Business culture and remote working expert, Jane Sparrow, founder of The Culture Builders, says: “A little bit like when it snows, the first day or two of homeworking can feel quite fun — it’s different, you don’t have to get up as early, there’s no morning commute — but then the reality sets in and it can become a real challenge for people.
“If you’re used to seeing your colleagues or customers every day, feelings of isolation can creep in remarkably quickly. This new remote working environment can also affect focus, a sense of team and creativity. It’s not something that is often talked about but if we are to help our teams stay healthy, happy and ultimately productive, we have to recognise and manage the high stress environment that remote working can create for many people.”
The challenge is on for businesses to keep their people positive, connected and productive, and there could be positives to take out of the experience.
Remote working isn’t always as Instagram-worthy as it may seem. A global survey last year found that many remote workers struggle with unplugging from their work (22%), loneliness (19%) and communicating (17%).
Another study found that 41% of remote workers reported high stress levels, compared to just 25% of office workers. Research also shows that spending more than 2.5 days a week working away from the office is associated with deterioration in co-worker relationships and job satisfaction.
Many employees are going to experience symptoms of distress and anxiety during the pandemic. In addition to this, home working can negatively impact resilience, which is the process of negotiating, managing and adapting to significant sources of stress or trauma.
It’s important to provide employees with coping mechanisms and to create a range of personalised interventions to meet the needs of your remote workforce and effectively reduce stress and burnout.
However, there are plenty of things employers can do to support their staff’s wellbeing and ensure business productivity while remote working.
1. Make sure that company health protocols are clear and accessible, especially while the current coronavirus epidemic continues. This means keeping staff informed of the steps you’re taking as a company and what to do if they’re feeling unwell.
2. Share the latest updates and health guidelines on the virus to keep employees in the loop; however, be careful about how often you’re sharing information. Key daily updates are fine, but employees shouldn’t be overwhelmed with multiple distressing news updates throughout the day.
3. When it comes to remote working, it can be easier for employees to work longer hours and take less breaks to get more work done. To prevent this, make sure you keep work communication within employees’ official working hours and encourage them to only work within this time frame too.
4. Build out your engagement strategy by assessing how different demographics want to be communicated with. The most obvious answer for many modern employees is mobile while for older remote workers, this might include more traditional communication like formal, company emails.
Staff who express signs of distress should be guided towards further emotional support. It may be that anxiety around coronavirus is a noticeable sign of pre-existing or wider emotional struggles.
In these cases, highlight existing workplace offerings like employee assistance programmes (EAPs) that offer direct, confidential contact with counsellors and mental health experts.
Consider inviting an expert to give a virtual company talk on general coping mechanisms for anxiety. This may help those who are worried about speaking to managers or employers about their fears.