Remote worker mental health – supporting from a distance

Remote working, especially when forced by circumstances, can be stressful. Yes, there is more freedom (the pyjama trouser dress code for video meetings) but there is also more responsibility and pressure (you now have to hang over your own shoulder, the boss isn’t there to do it – though your children/partner/cat may be…)

Also, for employees suddenly working at home (or furloughed) as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there a number of specific possible worries:

  • Isolation
  • Fear of infection
  • Juggling work with extra childcare
  • Financial difficulties
  • Possible redundancy

All of this (and more) means many of your remote workers are probably more stressed ‘at work’ than they’ve ever been before.

As an employer, your duty of care in relation to employee health (including mental health) and safety remains. Besides which, it’s just best practice to support people to enable to their best possible performance under the circumstances. While mental health and wellbeing support often leads to talk of grand occupational health programmes and therapists on call (and such measures do have their place) as a recent CIPD podcast – Managing the wellbeing of remote workers – rightly says, there are much simpler measures that can have a significant impact. What follows is a quick reference list of tips and thought-provokers to help you decide how best to support your newly-distributed workforce.

  • Structured communications – People need information to feel connected. That information should be relevant and timely, and accessible. Particularly needed is a reliable source regarding their remote working status and how the latest coronavirus news is impacting on their employer and their job. Keep them in the loop.
  • Work-life balance – This is probably one of the biggest challenges and therefore the biggest potential stressor. An employer can help with clear guidance, tips and support on setting up a home office or workspace. Also, by not sending out of hours emails or other comms which can encourage remote workers to blur the work-life boundaries. Likewise, check remote workers are taking the necessary breaks and, while flexible hours are a clear benefit of homeworking, check that flexibility doesn’t just mean longer hours instead.
  • Regular individual check-in meetings – The emphasis is on checking in rather than checking up. Yes, workflow and objectives need to be discussed as normal, but line managers also need to be asking how the remote working is going; creating opportunities to hear about problems if there are any.
  • Use a variety of communication methods and tools – In the same way that a constantly ringing phone is a distraction so are constant video calls. Everybody’s ‘Zooming’ but far better to use a variety of methods of keeping in touch; perhaps allocate different channels to different reasons or types of contact.
  • Not all contact should be formal or with management – Just as colleagues and teammate chat casually in a face-to-face environment (the water cooler, the kitchen, in the lift…) it’s worth encouraging people to continue these informal connections at a distance. Yes, it takes a little more effort but that sense of engagement or connection to the company won’t survive if the only person they talk to is the boss.

Finally, expect that the transition to a new working situation will have an impact on performance. An article from the British Psychological Society suggests that adaptation to a new, isolated or confined environment can take up to 10 days. If difficulties continue that might be fuel for a casual how are you doing conversation, as mentioned above, but it also begs the question of how stable is the new working environment? For many people right now, they are working in a constant state of flux; it might also be worth a conversation around what you as an employer can offer by way of extra stability. In other words, yes, look out for performance dips and other changes in behaviour and act on them, but be wary of making an assumptions.


For more advice on ways to support your remote workers give us a call on 01582 463460. We’re here to help.

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