11 Aug 2020 By: Shelby Shaffer
With all that’s going on in the world today, there’s never a better time to talk about mental health. Coronavirus forced a lot of us to pack up and create a make-shift home office as we entered lockdown and a 6-month quarantine. But the sudden shift in our daily routines and the absence of social interaction and physical stimuli can take a hit to mental health for remote employees.
As someone who lives with anxiety and seasonal depression, I personally thrive off the energy and joy I feel when I am surrounded by people. I am a social butterfly. I love to talk with my friends, co-workers, even strangers about whatever topics come to mind.
I live alone, so I cherish the time I spend with others. Whether it’s a night out with friends, an intimate dinner with my partner, or just seeing my coworkers every morning, I love the in-person interactions I get on a daily basis. And frankly, I just don’t like to be alone.
Even though I love the freedom of working from home, I miss my co-workers. I miss seeing our support tech in the morning and having animated conversations about pop culture. I miss swapping recipes and talking about new breweries with our designer. I miss my marketing team and being able to quickly bounce ideas around for a new strategy. I even miss my boss and his wild one-liners that would have me stitched with laughter. I talk about them like they’re dead, but I promise they’re not! They’re just far away, and now our conversations are digital and limited to the basics.
COVID messed up the daily lives of everyone nationwide. But for those of us who were already living with mental health disorders, the feeling of social isolation and loneliness was ten-fold. In fact, according to Carolina Osorio, MD, a geriatric psychiatrist at Loma Linda Behavioral Health Institute,
“Loneliness is a threat to public health, much like obesity and substance use,” she says. “The research tells us those lonely people are more likely to become ill, experience cognitive decline and die earlier than those with more social lives.”
For those of us who were fortunate enough to remain employed throughout this pandemic, remote work was a sudden change we might not have been prepared for. We no longer had our set office environment. We no longer had all our preferred tools or accommodations.
With nearly one-third of the U.S. workforce working from home, employers should be making moves to help improve mental health for remote employees. There are a few steps employees can take to save their mental health and steps employers can take to help their remote employees continue to feel valued and part of the team.
How Employers Can Improve Mental Health for Remote Employees
Keeping employee morale high while everyone is working remotely can be a challenge. You want your employees to be productive, but you also want them to feel valued and appreciated during these hard times.
In a 2020 State Remote Work report, loneliness is ranked as one of the biggest challenges remote workers face in their everyday life. How can an employer help to improve the mental health of remote employees? By doing regular check-ins, both work and non-work related. (Black Enterprise)
Image from Visual Capitalist
Work-related check-ins should be a given. Employers should be checking in with all employees to see if they are on track, if they need a hand, or if they have any questions about their assigned responsibilities.
Non-work-related check-ins can be done one-on-one or in a group. These are much more informal. This type of check-in can be done to make sure remote employees are feeling included, or if the overall morale of the team seems to be slacking. Keeping in touch with employees on a non-work related basis is a great way to show value in their overall wellbeing.
Offer Additional Benefits
During this crazy time, it might be a good idea to offer all employees added benefits. Employers can build relationships with therapists, spiritual healers, masseuses, gyms, or yoga studios to offer employees services at discounted prices.
A friend of mine works for a company that partnered with a local yoga studio. Employees at her company are able to go to yoga classes or various guided meditation classes at a discounted price. I asked how this improved her mental health as a remote employee, and she said not only did it help her realign her thoughts and create inner peace, but she felt like her employer really cared about her wellbeing during this pandemic.
Besides offering additional services, a pandemic like this might be a good time to evaluate the different insurance options available to employees. Do employees have coverage for mental health services? If not, making this change might seriously help the mental health of any of your employees.
Take Advantage of Video Calls
When quarantine started, the Zoom boom happened as well. Everyone was using Zoom or other video conferencing software to connect with his or her team for meetings, check-ins with remote employees, and even hosting team happy hours! Seeing the team “in person” can really boost morale and allow everyone to know his or her team is still alive and well and all going through similar hardships.
