Mental Health and Remote Working Concerns
Good or Bad, Better or Worse, these Covid-19 impacted years have crystalized an experiential evolution in the modern workplace… Remote Working!
And, I am concerned. First, I’ll admit that due to recent regulatory and general concerns for health and safety, I’ve embraced the modern technologies that allow us to accomplish excellence in service and technical quality without interruption, even when we are so infrequently together.
So why the concern? Well, for certain in spite of remote working’s popularity and the various associated benefits; as we all should be aware; one size does not fit “All”. Flexible and remote working has been a topic of debate recently for the future of work. While there is plenty to gain, remote work inherently has negative and sometimes serious side effects.
Change in this fully remote workforce is happening. Several of the most progressive tech giants, including Yahoo, IBM, and Google, have initiated the return to office programs. Why would IBM, who gained nearly $2 billion selling off their office real estate after implementing remote working, bring their workers back to the office? My concerns about the overall impact of remote work must be more than simply an uneasy feeling inside my gut.
Remote Working Concerns
Loneliness and Isolation are the largest reported concerns amongst remote workers and their effects can go further than affecting just the individual. Symptoms of isolation include increased stress levels and ineffective decision-making. For an employer, these are disturbing characteristics for someone who has crucial responsibility. Unfortunately, being isolated also means these symptoms are difficult to observe or detect.
Rapid Changes Require Rapid Responses especially when a company pivots. It is certainly beneficial for employees to have proximity to customers and other team members, especially if snap meetings and unscheduled team events occur. Even with instant messaging services like Teams, Slack, or similar options, communication issues are likely to occur that simply don’t exist when team members are sitting nearby.
Unknown Working Environments Could Increase Vulnerability (Security). Our work at Morris +D’Angleo is largely confidential in nature; the data that employees possess are covered by regulatory requirements and as team members advance, their required responsibilities inherently include more sensitive materials, ideas, and records. As a result, distant workers become increasingly vulnerable to cybercrime. Modern tools and technologies provide safety, working with strong passwords, and multifactor authentication, and only inside our server environment certainly minimize threats, there are no perfect solutions. The more access points to a system, the more challenging it is to provide absolute security.
Lack of Face Time Creates Lack of Opportunity. Without the correct digital tools, employers might struggle to make appropriate judgments about employee skills, character, and maturity thus reducing the speed and likeliness of remote employees being timely awarded growth opportunities.
Mental Health Dilemmas
For many of us being away from the workplace after more than two years of remote work has challenged our social and mental health well-being.
Seven in 10 employees who work from home are feeling more isolated compared to being in the office. 1
- Many workers miss simple things such as in-person meetings (39%), office celebrations (35%), and after-work happy hours (34%).
- With the absence of in-person events, 63% felt less engaged with their team, as the average employee felt disconnected by August 2020.
- Two-thirds said they work directly with someone they wouldn’t be able to pick out of a lineup and recognize by name only.
- Three in five find something lacking in the quality of communication with their co-workers, and 77% agree better communication leads to better work culture.
American Psychiatric Association’s Findings
The APA (American Psychiatric Association) conducted an online survey of 1,000 remote workers between March 26 and April 5, 2021. The majority of employees working from home say they experienced negative mental health impacts, including isolation, loneliness, and difficulty getting away from work at the end of the day. 2
- 54% of employees report their employer has become more accommodating to their mental health needs since the start of the pandemic while 15% said less and 31% didn’t know. However, only one in five said their employer has offered additional mental health services, down from 35% last year.
- When looking at how employers treat employees who may have mental health issues, 28% said their employer had become more supportive over the course of the pandemic; 33% said the same as before; and only 9% said less supportive (31% didn’t know).
- More than four in 10 employees are concerned about retaliation if they seek mental health care or take time off for their mental health.
- Compared to last year, slightly fewer employees report their employer offers mental health benefits, including primary care with sufficient mental health coverage (28%, down from 34%), mental health days (14%, down from 18%), and on-site mental health care (12%, down from 16%).
- 60% of employees reported working at home at least a few days a month and nearly a third (32%) worked at home all the time (19% a few days a week; 9% a few days a month). While working from home has advantages and benefits, it also comes with drawbacks, including isolation and loneliness, and difficulty getting away from work for personal time.
- Nearly two-thirds of people working from home feel isolated or lonely at least sometimes and 17% do all the time. They also report having a hard time ending their workday.
Lack of Communication and Loneliness: What We Should be Doing
- Mental well-being should be normalized just as much as physical well-being if we want our employees to thrive at work and in their personal lives. Grappling with the pandemic and events of the last two years, it is more important now than ever to create a culture where vulnerability is accepted and it’s okay to talk about feelings and life stressors.
- So much is lost in the hybrid work environment without physical cues, facial expressions, and casual conversation. Although working remotely can be a good thing, it’s important for leaders to recognize the importance of finding ways to connect teams in new ways.
- Clear communication and accountability measures are essential when it comes to defining job roles and managing workloads appropriately. It’s also important for managers to understand how long it takes employees to finish tasks so they can set reasonable expectations and avoid micromanaging staff.
Here are a few ways to connect with your working teams when the richness of face-to-face interactions is missing.
- Establish structured daily check-ins: Many successful remote managers establish a daily call with their remote employees. The important benefit is that the calls are regular and predictable and that they are a forum in which employees know that they can consult with you and that their concerns and questions will be heard.
- Provide several different communication technology options: Email alone is insufficient. Remote workers benefit from having a “richer” technology, such as video conferencing, that gives participants many of the visual cues that they would have if they were face-to-face.
- Establish “Rules of Engagement”: Remote work becomes more efficient and satisfying when managers set expectations for the frequency, means, and ideal timing of communication for their teams. If you can, let your employees know the best way and time to reach you during the workday (e.g., “I tend to be more available late in the day for ad hoc phone or video conversations, but if there’s an emergency earlier in the day, send me a text.”), keep an eye on communication among team members (to the extent appropriate), to ensure that they are sharing information as needed.
- Provide opportunities for remote social interaction: One of the most essential steps a manager can take is to structure ways for employees to interact socially (that is, have informal conversations about non-work topics) while working remotely. This is true for all remote workers, but particularly so for workers who have been abruptly transitioned out of the office.
- Offer encouragement and emotional support: Especially in the context of an abrupt shift to remote work, it is important for managers to acknowledge stress, listen to employees’ anxieties and concerns, and empathize with their struggles.
Research on emotional intelligence and emotional contagion tells us that employees look to their managers for cues about how to react to sudden changes or crisis situations. If a manager communicates stress and helplessness, this could have a “trickle-down” effect on employees.
Effective leaders take a two-pronged approach, both acknowledging the stress and anxiety that employees may be feeling in difficult circumstances, but also providing affirmation of their confidence in their teams, using phrases such as “we’ve got this,” or “this is tough, but I know we can handle it,” or “let’s look for ways to use our strengths during this time.” With this support, employees are more likely to take up the challenge with a sense of purpose and focus.
Please let us know in the comments below your own tips for managing your remote employees.
We at Morris +D’Angelo have always embraced technology and what it brings to the evolution of the business world along with the plethora of new and effective tools that make our lives easier both personally and in business.
Throughout our journey, we haven’t dismissed or forgotten the importance of the “Human Touch” that we feel is important to extend to all; employees, colleagues, customers, and our communities.
If you are struggling with the isolation of working remotely or if you have any questions, need clarity, or need help understanding how to connect in a meaningful way with your employees, please contact us at Morris + D’Angelo. You are important to us!
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