When 2020 dawned, no one thought it would be the year of remote work. Sure, remote work was already an option for some people, but the thought that everyone would be either working remotely or not at all within the first few months of the year came as a bit of a shock.
The dramatic shift to remote-only work caused by the coronavirus has had its fair share of pros and cons. For instance, the social media giant Twitter quickly found that remote-only work was so effective that they turned the work from home (WFH) situation into a permanent policy.
However, for every example like that, there are others about both employers and employees who are struggling.
As time has crept on and the coronavirus pandemic has begun to permanently shape the new normal, it’s become abundantly clear that WFH policies aren’t for everyone. In fact, in many cases, they’re even fueling a mental health crisis that revolves around a wicked combination of isolation and burnout.
The thing is, these struggles aren’t new. In 2018, 54% of those asked already reported feeling lonely. In 2019, still, before the pandemic had even started, nearly one out of two remote workers reported wellness as their biggest struggle. Specifically:
It was already a significant portion of the remote workforce. When a global pandemic was added into the mix, it only served to exacerbate the situation. COVID-19 has had a dramatic effect on everyone’s lives, creating upheaval on every level and forming new pockets of stress in the form of:
When you take the natural propensity towards poor employee mental health in the remote work setting and then add the coronavirus pandemic into the situation — including the inability for counsellors and HR reps to meet with distressed employees in person — it creates a dangerously tentative scenario.
With all of that said, the potential harm associated with mental health concerns must be proactively addressed by Human Resources in order to preserve and protect employees.
Of course, the question that naturally arises is how to tend to a workforce’s mental condition when everyone is working remotely. Fortunately, there are several ways that an HR rep can do so.
One of the most important ways to avoid isolation, in particular, is by regularly checking in with your remote employees. This should be done carefully. For instance, it shouldn’t be seen as a “babysitting” or micromanaging activity. You’re not interested in catching them doing something wrong. You want to ensure that they’re both surviving and thriving in their WFH scenarios.
In addition, try not to use the same modes of communication for check-ins as you do with normal work activities. As an example, using Zoom to check in with an employee when they’re already using Zoom throughout the day for essential activities can only serve to exacerbate Zoom fatigue. Consider sending an email or a message in Slack instead.
Having a good remote-work environment is essential to healthy productivity. However, with so many cafes and coffee houses closed, it’s difficult for employees to get a break from their home office.
As their HR rep, you can use this fact to check in on their work environment. Don’t be nosey or intrusive. Instead, focus on highlighting ways that you can fill a home office with good vibes, such as ensuring that you have proper lighting and adding plants and natural elements.
One of the least intrusive, most effective ways that an HR rep can keep their team’s spirits up is by leading remote-team-building activities. There are many different ways to do this, such as creating a team pet org chart, sharing where in the world everyone is working from, or taking virtual “water cooler breaks.”
Team building exercises provide an opportunity to socialize, knit your team together, and maintain a positive, healthy company culture — all of which can help preserve good mental health.
Finally, as time progresses and you hire new employees, make sure to add mental health into your recruiting considerations. As you look for the right behaviours in a candidate, consider if they show a positive, growth-oriented mindset that will thrive in a remote work setting.
As an HR rep, it’s important that you consider the condition of your staff. It doesn’t matter if you’re working in person or scattered to the four winds, checking in regularly, conducting team-building exercises, and recruiting wisely can all help to bolster your team’s remote work activity. In addition, encouraging employees to maintain healthy WFH environments can help to curb the negative effects of extended periods of remote work.
Whatever the specific method or manifestation, though, it’s essential that you guide and direct your company’s mental health initiatives in order to protect your workforce and help them weather the current storm with success.
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