For many employers, managing remote teams is a necessary skill. But while working remotely supports the needs of your employees, managing remote team members can come with its share of challenges.
In order to have a healthy business, it’s important to look out for the wellbeing of your employees, which includes their mental health. This can be especially difficult when your employees are working in other states or working from home.
Unaddressed depression in the workplace (or, in this case, at home) can cause employee morale to suffer and make your employees feel alone or isolated. For remote employees, these feelings of isolation may be amplified.
Fortunately, there are some strategies you can use to help your remote workers stay healthy and happy while they keep things moving from home.
Nearly one in five American adults will experience mental illness in a given year — despite this, there still exists a significant stigma around mental health issues. The U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention found only 25% of people with mental health symptoms feel that others are caring or sympathetic about their illness. For remote workers, these feelings can only increase — and there are other considerations. Employees miss out on things like colleague interaction and office provisions. The resulting loneliness can take a significant toll on people, even in the best of situations.
According to Fast Company, research published in the Perspectives on Psychological Science took a look at the impacts of loneliness on health. The researchers found that social isolation increases the risk of mortality by 29%.
In addition, social isolation and loneliness can sometimes lead to issues like stress-related sick leave and cardiovascular health complications. Facilitating more connections between employees could help to mitigate these risks.
As an employer, there are ways you can help.
Encourage all employees to help others feel included in the remote workplace. Don’t leave it all on the individual team members to forge connections, but rather aim to make these interactions a priority for all employees in the company.
Although employees who work from home may be physically alone, there are many ways for them to interact with other members of the team throughout the day.
Thanks to technology, there are a number of strategies and tools you can use to help remote employees feel less isolated:
Utilize Slack, Discord, WhatsApp, or other messaging apps to create group channels where your workers can communicate with each other. These can serve more than just project-related needs — create a channel or group chat for sharing productivity ideas or great articles.
Encourage your employees to communicate socially on those channels, as well as for work purposes. Without daily in-person interactions, it can be helpful to have a space for discussing the latest news or what’s for dinner.
Set up weekly or monthly staff meetings via video chat whenever possible. Just seeing the faces of other teammates can make a big difference in employee morale.
Also, make sure supervisors are checking in with their remote staff regularly and are prepared to discuss and address any issues they may have — employees might not reach out for help as readily.
Planning some team bonding activities for your remote employees can be helpful, but you might also consider encouraging them to forge connections beyond the workplace. Networking with other remote workers and freelancers is a great way for them to not only interact socially, but to expand their professional networks. Virtual chatrooms like Google Hangouts Chat or message boards like Reddit allow your employees to connect with others from the comfort of their own homes.
You can also provide resources or information about support groups in the remote employee’s area that offer help dealing with a variety of issues. Generally these kinds of groups are free, and can be great resources for people going through difficult life events or stress.
Employees who work from home may go the whole workday without interacting with another person. There is also the potential to fall into unhealthy habits. When an employee is already at home, it can be hard to find that important work-life balance.
It’s a good idea to encourage remote employees to take breaks throughout the day. Getting outside to take a walk in the park or heading to the gym for a workout are both healthy and helpful for relieving stress. There are many other ways an employee might take their break away from the computer, but the important thing is to take that time to reset, regroup, and relax.
Of course, it’s tough for people to take breaks when they have a heavy workload, due to fears that they might fall behind. Make sure that managers are assigning realistic timelines and achievable goals for remote staff, much like they would in any other situation.
As we know, there is still a stigma around mental health issues in the U.S. Many people suffering from these symptoms don’t want to talk about them the same way they may talk about a physical illness. A solution is to offer remote employees the help they need by providing access to anonymous mental health services and support that they can readily access at any time.
One great way to do this is through telemedicine, which includes mental health services. For example, here at Justworks, we offer access to Talkspace to our employees and our customers. This teletherapy platform provides secure and anonymous online therapy, where users can access confidential help from professionals, any time of day.
Remote services like these are helpful for a number of reasons. Firstly, they’re anonymous, so people don’t have to deal with that stigma. Secondly, they’re generally available at any time of day. Another great benefit is that they can be made accessible to anyone at the company — in-office and remote team members alike. This type of benefit can be incredibly useful as employees experience lots of disruption in their normal day-to-day.
Finally, employers might consider an Employee Assistance Program, or EAP. An EAP can help small businesses and their employees with a variety of issues in and out of the workplace, including mental health services and employee assistance.
Justworks has teamed up with Health Advocate to offer our customers access to a number of helpful services to members with mental health needs, including:
In-person, telephonic, and video counseling
Licensed Professional Counselors who address stress, depression, family issues, substance abuse, and more
Referrals for long-term counseling or specialized care
Again, the ease and convenience of these mental health services can be incredibly helpful to remote employees dealing with stress, loneliness, or other issues. And employees who have the resources to manage their mental health and wellbeing, as well as other issues outside of the workplace, will prove to be greater assets to your business and create a more positive working environment at times when it’s needed the most.
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