May 3, 2021
REMOTE WORK

The Future Of Mental Health In a Remote Work Environment

When it comes to the benefits of working remotely, one often comes across the many benefits that this approach brings, improving your employees’ and yourselves work-life balance.
The one word that pops up all over is “flexibility”: more flexibility when it comes to childcare, more flexibility when it comes to choosing your working hours and work environment to when you are most productive, and more flexibility when it comes to being able to prioritize what is truly important for you.
However, in order to profit from all the benefits that this approach has to offer, one has to make sure that the needed framework as well as support network is provided. This is not only necessary to boost productivity and improve processes within your organization but also keep your employees happy and healthy.
It is important to keep this in mind that, even though this approach can truly improve people's living standards, it can also lead to the complete opposite, with people suffering from isolation and mental health diseases such as depression and anxiety.

Mental Health Issues That Can Arise From Working Remotely.

Uncertainty is something that many of us have been exposed during the past year, with changes in many different areas of our lives. Clear information and structure is something we have learned to value and crave, whether it be to find out what changes the new Covid regulations bring or looking for “tips and tricks” to better structure your day during a pandemic.
It is not news to us that humans are change averse and that, from the psychological perspective, the longer something is thought to exist, the better it is evaluated. This also applies to the professional environment.
Even without a pandemic, businesses need to change and evolve, implement new processes and make improvements as they go to survive. Under normal circumstances, this can already cause anxiety to some of your employees. Just think about how much the changes from the past year can affect their mental health now.

Although mental health is very multifaceted and definitely does not only arise from practices, habits and changes within the workplace, employers should still remain careful and supportive making sure that the transition phase as well as adaptation of new practices does not leave anyone behind.
Working remotely is a rather big change, creating a massive amount of anxiety, stress and uncertainty for both employees and leaders alike. Some of the mental health issues that arose with the implementation of a remote work approach are rather new, such as for example increased feeling of isolation and loneliness and others have always always been part of the work environment but, now have been triggered differently or even increased like anxiety, stress and depression.

Isolation and Loneliness.

Working remotely, may help you bypass distracting coworkers and avoid the commuting time to the office. While this might sound nice for some time, it can trigger isolation and the feeling of loneliness.
Of course we interact with our coworkers on slack and during different virtual meetings but it is “the chat at the coffee machine” that is missing. It is difficult to implement casual conversations in a remote setting which also often contributes to having longer and less productive meetings. Due to the fewer opportunities people have for informal catch-ups, many employees tend to stay longer than needed in these meetings. Not only is this time draining but can also increase fatigue but also leave the participants feeling disconnected. This often happens in larger meetings where one is not able to see the individual faces and therefore their reactions to what one is saying.
Moreover, social isolation and the inability to share their troubles at work with their colleagues has also led to individuals experiencing increased irritability and negative emotions.

Anxiety and Stress.

At the beginning of the pandemic, many were worried about reduced productivity that may arise from working from home. What no one really saw coming was that it would actually lead to an increased workload and the temptation to work longer hours due to poorly defined boundaries between a worker’s personal and professional life. How does one differentiate between working from home and homing from work?
The freedom also results in a heavier workload when it comes to the self-management responsibilities, including time management, task prioritization and also IT-troubleshooting, which as we have all experienced, often puts our patience at test.
Another factor that can increase anxiety and stress are distractions. We all have laughed during a virtual meeting when witnessing a colleague struggling with their toddler demanding attention. But these sorts of distractions that may occur repeatedly during the day when working from home, flood our body with stress hormones doing more than just reducing focus and wasting your time.
This often leads to employees retreating to their bedroom in order to have some peace and quiet. From a mental health point of view, this is not a good idea. Working and sleeping in the same place can increase insomnia and other sleep disorders, which is directly linked to stress.

Depression

Working remotely can also trigger depression. This can happen if you feel stuck or feel like there are no career milestones you can work towards. The lack of environmental milestones as you would have when working from the office, being a new nameplate or a new fancy corner office, may feel like you have not achieved as much as your coworkers.
This issue is also connected with the difficulty of communicating in a remote setting. We often just communicate to clarify factual information, ask specific questions, or work on a specific project. Here, the pat on the shoulder does not come naturally and therefore, lack of appraisal is something that might increase demotivation and perceived senselessness in your work.  

How a Remote Working Policy Can Solve These Issues.

As it has been mentioned in our previous blog post, if your company offers the possibility to work remotely, you simply need a remote working policy in place to make it work.
“Finding freedom in a Framework” is not my phrase. However, it perfectly suits the “why” of a remote working policy. Even though leaders know that it is important to give people room to pursue their own ideas and make smart value adding decisions, people also need structure that paths the way from knowing to doing.


Mental health guidelines in a remote working policy

Including mental health guidelines in your remote working policy can support your employees in order to enjoy and make the most of the opportunities of a remote working approach. This can be done in various ways.
Of course, it can be addressed explicitly by providing benefits such as company intern psychological support and counselling. However, as one likes to say: a stitch in time saves nine.

Implementing preventive policies might eventually not only save you resources but also avoid the problem as a whole.
This starts with the implementation of a clear guidance on working hours in a remote work policy which is imperative to tackle the issue of overworking and improving the work life balance of their employees.
A major aspect that should be given special attention are clear communication guidelines. One has to make sure the information flow happens in both ways. It can be useful to establish fixed channels of communications as well as tools that facilitate the information exchange. Guidelines in how to conduct productive meetings and joint working sessions are also an example.
Even though it is also important to communicate mistakes and misunderstandings in a timely and correct manner, it is important to practice “the pat on the shoulder” on a regular basis, it being in a weekly company meeting where all the achievements are mentioned or just through a “well done!” in slack.
In the line of appraisal, something that should not be forgotten is to celebrate the successes of the company, it being a successful seed round or a project that finally came to life. This sort of company wide celebrations can create a healthier company culture and increase the feeling of belonging of your employees, as well as actually see the purpose in what they are doing from their desk at home.
Of course, some of these suggestions are easier to implement in a hybrid setting, as it would for example create valuable experiences for your employees when meeting outside of the work setting. However, it is important to be aware of the issues and difficulties your employees are being exposed in order to better support them with the guidance and support network  that a remote work policy can offer.

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