Throughout this coronavirus pandemic, most of us have adapted in numerous ways. One is to learn how to work remotely, which clearly has many benefits. Despite all the advantages, however, working remotely can take a toll on your employees’ mental health and can reduce the connectivity people feel when they can communicate in person.
Nearly 20 percent of fully remote employees say loneliness is their biggest struggle, and loneliness has been proven as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Keeping employees happy, productive, and motivated is crucial for the success of small- to medium-sized businesses. Beyond that, finding smart ways to communicate – and maybe even have a little fun remotely – can help you continue the progress well into the future after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
Mental Health Concerns Associated with Working Remotely
For someone who is accustomed to working in a building, there’s no doubt that there is a learning curve when it comes to working remotely. Trying to learn something new is always challenging, but trying to do so in a different environment compounds the problem.
The challenges of working remotely that employees may face include:
- Adapting to using standard technology, equipment, and tools necessary to complete the tasks
- Feeling isolated from other employees and society in general
- Miscommunication that may occur in written language
- Learning how to use new digital tools and other resources
- A lack of experience in separating work from home
- Distractions of home that may not exist in a building
- Inability to find an adequate place to work
These are only some of the many issues that occur when working remotely, and all of them combined can certainly take a toll on an employee’s mental health.
But there are solutions, and in many cases, the managers or owners of a business may need to have a role in making them happen.
Tips on How to Minimize Work-Related Stress at Home
The first step is to identify any work issues that may be contributing to employees’ stress at home. To do so, consider having one-on-one conversations with each employee, or instruct another member of your management team to do so.
Make absolutely certain that the employee feels comfortable to be open with you about any struggles he or she might be having. Tell them in no uncertain terms that they are not “in trouble” and will not get into trouble as a result of something they might say – within reason of course.
Chances are, you will find many similarities among employees’ concerns, and fortunately, there are ways to address them.
1. “I am having trouble with my Internet access.”
This can not only make it literally impossible to work, but it can certainly contribute to frustrations when working from home.
Some employees may simply not have Internet access at home. Some may be subscribing to a slower plan in order to save money, and others may have trouble obtaining a signal in certain areas of the home.
One solution is to invest in a company cellphone plan, allowing the employees to tap into the mobile hotspot no matter where they are. Taking this route also can ease some of the pressure employees may be feeling regarding how to pay for the phone they need to communicate with customers, coworkers, and managers.
Another option is to set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN), through which employees can connect to the workplace remotely by entering an IP address into their computers. If you take this route, make sure you are securing your network.
Contact Optimized Marketing Group to learn more about your options for increasing network security both in the office and at home.
2. “I feel like I am working 24/7. I can’t stop working. Even when I’m not working, I’m thinking about working. I’m working in my sleep. Why is that? I was never this much of a workaholic before.”
First of all, don’t take the term “workaholic” lightly. It’s a serious issue that can contribute to stress and anxiety, as well as diminish the quality of personal relationships.
Next, for their own mental health while working remotely, employees must be encouraged to separate work from home, even if it’s only conceptually.
Here are a few ways to do so:
- Maintain specific work hours. Once the employee is off the virtual clock, he or she is off the clock.
- Avoid checking emails after hours. It’s incredibly tempting to do so, especially when your email notifications constantly pop up on your mobile phone. Still, in most cases, those emails can wait until the following day. If they can’t, make sure you track the time you spend reading, responding to, and acting on each email or text. It’s considered work time, and you and your employees are entitled to be paid or at least recognized for that time.
- If you are a manager, avoid sending these emails to the employees after hours. Dedicated employees will be tempted to answer them and probably will … making it more difficult for the employees to spend quality time with their loved ones, make dinner calmly, finish the movie, complete their errands, and so on.
- Buy a rug. Seriously. Buy a rug. If you can, place it under your desk or wherever the area is where you work. Once you step off that rug for the evening, you’re done. Don’t go back. The rug area is the work area.
3. “I don’t have a good place to work in the house. My husband has the worst timing by using the blender every time I’m on the phone. My children keep asking me for things or bickering with each other. The dog won’t leave me alone.”
Trying to complete any work in a situation like this can be overwhelming, but a smart way to handle it would be to create a home office.
Don’t worry. We don’t mean you should spend a small fortune and renovate your house. If you can, great! Go for it!
But really, if you have an office job, all you need is your cellphone, your laptop, a desk, a chair, and maybe pen and paper or other supplies. You can probably find this in your home already.
Ideal spots for a makeshift home office include:
- A spot in the basement
- A corner of a hallway
- A portion of the living room
- The dining room (you know no one uses it anyway)
- The guest bedroom
- The sunroom
- A pocket office if your home already has one
In addition to placing the above-mentioned rug in the area, add a curtain, door, or other partition in order to block out noise, keep the dog out, and make sure your family knows not to disturb you unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Choose an area with a window if possible. Beautify the new home office space so that you feel comfortable. Plants, pictures of your family, paintings on the wall, or other decor may help.
4. “I don’t know. I’m OK, I suppose. Things are going fine. I’m just lonely. I haven’t heard anyone’s voice in days. I’m a little bummed. I miss seeing people. I miss the fun in the office.”
Feeling disconnected when working remotely can contribute to mental health concerns such as loneliness, depression, anxiety, and stress. There are several ways to remain connected, however, and many of them are very effective and easy.
1. Plan face-to-face meetings at least once a week through video conferencing tools. If you have tried one once or twice but didn’t like it, there are several other options you can try out. Some of the most popular video conferencing platforms are:
- Microsoft Teams
- Skype for Business
2. Regularly check in with employees with messages and phone calls. If you can, choose a video call, such as through FaceTime or a one-on-one call through one of the above-mentioned tools. Opting for a video call or a phone call will help minimize problems that may be caused by miscommunication in text. Hearing each other’s voices, mannerisms, and an occasional laugh will help you stay connected as well.
3. Schedule time for something fun remotely, like team lunches or playing an online brain training game.
4. Encourage one another to share work-related accomplishments. Doing so can help build team morale and remind employees that they are appreciated.
An additional tip for protecting your mental health while working remotely is to practice mindfulness by living in the moment instead of worrying about what will happen next.
You also may want to take a few minutes to recompose yourself between tasks, go for a brief walk when possible, maintain your physical fitness routine, plan something fun for after work, and dedicate time to spend with your friends and other loved ones.