After years of existing on the fringes of the employment landscape, remote workers are quickly becoming a worldwide norm. The sudden spread of COVID-19 across the globe forced business around the world to alter the business model for the sake of public health. Suddenly faced with a pandemic of unrivaled proportions, countless business leaders ordered their employees to work from home.
If recent trends are any indication, the bulk of those newly remote workers will stay there into the foreseeable future. And, while it may take a bit of getting used to, remote work has numerous benefits, for employers and workers alike. For starters, opening up a particular position to an expansive list of candidates, regardless of location, gives hiring managers the opportunity to recruit the very best. Further, business owners may be able to drastically cut expenses such as rent, utilities, and equipment upgrades because physical offices are no longer needed.
On the employee side, remote work offers unparalleled flexibility when compared to a traditional office job. Research indicates that it may even make you happier. Remote workers report greater work-life balance and focus, as well as less overall stress than their traditionally-employed counterparts.
Yet that may not be the entire story: prolonged isolation can be detrimental to everyone’s health, and remote workers are no exception. When your workforce is stressed out, lonely, and unhappy, you’ll likely see a resulting loss of production and even revenue. As a business leader or manager, the health of your employees should be your top priority, no matter where they are around the world. Here’s how you can prioritize the health and wellbeing of your remote employees, while also inspiring them to be the best they can be — now and into the post-COVID future.
Give Your Company Health Policies an Overhaul
When you think of the word “health,” what comes to mind? Especially under the continued threat of a viral pandemic, it’s easy to equate the concept of health with one’s physical body. Indeed, from a business standpoint, the physical health of your employees is of paramount importance.
Researchers have determined that performing a job while ill or otherwise infirm reduces individual productivity by at least one-third. Referred to as presenteeism, the issue of workers being on the job yet not fully present is a costly problem that can greatly harm your company’s bottom line. In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review, the annual costs of presenteeism amount to billions of dollars.
As such, your company’s sick day and absence policies should foster individual health and wellness. Within your sick day policy, emphasize the importance of avoiding work when one is not able to function at full capacity, whether due to illness or injury. You can even consider including a sick day mandate, wherein employees are prohibited from working while ill.
Further, strive for transparency in the realm of employee policies and procedures, and make sure that remote employees have the option of making up hours missed due to illness.
Be Clear on What a Work Day Looks Like
No matter your industry, you may not realize the true tenacity of remote workers. When the lines between work and everyday life become blurry, it can be hard to know when to call it a day. Remote workers are at high risk of developing work addiction, defined as the compulsive urge to overwork.
Thanks to modern technology, today’s remote workforce often has 24/7 access to their work tasks. Thus, work addiction is a real threat among those working from home, especially those who struggle to find a good work-life balance. Like most forms of addiction, work addiction can be detrimental to individual health, both mentally and physically, and can also negatively impact personal relationships, including those that aren’t job-related.
The negative effects of work addiction include impaired judgment, decreased productivity, and poor decision-making. Prolonged overwork can also lead to burnout and the possibility that an employee will experience an emotional or nervous breakdown.
So what can business leaders do to curb work addiction and promote greater mental health? Structure and consistency are key. As you lead a remote team, implement set hours in which work can be performed. You can even choose to effectively blackout certain times and days in which employees are prohibited from working, such as Sundays or after 8 p.m.
It’s important to note that work addiction is more common than you might think, affecting about 10% of the workforce. In the case of remote workers, you may not even see the signs of work addiction until it’s too late. And when it comes to remote employee mental health, you may be even further in the dark.
Prioritize Employee Mental Health Over the Long Term
No matter how long you’ve been in a management position, you may find it difficult to identify signs of poor mental health among your employees. When the bulk of your workforce is remote, the challenges compound. Much like employees may try to hide an illness so that they can meet an important deadline, mental health issues may not be immediately apparent.
Yet telltale indicators of poor mental health may exist in your employee base, if you know what to look for. Individuals who are experiencing prolonged mental health issues may exhibit significant changes in behavior. Frequent emotional outbursts, fluctuations in weight, and rapid speech patterns are just a few of the various symptoms of mental health issues. Unfortunately, remote work channels make it easy for those workers to hide their symptoms, appearing as though everything is normal. For this reason, business leaders need to take charge, and work to normalize the discussion of mental health issues as they relate to the workplace.
In regards to employee mental health, early intervention is key to successful healing and/or symptom management. Thus, company managers should promote emotional wellness on a large scale, and include mental health coverage as part of the employee benefits package. At the individual level, don’t overlook the power of personal communication.
Consider reaching out to one remote employee per week, via email, text, or a similar low-key communication channel. Ask them how they’re doing, and invite feedback on what it’s like to work for your company. Don’t forget to let them know that their work is valuable — a little kindness and appreciation can go a long way towards fostering positive mental health among your employees, both remote and in house.
Create an Inclusive Company Culture
Open communication is one of the key components of a healthy and dynamic company culture. And make no mistake: prospective employees regard company culture as an important feature in the realm of long-term employment. What’s more, business leaders have long understood the ways in which culture contributes to the identity of a company, for better or worse.
Enter remote work, which has turned the very idea of company culture on its head. In fact, one of the unfortunate side effects of remote work is that it can somewhat undermine corporate culture. Generally speaking, a productive and happy work environment is one where socialization and collaboration are encouraged, whereas remote work is (by definition) a solitary endeavor. Group chats and conference calls can’t make up for the lack of culture activities, such as employee skate night or holiday potlucks.
Business leaders can still fight back by taking company culture online. Promote collaboration and help foster a team spirit in your remote employees by letting them take the reins. Determine the types of activities and learning forums they’re interested in, and make that the backbone of your company culture, post-COVID. Prioritize health issues whenever possible, and provide resources for employees looking to make a positive lifestyle change.
Consider creating a web page dedicated to employee health, that includes fitness tips, activities, and recipes for healthy snacks. Stress the importance of whole body health, encompassing body and mind, for optimal wellbeing. Further, highlight health issues that are most relevant to a remote workforce, such as the dangers of sedentary lifestyle.
Sitting down for the bulk of the day, which is the very definition of a sedentary life, can cause back pain and worsen varicose veins, as well as impacting one’s overall health. To keep veins healthy during quarantine, encourage your employees to take frequent breaks to get the blood flowing, and avoid salty, fried, and sugary foods. Finally, make up for the sorely missed company potlucks by hosting a virtual potluck, where employees prepare and share their favorite dish remotely.
Ensure that Remote Workers Have the Right Tools for the Job
As you build your company culture over time, you’ll receive tons of feedback on how you’re doing, and those opinions can be both negative and positive. Instead of shying away from criticism, encourage open communication with your remote employees. Along with inviting employees to share worries and ideas about the company, make sure to ask them about their needs.
If they are experiencing any roadblocks to productivity, for example, help bridge the gaps by providing the necessary tools for success, such as fitness and stress-relief activities. And never overlook the role that employee health plays within your company as a whole. By keeping employee health in mind, your company is more likely to thrive as we build a new world, post-pandemic.