home don’t support focused work.
Coffee shops and co-working spaces might be the best alternatives for a change of scene and much-required social interaction.
However, due to COVID, it won’t be possible to do so. Apart from this, these co-working spaces have too many distractions and are not designed for private calls and conversations.
82% of remote employees felt burnt out, with 52% of them working for longer hours than those in the office, and 40% of them feeling as though they were required to contribute more than their in-office colleagues.
The lines between personal and work-life blur even more during the pandemic, and now with school closures, children will be home, and working parents might struggle to separate responsibilities.
The lack of a healthy work-life balance leads to increased stress levels, and that ultimately leads to burnout when left unresolved.
The Mental Health Emergency
Research has predicted that up to 10 million people will require new or additional mental health support. *Credits to the pandemic!*
Not only the frontline workers are being affected, but also millions of white-collar employees made the switch to remote working overnight.
Employees are dawned upon with fear that a sudden shift to remote work will lead to a sharp decline in productivity.
Employers and employees embraced the shift to remote work, with two-thirds of workers revealing that they wish to work from home for the long term.
Employees are experiencing unanticipated mental health consequences from mandate remote work, and it is time to be aware of the reality.
The sudden shift to remote work as a result of social distancing during the pandemic has caused a surprising, even if relatively small, deterioration of mental health.
Factors Influencing Employee Wellbeing while Working from Home
Before we push forward to a more permanent flexible working style, it is important to reflect on the lessons that we have learned from over a year of working from home.
To understand remote employee well-being across the global landscape, research has suggested that they measured everything from several different countries’ transition to working from home to how employees think the future workplace should look like.
Following are the three primary factors that are identified as impacting employee well-being while working remotely.
A safe working environment
A safe working environment is one of the basic rights of an employee. Before working from home was common, the importance of a safe working environment could be easily overlooked.
For healthy and safe professionals, working remotely and managing the risks of each individual setup may seem like a daunting task.
However, home office setup assessments need not be time-consuming or costly. In fact, employees can conduct them with the correct training.
You, as employers, must provide e-learning materials to provide training to employees that they can complete at their own pace and from the comfort of their own home working space.
Managing stress and workload
Research shows that employees who work remotely feel more stressed, working longer hours, and are closer to burning out.
The impact of increased stress levels on engagement, productivity, and employee satisfaction is huge.
Managing work-related stress should be one of the topmost priorities for all organizations, and managers’ actions can take to relieve the risk of stress.
The first step in managing stress and workload is understanding the best practices in the reduction of stress, prevention, and management of personal and work-related stress.
Focus on mental well-being
The surveys conducted reveal that the mental impact of working from home has a detrimental effect on the overall well-being of remote workers.
This evidence shows how organizations must focus on the mental well-being of remote employees.
Employees are almost twice as likely to feel better and comfortable sharing their concerns with their peers when compared with a member of senior management or HR.
It is for the best when you train your employees on how best to support each other may be an effective way to manage stress.
10 Steps to Support Well-being of Remote Employees
Promoting well-being at the workplace is the most effective way to improve employee health, retention, and happiness.
The challenge at hand is to keep these well-being programs in place, with remote work being the way of life.
While it is challenging to provide benefits that support physical well-being, there are abundant opportunities and a strong need to support the mental well-being of employees.
Establish boundaries between work and personal life
When employees don’t get the physical break that is leaving the office and commuting home at the end of the day – it can be exhausting, and it is challenging to separate personal and professional time.
It is essential for employees to be encouraged to create boundaries between their work and personal life.
As employers and managers, you can show your concern by trusting their employees and encouraging limits to their work.
Teach your employees the importance of balancing work and personal life – this way, your employees will feel free to switch off at the end of the working day and taking all the important time for themselves to recharge.
Set up regular one-to-one(s) and really listen
One of the most significant benefits of working relationships is the ability to turn to colleagues for support.
When employees are remote, you need to work harder to maintain a strong employer-employee relationship. If any problems arise, staff should feel comfortable coming to their managers for support.
Make it a priority to set up one-on-one calls on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
Scheduling a call is not enough; you must really listen to your employees – what’s being said and what’s behind the pauses in the conversation.
If you don’t have anything interesting to talk about, discuss their goals and progress.
One-on-one calls are great ways to build trust so your employees will feel more comfortable and reassured to speak freely.
