Remote work has become the new way of life in various industries all around the world. In some cases, this may be a temporary precaution that will gradually ease back toward what we consider ordinary; in others, it may be a permanent new normal that will reshape how companies operate for the foreseeable future. Whatever the case though, it’s clear that businesses need to take the change seriously, and make adjustments for the good of employees.
In particular, it’s becoming evident that company leaders need to bear their remote employees’ mental health in mind. In a piece on mental health and remote work by Forbes contributor Garen Staglin, back when we were first easing into new conditions, it was suggested that remote work poses numerous mental health risks. Isolation, burnout potential, and the simple need to adjust can all weigh heavily on people thrust suddenly into these conditions — to say nothing of ordinary job stress, and the delicate
balancing act of working at home. The hope, of course, is that employees can manage the changes and find their stride. But some mental health difficulties are more than understandable.
It is now employers’ job to keep an eye on that potential issue, and look after remote workers’ mental health. It’s not something that can be managed completely, but we do have a few suggestions for employers to consider.
We’re not suggesting here that employees should take on any sort of role as de facto psychiatrists. However, there’s nothing wrong (and perhaps a lot right) about providing basic information that might help employees who are struggling mentally. To that point, we’re referring to what Paul Lyons wrote here about resilience. This post pointed out five helpful ways to develop resilience — from practicing superstitions like knocking on wood, to favouring realism over optimism. Passing tips like these on to employees won’t necessarily fix all issues, but it may just give any given remote worker an idea that helps.
Teach New Tech
Chances are that if you’re managing a remote team, you’re making use of some new tech. That might mean video chat platforms, cloud communication services, new file-sharing or productivity programs, or anything else of the sort. And you shouldn’t be surprised if the adoption of some of these things causes employees’ frustration or stress. To avoid that problem, employees should take the time to teach new tech and be understanding of transition difficulties. Taylor Fasulas wrote for Verizon Connect about adopting new tools and broke the idea down into three helpful ideas: focusing efforts, selling strategically, and managing expectations. Basically, these ideas speak to the need to focus on the most important changes (rather than a bunch at once); get employees to buy in based on how new adoptions will help; and accepting that it may take time for adoption to catch on. This sort of strategic, patient approach can make tech-related changes less stressful for employees.
It should be a given that businesses need to maintain regular communication in order to maintain productivity during and after the pandemic. But this may still not be something that employers are considering specifically from a mental health standpoint. Inc.’s Marcel Schwantes discussed communication in this context, pointing out that many employees this year are anxious about whether they might lose their jobs, or whether their businesses may be struggling. By extension we can say that communicating about these issues specifically may help put employees at ease. An open approach about what struggles may lie ahead and what’s being done to preserve jobs and opportunities can go a long way toward putting employees at ease (provided it’s all done honestly — misleading employees is not the idea!).
Encourage More Social Activity
The same piece we just referenced in Inc. also pointed out the need to foster “connection” among employees. Those who are used to working in offices (or other settings alongside other people) are adjusting not only to new working conditions, but new social ones as well. This is largely why working remotely can in fact be so isolating, and it’s unfortunately something that can’t be completely fixed under the circumstances. However, by organising and supporting remote group interactions outside of work tasks, employers can offer their employees social outlets. It may seem awkward or unusual, but it can be just the thing to stave off some of the ill effects of remote work.
All of these efforts can contribute significantly to employees’ mental health and wellbeing while remote work conditions last. We should note also that employers should also make sure that they’re encouraging and assisting with professional mental health services however possible. But when it comes to day-to-day actions, the suggestions above may provide considerable assistance to struggling remote workers.