When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world in 2020, allowing employees to work from home became the best way to protect themselves and the company amid uncertain times. Two years in, however, and remote workers are saying that the setup is taking a toll on their mental health.
If you’re struggling to create a positive employee experience for your company, this article might be of help as it offers tips on supporting remote workers especially when it comes to mental health issues. It can be as simple as checking in on them every once in a while or encouraging them to spend time at a coworking space to regain that missed sense of community.
Employees’ Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Statistics on how employers handled the COVID-19 pandemic might help you realize you aren’t alone. Mental health services are often the last thing on employers’ minds when they think about business.
A May 2021 American Psychiatric Association (APA) survey of 1,000 remote workers reported that just one in five employees said their employer offered them additional mental health services since the beginning of the pandemic. Only 56% of employees who participated in the survey said they could talk openly with their coworkers about mental health and supervisors.
While these results might not seem worrisome at first glance, the numbers are slightly lower than those of the APA’s survey from 2020.
Employees, particularly those participating in remote work, need more mental health support from their place of work.
Fighting the Stigma Attached to Remote Workers’ Mental Health Issues
The same 2021 APA survey noted that most remote workers reported experiencing mental health issues such as loneliness and isolation. Because they were working from home, they also reported having a difficult time not working past their work hours.
Unfortunately, there is still some stigma attached to discussing mental health. If an employee were to seek time off due to a physical ailment, that would be understandable. But the reality is that many employees fear retaliation if they speak up about their mental health.
Considering that 17% of remote workers feel isolated or lonely all the time, it becomes important for employers to act on employees’ mental health concerns–at least as a preventive measure.
Remote Workers’ Mental Health: 15 Ways To Support Them
1. Provide mental health benefits to remote workers
Mental health support for remote workers isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. What works for some might not work for others, but the important thing to remember is that everyone needs it. You just have to find out how they prefer to receive that support.
Companies can start by offering group lessons on mindfulness, scheduling morning meditations, and having counselors talk about ways to deal with unhelpful thoughts or weak communication skills.
If you have the means, you might even offer more formal self-help resources such as free therapy or psychiatry for employees, as well as coaching with a medical professional.
2. Remain connected with technology
Meeting as a team might not always be possible in person but remember that you have the advantage of technology. Your employees are just a click away.
Having dinner and drinks after hours might not be an option, but you can still see each other over video. Utilize applications such as Zoom, Skype, Whatsapp, or Facetime to video call your team and connect with them. This doesn’t have to happen every day–just enough to let them know you’re there for each other.
You could also host virtual events to celebrate your work and recognize your most hardworking employees.
3. Promote work and life balance
Everyone always talks about the perfect work-life balance, and while we all struggle to achieve it, it’d be much easier to attain with the support of employers.
Place more of an emphasis on employees’ productivity rather than the hours they put in, and encourage them to take breaks before they end up feeling burned out.
4. Check in regularly with remote team members
One way you can achieve a better work-life balance for your remote workers and protect their mental health is by allowing flexible working schedules. Trust that your employees will get their tasks done on time; it isn’t always necessary to have them work from nine to six. This is especially true for remote workers, who probably have other chores to accomplish at home in between work tasks.
While it helps to give remote workers the space and time for them to navigate their workload, they also need to know that they aren’t alone. Check in with your team members regularly, wherever they might be.
By sending them a message, perhaps once a week, you’ll be able to find out if they’re experiencing any personal or professional struggles hindering their progress at work. Checking in on them will also help increase camaraderie in your team.
5. Set up mental health training and sessions
Mental health training programs can teach your employees about mental health conditions, as well as signs and symptoms to watch out for. This can reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Sometimes, it can be as simple as stress.
With over 200 mental health disorders, it might not seem feasible or relevant to teach employees about every one of them.
Instead, mental health training programs in companies often center on preventing stress, burnout, and even suicide, recognizing the signs of addiction and substance abuse, and reducing anxiety.
Training can also include methods of self-care, through which employees can learn to prioritize their own physical and mental health while at work.
6. Socialize and have fun even remotely
Remote workers don’t get the chance to spontaneously celebrate colleagues’ birthdays or make friends by the office water cooler. They’re not given any opportunities for socialization within the work team.
Employers could schedule periods of socialization per day, week, or month. Even a Monday afternoon alignment meeting over coffee on Zoom could make a big difference. If you have a more informal workplace, you might even want to host online happy hours or monthly online game parties with prizes.
There’s never a bad time to show your employees that you have a heart and that the company cares about them.
7. Introduce more empathy into your leadership
People often say that change starts at the top, and the same can be said about mental health. As an employer, you lead your team, and it’s crucial that you do so while acknowledging the importance of mental health while working.
Talk about mental health, and don’t be afraid to talk about your own mental health as well. Employees tend to feel less afraid about speaking up about their mental health conditions when they realize their employers have gone through the same things.
