Remote working has had a significant impact on employee wellbeing. A 2020 survey, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of communications platform Front, found that more than 60% of workers have negative feelings about remote working. Many respondents also felt that their employers had not done enough to mitigate the wellbeing impact of home-working arrangements. As a result, more than 1 in 3 have considered leaving their jobs.
Remote working impacts wellbeing for a number of reasons, but the two biggest culprits are fairly consistent across different roles and organisations: social isolation, and struggling to communicate effectively with colleagues. In the 2019 State of Remote Work report published by social media innovator Buffer, these issues were tied as the top two challenges remote workers reported facing.
Nevertheless, there are many organisations which succeed in creating sustainable long-term remote working arrangements. At Real Projects we’ve been fully remote for ten years. Our own experience and our research into other organizations’ success point to the same conclusion. Remote working can actually enhance employee wellbeing, but only if the two major challenges are addressed at the level of culture as well as processes.
In practice, this doesn’t have to be a difficult transition. The right training can rapidly shift company culture and processes in a positive direction. Each of the major challenges can be overcome with just four key changes in approach.
- Planned socializing compensates for the absence of casual interactions around the office. Successful remote organisations encourage employees to build social time into their work-day.
- Online events offer great opportunities to connect, and they have become increasingly interactive, as well as easier to stage, as technology has improved. Conferences, networking events and training courses provide the opportunity to gain skills while meeting new people.
- Reaching out to colleagues allows workers to both give and receive support. Encouraging empathetic and supportive interaction is probably the single most important thing remote employers can do to improve wellbeing.
- Expert support is sometimes necessary to facilitate positive changes in lifestyle or mindset. Many companies offer their employees everything from counselling to mindfulness meditation. Equally important is to create a culture which removes any stigma associated with seeking help.
- Agreeing on a communication etiquette can go a long way towards reducing communication frustrations. Many companies have developed detailed etiquette over time. Medical giant Merck use a system of tags for emails including “Four Hour Response (4HR)” and “No Need to Respond (NNTR)”
- Choosing calls over text-based communication wherever possible is an easy way to improve team communication. Email and messaging offer greater ease, but are more likely to result in misunderstandings.
- Communicating more, in the form of more detailed emails and messages, reduces the need for follow-ups and limits communication-related anxiety. At first this approach can feel like “over-communicating,” so training and support may be required to make it stick.
- Scheduled catch-ups are not only good for reducing feelings of isolation. They also help team-members to stay informed about their colleagues’ challenges and achievements. This in turn provides useful context for team communication.
Together, these relatively small changes can achieve a significant cultural shift, turning remote working from a source of stress into a major perk.
Take a look at the remote working wellness courses available from Real Projects.
About the author
Rory is the Head of Content at Real Projects. He strives to place employee wellbeing at the heart of the company’s elearning offering.