Caring for your employees’ wellbeing when working from home

The COVID-19 outbreak has led to an unprecedented rise in home working across the world. While the measures are essential, some aspects of remote working can have a negative impact on our mental and physical wellbeing.

For most people, working from home has dramatically reduced the frequency and depth of their daily interactions with co-workers. According to multiple studies, our day-to-day levels of happiness and belonging are strongly influenced by the number of interactions we have with others, including co-workers.

Home working can also lead some employees to feel disconnected professionally. People who work from home may experience a lack of regular feedback and support from their supervisors. Though many companies will be putting measures in place to maintain contact between managers and employees, a reduction in face-to-face time can cause some employees to become anxious about the quality of their work, or foster a lack of motivation.

When working from home, it can be difficult to “switch off” at the end of the workday. The boundary between work and personal life can become blurred, which can lead to burnout and depression. This blurring was already a reality for many, tethered to their offices by their smartphones and remote logins. Now it could be even more challenging to prevent work from invading personal life without the physical separation of home and office.

Where structure and routine have taken a back seat for many workers as they navigate the challenges of a merging work-home life and an increased number of distractions, employees may find it a challenge to prioritise their physical and mental health. Now more than ever, the wellbeing of your workforce is paramount, and there are simple tools and ideas you can implement to help your employees look after themselves whilst working from home.

Combating isolation

  • Many businesses have instituted team catch-ups using video conferencing technology to boost communication and morale. These social sessions can be structured around a quiz or topic of discussion, or can just be casual conversation between co-workers. To make the most of these benefits, meet-ups should occur regularly and should not involve work-related discussion (though participants should feel encouraged to talk about what they are working on and work-related stresses if they wish to).
  • Supervisors should check-in more frequently with their direct reports and dedicate at least part of these check-ins to discussing how these employees are handling working from home. Employees should be open with their supervisors about any difficulties they are experiencing and ask for support if they need it.
  • As well as formal meet-ups, colleagues should remember to check-in with each other on a one-to-one basis. If colleagues would usually have a morning catch up with their deskmates when they got to the office, they should be encouraged to use one of the many chat functions available to keep those conversations going and maintain a sense of normality while working in these unusual times.
  • Another way to deal with the isolation of working from home is to increase social interactions with friends and family. The same studies that showed happiness and belonging being positively affected by the number of interactions with others also found that the interactions with those we are close to have a much stronger effect on happiness than those with casual acquaintances. The ready availability of video conferencing and chat technology can facilitate social time between family members who don’t live in the same household, with some even offering game and quiz functions that can inject a bit of fun to regular chats. There are also many hashtags and initiatives being shared on social media to encourage people to remain connected during the pandemic.

Creating an effective work-life balance

  • Finding the right daily routine when working from home is central to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Create a work schedule that includes start and end times to the workday, a lunch break, and a few shorter breaks. (And commit to taking your scheduled breaks even in the face of exigent work demands.)
  • Implementing what psychologist Blake Ashforth calls “boundary-crossing activities” in your routine can be a helpful way to prevent work from encroaching on your personal life. To that end, your pre-work routine should, in some ways, resemble your normal routine, i.e., wake up at the same time every day, and shower, eat breakfast and get dressed before you start work (some even recommend wearing work attire when working from home). At the end of the day, shut down your work computer and change into more casual clothing.
  • To whatever extent possible, create a space dedicated to work. Ideally, this shouldn’t be in a place where you typically relax (e.g., bedroom). Leave this space during breaks and at the end of the workday. Also, return to your workspace when doing any work outside of working hours. Having to go to a different room could deter you from doing work in your free time that can be put off to the next working day, such as answering non-urgent emails.

Looking after our personal wellbeing

  • Companies can share communications with staff that support and encourage mental and physical wellbeing. This could be in the form of a daily or weekly newsletter containing useful information such as free workouts to do at home, mindfulness apps or a hub of free resources online that they can make the most of to help alleviate stress.
  • If you have a Learning Management System, eLearning can play a vital part in supporting your employees. There are a huge number of courses available ranging from Personal Agility, Resilience, Positive thinking and so much more! These will give employees the tools they may need to either help themselves or those around them deal with these challenging times.
  • Where possible companies should try being flexible on working hours, especially for those who may now have their children at home, whilst also encouraging regular breaks for fresh air and exercise (following government guidance).
  • With an increase in video conferencing and scheduled meetings to keep the workforce communicating effectively, people may find they are spending a long time sat at their desk without a break. Back-to-back meetings should be discouraged, and if meetings run to an hour or more, participants could be invited to take a 5 minute break during the meeting to stand up from their desks, move a little, get a drink of water or use the bathroom.
  • Make healthy habits social. You could create a virtual step challenge where employees compete individually or as teams to see who can keep their activity levels up during lockdown (in line with government guidance), encourage workers to take part in an online lunchtime exercise class, or choose one day a week to share a healthy recipe that employees to cook at home with their families and share their reviews the next day.

These tips can all help to alleviate some of the challenges we face when working from home, but don’t forget that these are difficult times for us all, and it is natural to feel that mental or physical health is being affected.