Nuffield Health’s latest whitepaper – The effects of remote working on stress, wellbeing, and productivity – has discovered remote working correlates with higher workplace wellbeing but can also offer unique business challenges.
Hectic schedules and long hours have become an increasingly prevalent issue across offices and the rising gig economy, with a new study from Gallup revealing 23 percent of employees feel constantly burnt out.
Staff – in particular, remote workers – are also failing to fully disconnect themselves from work during holidays and time off. Nuffield Health recently described this growing epidemic as Workplace Separation Anxiety.
So how can businesses support today’s rising gig economy?
When it comes to remote working, businesses are often told it can increase productivity and benefit employee mental health. However, our studies show working more than 2.5 days a week from home can be associated with a breakdown in colleague relationships and an overall reduction in job satisfaction.
Not only this, but remote working is also often perceived as a ‘young person’s need’. However, our whitepaper revealed the 16-39 age makes up the smallest portion of remote workers. However, the picture is complex, and it may not be age per se that mediates this, but the fact as you get older you are more likely hold a more senior position (with more ability to choose remote working) and you’ve had time to develop the skills necessary for remote working.
So, remember, no employee is the same. Everyone thrives under different conditions so keep this ‘front of mind’ when considering your team’s needs and who is actually best suited to remote working opportunities.
Making a conscious decision to dismiss inaccurate, business stereotypes about who will thrive in a remote working environment brings a fresh opportunity to fully ascertain the suitability of employees for remote working.
Remember, an individual is not better suited by age or length of service, but by their ability to be productive and maintain a healthy relationship with work outside the office. Also, note that suitability is not a fixed trait, additional training can be delivered to improve the ability to thrive remotely.
Those able to use their initiative and who are confident tackling tasks alone are suited to working remotely, plus employees who are self-disciplined and self-motivated, as they’ll be required to manage much of their time.
In any business, there needs to be a healthy relationship and trust between managers and their team members. If remote workers don’t perceive there to be trust, then this can lead to overworking and increased levels of stress in the remote worker.
For remote working to succeed for both sides, there must be regular communication, with agreements between management and the wider team as to when remote employees can be contactable, how often face-to-face office meetings should take place and what the arrangements should be in the case of an emergency.
These decisions come down to each employee’s role and seniority in the company. Senior workers may require fewer contact hours and catch-ups. New or more junior members of the team may benefit from more office time as it provides networking opportunities, team bonding, and better coaching.
Provide the right mental health support
Statistics suggest mental health ill health can develop more frequently amongst remote workers, as they may find themselves separated from communication channels and support mechanisms.
If colleagues are frequently working away, keep in touch often and promote active, open communication as this can help alleviate stress caused by isolation.
Employers can also use digital platforms to further promote and support health awareness. Platforms like Nuffield Health’s PATH ask employees to input lifestyle data and recommend interventions based on individual lifestyles.
These allow staff working away from the office to access relevant help and seek more personalized interventions, rather than employers providing a few generic services.
Build better relationships with freelancers
Over 45 percent of companies have had remote staff or freelancers contracted for short term projects. With freelancing now so common, it’s important to consider these employees’ needs as well.
Freelancers suffer the same burnout and disengagement issues as full-time office colleagues, so ensure they have equal access to the same HR resources and help as the full-time team.
This may include negotiating deadlines that prevent overworking or extending employee benefits to longer-term freelancers to help alleviate some stresses, like healthcare.
About the author: Brendan Street, Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing at Nuffield Health. He has 30 years’ experience in treating mental health problems in the NHS and private sectors. He has delivered mental health treatments in various settings; hospital, community, offenders/prison, and homeless hostels, employment/corporate, to adults and children suffering from a wide range of conditions (psychosis, anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD). He also regularly delivers presentations regarding mental health within corporate settings and at prominent conferences. Brendan is a BABCP Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist and Supervisor, fully qualified EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) practitioner, and NMC registered Mental Health Nurse.