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Perhaps a silver lining from this coronavirus pandemic is that conversation about mental health has officially come to fore in most workplaces. As the lockdown restrictions begin to ease around the world, organisations that are thinking about making remote working a more permanent feature will need to reconcile with how the dynamic will impact employee wellbeing. These decisions put a huge strain on employers and it's completely understandable. Org leaders are not expected to be medical experts and yet are expected to make decisions as they’re equipped with the expertise. So to help you make an informed decision, we've sifted through the existing literature and compiled a list of what you need to know about the impact of remote work on employee wellbeing to provide some structure in the decision-making process.

Remote work & subjective wellbeing

The media, during this tumultuous time, tends to focus disproportionately on the negative wellbeing effects of remote work. Without discounting those effects, we should perhaps first remember that our current living situation is not representative of the realities in the future. When restrictions eventually ease up, work social isolation will likely be mitigated by personal social interactions, so it’s actually more useful to look at the impact of remote working prior to the coronavirus. And broadly speaking, there is evidence to suggest that on average, telework can increase overall job satisfaction, which is an important component of subjective wellbeing. Working remotely gives employees a feeling of autonomy and control. For those with family commitments, having flexibility over work schedule also leads to greater satisfaction. Of course, job satisfaction alone doesn’t explain wellbeing effects but for many ambitious people, job satisfaction is an important part of life’s equation. So this is good news and important to keep in mind.

Remove work & loneliness

As you probably know, the prolonged feeling of loneliness can lead to burnout, anxiety, and depression. However, the propensity to feel lonely while working remotely can vary.

For example, we typically attribute loneliness to the level of interaction between an employee and their team of colleagues. However, a study shows that interaction with anyone who has a direct impact on an employee's performance can have a significant impact on their feelings of isolation, sometimes even more so than with teammates. Take a teleworking salesperson, their relationship with clients can foster a sense of belonging, social support, and friendship, that can be more helpful to curb isolation than the contact with their own teams.

In this scenario, organisational leaders can prioritise remote working for those in roles that already rely on a large network of people (within or out of the organisation). For certain roles, it’s also helpful to think about redesigning the workflow so that employees are required to interact or collaborate with others to complete tasks.

Second, loneliness is also experienced differently based on individual personalities traits. Introverts, for example, tend to deal with isolation better than extroverts. Those who rank higher on the conscientious scale from the Big Five Personality Traits find sticking to schedules and setting boundaries to be much easier than others. And those who are high on neuroticism tend to struggle more with general isolation. You can segment your team into different categories and create schemes that appeal to different people. For example, the typical advice of creating more virtual gatherings to build cohesion actually does little to curb loneliness for introverts. You're better off creating a community around a shared activity such as a book club or running in rather than force introverts to socialise through forced conversations.

Finally, workplace isolation can be more severe for those who live alone. While these employees might have a fewer work-family conflict which helps them be productive, their well-being can suffer as a result. Acknowledgement that everyone’s home life presents different implications for wellbeing is the first step. It can be helpful to provide employees with a signpost solution and let them choose interventions that are more suited to their lifestyle.

So else what can you do?

  1. Regular check-ins from direct supervisors are critical - There is robust evidence to suggest that out of all factors that may influence workplace wellbeing, a lack of supervisor support has the strongest negative wellbeing effect. Managers should be encouraged to create systematic check-ins with their team, be advised to stay patient, and trust that over time and with the repeated process of mutual sharing, employees will eventually be more comfortable letting managers know of what they need.
  2. Employees deal with remote work differently - Spend the time to get to your employees. Once you understand who they are and what they’re dealing with at home, you can then create more customised and relevant programmes.
  3. Organisations need to create a culture of trust - To make the remote working arrangement work, organisations will need to be more transparent and committed to building trust. Employees need to feel like they're in control over their careers. Without proper communication and trust, workplace culture can quickly deteriorate.

So much of designing the right programme depends on staying connected and knowing your employees. One way to do that is through Ping! Ping is a 24/7 personal coach, who is there to listen to your employees when you can't. Ping is also geared with mental wellbeing tools designed to help employees with problems at home or work. Sign up for a virtual demo today!

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