Provide an employee assistance program
Remote employees tend to suffer in silence and not reach out to others for help; to make sure no one suffers alone; you should provide your employees with an employee assistance program.
This is a confidential service that enables you to help employees with the workplace or personal issues that might be impacting their mental or physical health, well-being, or performance.
Assistance programs are at no extra cost to employees and give you a way to aid employees through problems they may be experiencing without involving the company altogether.
Set an example
If your employees are observing your unhealthy ways of working, it will be all too easy for them to adapt to the unhealthy patterns.
As a manager, you must set an excellent example and make well-being your own priority – in order for your employees to follow.
You can do this in a number of ways – maintain your work-life balance effectively, don’t check any non-urgent emails or text messages after work hours and during the weekend, or take a full lunch break.
All these little practices allow your employees to follow your lead and enjoy uninterrupted personal time.
Breaks are a must
When you don’t have your colleagues calling you out for lunch or tea breaks, you can easily sit and work remotely for eight hours straight without any breaks.
Working for long periods without taking a break leads to increased stress levels, decreased productivity, and it takes a toll on employees’ physical health.
You must encourage employees to take time for themselves throughout the day and introduce a system where you let your employees know of what is happening and when.
When employees take constant breaks, they will feel refreshed and are ready to tackle their tasks. Ultimately, it would improve the physical and mental well-being of your employees.
Set realistic goals
When dealing with remote employees, it is complicated to keep track of their workloads. This implies that employees might be working harder and longer hours to keep up with difficult goals.
On the other hand, when your remote employees don’t have any goals to look forward to – they will feel disengaged and will be lacking motivation.
Schedule calls with your employees to set achievable goals to work towards, give your employees a boost in motivation but make sure to take away these unrealistic pressures that they might have found themselves working overtime.
Keep checking in with your employees and track their progress so you can alter their goals or make adjustments to make sure that healthy stress levels are maintained.
Offer free/discounted fitness and well-being activities
Without daily commuting and running around in the office, it becomes challenging for remote employees to stay active.
It impacts physical health and has a huge impact on mental well-being, as staying active has proven to reduce depression and anxiety.
To make sure your employees are staying active, you can offer free online fitness classes, discounted or free gym memberships, or well-being sessions, online physio, and whatnot to ensure that a remote working setup is as conducive to a healthy lifestyle as possible.
Offering these activities for free and discounted prices, you make these available to the employees, no matter what their situation is.
You should do everything in your power to ensure that your employees are in the best health, both mentally and physically.
Check-in on how your employees are feeling
Sometimes employees are reluctant to admit that their work has been taking a toll on their mental well-being.
Use confidential surveys to check in with your employees and find out what they think about your organization and what all could be improved.
You can also use pulse surveys to identify the roadblocks that might impact employees’ well-being and implement solutions as effectively as possible.
Offer Private & Virtual Mental Health Support
Mental health is a kernel part of our well-being and one of the most challenging to address in the workplace.
No matter how vigorously you try to encourage a culture that validates mental health, employees may feel uncomfortable opening up about their feelings.
To promote workplace well-being, you should offer private and virtual mental health services through your company’s insurance company or a separate provider.
This will provide your employees easy access to the much-required help while working on fostering a culture that invites people to be vocal about their challenges and roadblocks they are facing.
Create an Autonomous, but Supportive Work Culture
Autonomy boosts employee motivation, happiness, and productivity.
The primary key to sustaining employee well-being gives employees enough autonomy that they feel empowered, but not to the extent that your employees feel like they can’t turn to you in times of need.
You should strike a perfect balance between autonomy and support; the amount of both depends on what your team is working on.
The key is to let your employees do the work their own way, and you must support them in whatever way required.
Working from home presents the opportunities to deliver benefits to employee health, well-being, and productivity.
The conversation around supporting the workforce needs to move beyond technology, infrastructure, and high-speed broadband.
The more the remote working culture becomes a norm, the more we learn about the mental health risks associated with poor practices of working from home.
Deploying remote collaboration tools and platforms may be a part of the solution, but it is definitely not the way to understand the crux of the problem.
You must find a way to provide an environment where employees’ well-being is the priority.
The future of work is created faster than we had ever imagined. The future of work is hybrid, and thus, we need to consider the impact of individual environments.
Till then, do everything in your power to make sure that your employees’ well-being in remote work culture is the topmost priority of your organization.
Associate Growth Manager