8. Reward good work
Don’t let good work go unnoticed. Appreciate your employees, whether they work at the office or work remotely.
While thanking them for doing what they’re supposed to do won’t magically cure any mental health conditions they might have, a little recognition of their work can go a long way. This will improve their experience at your organization, which will make them less likely to leave due to stress.
Understand that they’re doing the best they can under less-than-ideal circumstances, and positive recognition from one’s boss is not something they’ll soon forget.
9. Conduct team-building activities daily
Team-building activities serve several purposes:
– remind remote workers that they’re (virtually) surrounded by colleagues who are there to support them
– allow employees who feel more distant to connect with their colleagues and employers
– increase the feeling of excitement and passion connected to the company
A team-building activity could last as quick as 20 minutes to as long as several hours. For instance, everyone could take one minute to discuss something great that happened during the week as well as something they struggled with.
Of course, you could also make team-building activities more fun if you play actual online games.
10. Help them upgrade their home office
Much has been written about how one’s environment can affect one’s mental health. As most remote workers work from home, it becomes necessary to understand the employees’ living conditions and whether their home is a conducive work environment.
Sometimes, the best way to support your employees’ mental health is by improving their work environment. This could include upgrading their home office and making their work life a little bit easier.
For example, you could provide them with an ergonomic chair to improve their posture, a smart assistant to set appointments or calls, a yoga mat to encourage them to take time to stretch during the day, or even plants to boost their mood and help them manage stress.
11. Encourage physical fitness
Exercise is good for both the body and the mind. Don’t hesitate to remind your employees to take breaks to stretch, go on a run, or spend an hour at the gym.
Physical fitness time could also act as team building. If your company has the means, enroll your team in virtual or in-person yoga or fitness classes. You could also offer subscriptions to these programs for long-term health benefits.
There are ways to make physical fitness more fun, too. Consider making a game of who accumulates the most steps at the end of the day using fitness trackers!
12. Create a sense of community and belonging
Every employee, remote worker or not, wants to feel like they belong in their company. Making them feel part of the community can result in improved work performance, so it doesn’t hurt to let every employee know that they are included.
This starts with ensuring none of your employees feel like outsiders. Difference and individuality should be valued, not shunned. A lot of this has to do with company culture and the understanding that employees should advocate for each other’s growth and development.
From a practical standpoint, employers could also offer benefits and initiatives specific to the needs of their employees. Special events or activities dedicated to underrepresented groups provide that sense of acceptance and belonging.
13. Ask them to take regular breaks
Employees aren’t workhorses, no matter how productive they might be.
Encourage them to take breaks regularly. These breaks don’t have to take too long and won’t interfere with their work.
For example, they could practice the 20-20-20 rule. This means that every 20 minutes, they should stare at an object 20 feet away from them for at least 20 seconds. This short, simple practice is supposed to help protect them from eye strain.
If they’re prone to zoning out at the computer, they might also want to take a short walk outside for some fresh air.
14. Lead by example
What good are all these tips if the company’s boss doesn’t follow them?
If employees see their employer or supervisors stressed out, not taking breaks, not exercising, and pulling long hours at work, they’ll likely do the same. If you’re feeling miserable, they can probably sense it, and you can bet they would feel the same way.
Happy employees make happy bosses and vice versa.
15. Help them decide their working hours
Every remote worker has a different setup. They might be living with four other relatives, sharing the computer with a sibling going through distance learning. They might also be living solo with a work-from-home setup all to themselves.
Whatever their situation, it’s important to talk to them about their preferred working hours. Some employees might want to follow the typical nine-to-six schedule, while others might feel more relaxed working at night.
Listen, understand, and cater to their needs because they’re there to make your company succeed.
Remote Workers Can Get Lonely
While there are many benefits to working remotely, perhaps the worst part about it is that it can get lonely. Employees working in isolation can lose motivation, drown in work, and become depressed.
Going back to the office seems like a good option, but then employers would have to factor in the real-estate costs related to a shift back to pre-pandemic work life. As companies still must account for social distancing amid the pandemic, having specific employees visit the office weekly or monthly just doesn’t seem worth the rent.
That’s where coworking spaces come in.
A Way To Let Remote Workers Thrive
In 2015, the Harvard Business Review found that people who frequented a coworking space thrived at a level approaching “an average of 6 on a 7-point scale.” Around 89% of people who went to a coworking space but previously worked from home also said they felt more productive, felt more job satisfaction, and experienced more social interactions.
Remote workers can thrive in coworking spaces because they’re able to receive just the right amount of socialization but without the drama of office politics. Coworking spaces allow remote workers to accomplish their jobs surrounded by like-minded people working towards productivity.
If you’re convinced that a coworking space is just what your employees need for their mental health, you can check out Weremote. An advocate for small businesses, startups, freelancers, and more, Weremote provides the infrastructure your business needs to succeed and the space for your remote workers to grow.