Supporting the mental and physical health of your remote workforce
Working from home provides employees with many benefits—notably flexibility—but it also creates special challenges. Employee mental health can suffer when remote workers end up feeling isolated and separated from their colleagues—who not only help them succeed at their jobs, but also provide valuable social interactions. Physical health can also suffer when remote employees rely on cramped workstations and fall into unhealthy work habits.
Fortunately, business leaders, managers, and employees can take key steps to help address the health challenges of remote work and keep up employee morale—even if they are geographically dispersed.
Best practices for supporting remote worker health
Communicate, communicate, communicate. In regular office settings, employees often have many opportunities to communicate formally and informally with co-workers and supervisors. For your remote workforce, provide and use multiple channels of communications. Check in regularly with employees about their work and outlook, and encourage them to reach out when challenges arise. Try to use video communications when feasible to make virtual face-to-face connections.
Support social connections. Be sure that your communications aren’t limited to work. Create opportunities for social interaction—such as talking about a popular TV show or weekend activities. You could even host a virtual happy hour, share-your-pet social, or engage in a group game.
Break it up! Some remote workers can become so focused on work—or even on remaining available at their computer—that they rarely take breaks. Urge your employees to take regular breaks and move away from their workstations. Mid-day physical activity, such as a brief walk, can help employees reset for a productive afternoon. If need be, make an effort to schedule these breaks with timely reminders.
Educate and inform. Educate your employees about how they can support their mental and physical health while working from home. In addition, make sure they know about the resources that are available to help them succeed as a remote worker.
Offer resources and support. To the greatest extent possible, provide robust IT, HR, and healthcare support for remote employees. Setting up software and technology for remote work can be frustrating for non-technical employees, and strong IT support can make a big difference. In addition, consider providing easy access to mental health services, including via telemedicine. Other health services can also be provided online.
Be sensitive to workloads. Evaluate work assignments and expectations in light of the additional stresses of working from home. Be cautious about adding new responsibilities or challenging deadlines when an employee has recently transitioned to a remote work situation. You can support your employees’ physical and mental health by encouraging them to maintain a sensible work-life balance—and to speak up if their workload becomes unmanageable.
Put it in writing. It can be challenging to adopt and maintain new practices to support work-from-home employees. You can help your company and employees stay on track by putting your remote work strategies in writing—and making sure that employees and management are on the same page.
Understanding and recognising the health risks of working from home
You can better support the health of your remote employees by understanding the specific risks and working directly with employees, their supervisors, and Human Resources to address them. Physical and mental health risks associated with working from home include:
Depression and anxiety. The isolation created by remote work can increase the risk of some mental illnesses—or exacerbate their effects. Check in with employees to ask how they’re coping with working from home, acknowledge any feelings of isolation, and make sure they know about available resources to help them address depression and anxiety. Mental health illnesses can be highly debilitating, leading to work avoidance and lost productivity.
Burnout. The World Health Organization now recognizes burnout as an occupational syndrome that arises from work stress that is unsuccessfully managed. Additional stressors of working from home can increase the risk of employee burnout. The symptoms of burnout include diminished productivity, negative feelings about work, and exhaustion. You can help identify these symptoms and address them by maintaining open communications with your employees.
Sedentary-related diseases. Working from home can reduce employees’ physical activity, including movement associated with commuting and office life. Over time, sedentary work can increase risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity. Encouraging your employees to take breaks and exercise can help reduce medical conditions linked to sedentary work.
Repetitive stress and ergonomic injuries. Working in an office or from home can lead to repetitive stress and ergonomic injuries. Remote employees can be at greater risk for these types of injuries by working longer hours, not taking breaks, and not establishing ergonomic workspaces.