In the past two years, following the pandemic, there has been a notable drive towards remote working. Many employers have found a reduction in running costs and a rise in productivity has led them to offer more flexible working on an ongoing basis. Many employees have also found their work-life balance improved, claiming fewer distractions at home and less time wasted on the daily commute.
Not all employees can work from home, not all will choose to do so and some may choose to split their time between the office and remote working. There is a sense that both employers and employees are still very much finding their feet.
As of 2022, 30% of the UK workforce were working remotely at least one day a week, according to ONS. More than 50% of employees also claim to be happier when working from home and so the consensus is that working from home culture is improving wellbeing in employees.
However, there are also certain risks and potential threats to employees' wellbeing when they’re working remotely. The biggest, of course, is that without regular face-to-face contact, a drop in the wellbeing of a colleague or employee may go unnoticed.
A negative impact on the wellbeing of a colleague may be caused by remote working or may be unconnected. The difficulty with remote working is that it becomes more difficult for an individual to reach out and for employers to notice any changes in behaviour or demeanour.
Whose Responsibility Is The Wellbeing Of Remote Employees?
The health and safety of all employees is the responsibility of the employer regardless of where an employee is working from from home or on site. The mental and physical health of remote workers, including their wellbeing, should be monitored and supported by their employers.
This doesn’t mean you have to force feed your staff their 5-a-day, provide weekly therapy sessions or ask invasive questions. Still, since it can be more difficult to build relationships with those who aren’t in the office, how can employers be looking after the wellbeing of remote employees?
Here are a few ways that you, as an employer, can support the wellbeing of remote employees:
Health And Safety
In this article, we’re going to focus more on mental health and remote working. However, it is important to note that health and safety are a part of this. It also absolutely still falls in the remit of the employer to ensure that an employee’s workplace is safe and appropriate, even when it is in their home.
Ok, so you can’t turn up with a tape measure and an Ikea flat-pack home office kit, but you should be familiar with your employee’s workstation. Some of your employees are going to be less able to create a comfortable work area in their homes than others but there are ways you can support this.
It is essential that workplace assessments still take place for remote employees. This could be done via a questionnaire form or even via video conferencing. You can use this assessment to ensure that employees who work at a desk are protecting their posture and that everyone has the equipment they need. There is a chance that workplace assessments may highlight employees who cannot be expected to work from home. This may be due to not having a private and secure space within their home or it may be that working from home is proving to be impeding their wellbeing. It’s important that such issues are flagged early so that other options can be explored.
Checking In On Remote Workers
Please do not start turning up unannounced at the homes of your employees! What we mean by checking in on remote workers is semi-regular, scheduled, catch-up sessions. These can be in the office or via call or video conferencing.
Much like Keeping-In-Touch Days for those on maternity leave, this ensures a regular meeting during which you can check your employees are being kept up-to-date with any company news and being given access to the same benefits and opportunities as those who are office based. It should give them the chance to discuss any work issues, challenges, and successes. Hopefully, this will also be considered a time during which a remote worker can share any personal circumstances which may impact their wellbeing. If they do so, it’s important to see this as an opportunity to support them in the professional space as well.
Team-Building And Away Days
Many employees who formerly groaned at the mention of team-building sessions, may find that since working remotely, they serve a far larger purpose and have become more necessary. Our wellbeing is impacted greatly by the
relationships we have with one another. When colleagues are communicating mostly through email, it is more difficult to build a connection. Therefore, arranging days during which colleagues can meet face-to-face and spend more time getting to know one another can be highly beneficial.
Not only does having friendships at work improve productivity but it also has a positive effect on wellbeing. Moreover, it increases the likelihood that an employee who in need of support will feel comfortable reaching out.
The flexibility of home working can be both liberating and confusing. Some remote workers will need to adhere to set hours, due to customer availability and other factors. However, some may be able to take advantage of the opportunity to set their own working hours. Either way, your employees need to maintain a balance between work and home. Therefore, ensure you’re aware of your remote workers' general working hours and try not to contact them outside of these.
Just as it would not be acceptable to contact a 9-5pm employee at 8pm, it would not be acceptable to contact a 6am-2pm employee at 5pm. Except for emergencies obviously. Not adhering to boundaries can result in remote workers working unscheduled hours on top of their set hours. This can mean their workload becomes heavier than their colleagues and may even lead to stress and fatigue.
Be Alert To Overworking
Even those who love their jobs and derive much of their purpose from work, need to ensure they have regular time off the clock to protect their wellbeing. Ensuring that all employees are doing so is the responsibility of the employer. So, whilst a principal concern of work-from-home culture has been that employees may be less productive, in the same way that we can monitor that enough work is being produced, we can also be on alert for those whose output has increased in a way that suggests they are regularly working outside of contracted hours.
When this occurs, a conversation to remind employees of the need to preserve their work-life balance can help. You should also check that they are getting the support needed to do this. In an office environment when you’re going home at 6pm and you notice your marketing team still heads down anxiously typing away most nights per week, it might occur to you that they’re understaffed. Of course, you’re not seeing this when your employees are working from home so it’s important to look for signs of it now and then.
Not only is overworking damaging to the wellbeing of your employees, but it’s not good for business either. Overworked employees can not consistently produce the quality of work that is needed and there is a higher risk of them becoming run-down and unwell, which can lead to sick leave.
Why Is Employee Wellbeing Important?
This might seem like a senseless question. However, taking care of your staff does require a significant and purposeful effort from employers. Especially when those workers are off-site. Therefore, it’s important to be reminded that promoting and supporting wellbeing is more than something we talk about on LinkedIn and at annual reviews. It needs to be part of daily practice.
Wellbeing in your employees is not a benefit but a necessity, especially if your business is going to succeed and do so without a high staff turnover. The fact is that no one running on empty should be entrusted to pour their energy into something important to you, including your business. For your company vision to be realised and maintained, you need people behind you who don’t just share your will to make that happen, but who have the talents and abilities needed. Talent and ability though, are massively affected by our energy, health and motivation. Athletes, for instance, do not spend whole days running, cycling and swimming to train for triathlons. They have regular rest, ensure they are eating well and they look after their mental health as well as their physical.
A great boss is more of a coach than a director. They bring out the best in their teams by ensuring that they are being given all they need to perform as best as they can when they are on the clock. When they are less able to do so, they look at a variety of factors that may be impeding their performance that goes beyond talent and ability and instead looks at what is fuelling or draining this.
Looking after the wellbeing of remote employees is not just the right thing to do from a CSR perspective, it’s also essential for your business.