“Once video engages during a call, the entire feel and etiquette of the meeting changes. Participants can see and be seen. Any sense of distance is removed. There’s no longer any semblance of “out of sight, out of mind.” The results are superior levels “of closeness and engagement.”
Video conferencing is a great way to keep your dispersed team connected and aligned. Using today’s state-of-the-art, cloud-delivered video conferencing is the closest thing to working together in person.
I strongly doubt that it has never hurt an employer to show gratitude towards their employees. Expressing gratitude can help boost morale and make them feel appreciated.
Work can get stressful, especially during a national pandemic. Employers should still reward good work, even if they are far away from their employees. Thanking employees individually for their hard work and effort will speak volumes. Gratitude can be shown privately during a one-on-one or publicly if the whole team should be made awake of a job well done.
Leadership and family expert, Dr. Susan Kuczmarski suggests employers should view praise as an on-going and essential ingredient of people management.
“Praise creates positive energy to fire-up the team. Praise is the fuel that energizes and stimulates group work. Critical to building morale and productivity, praise gives team members a vision of where they’re going that is positive and a sense that they are moving forward.”
How Employers Can Encourage Remote Employees to Manage Their Own Mental Health
While employers can provide different resources for mental health, and keep employees engaged throughout the workweek, ultimately the responsibility is on the remote employees themselves to make sure he or she is getting what they need to remain healthy and stable.
Employers can encourage remote employees to follow these tips to help maintain his or her mental health during quarantine. The more employers can normalize remote employees’ workdays, and continue to make remote employees feel like he or she is still an active and valued member of the team, the more remote employees will feel appreciated – boosting his or her mental health.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests the following for maintaining a routine to save mental health for remote employees. A new “work from home” routine will help remote employees get into the best mindset to feel more productive and keep the boundaries between work and home from blurring.
Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule
Creating a new remote work routine starts with a defined sleep schedule. While it’s easier than ever to sleep in or stay up late, that won’t benefit remote employees in the long run. The best way remote employees can maintain their mental health is to stick to a schedule similar to one they’d keep if they were still reporting to the office.
Since March, I’ve kept the same 5 am alarm that allows me to wake up and get in a workout or a long walk before I start my day. This was something my body was used to pre-quarantine, and keeping a similar routine has helped me stay in a productive mindset. Additionally, I still try to get to bed around the same time, too. Around 7:30, I start to wind down, and by 9, I am in bed, usually reading a book.
Sticking to a normal waking and sleeping routine will help your body and mind remain in a productive “work” mentality. When we get a good, consistent night’s sleep, we perform better. According to Matthew Carter, PhD, a sleep specialist at Williams College,
“Most people equate losing sleep with having more time to enjoy the day or getting things done. Ironically, when they are sleep deprived, they enjoy the day less and are so unfocused that they are much slower in getting things done. You’re able to get more done on a good night’s sleep, not less.”
Shower and Dress
Maintaining any sense of normalcy can help improve mental health for remote employees, including maintaining a normal morning routine.
Just as one would if he or she were going into the office, it can be very helpful to create a similar morning routine. For me, it’s gym, shower, breakfast, then I can log on to my portal in the right headspace. I skip the hair and makeup routine I would normally do if I was going in just to save time (and product). Encouraging remote employees to put thought and care into their morning routines can help provide a more productive mindset.
While I am not promoting remote employees wear full business attire to sit in their home office, an outfit can influence productivity. Dressing for work helps mentally separate work and leisure time, which could be very helpful for remote employees. (Hive)
Wearing casual Friday work clothes instead of sweats will serve as a cue to start the workday. Remote employees can still look semi-professional while still being comfortable.
Keep Normal Working Hours
Again, consistency is going to be key when it comes to maintaining mental health for remote employees. Whatever work schedule was kept, encourage (or require) remote employees to keep the same timeframes. It can be hard to separate work and home for remote employees, but the better he or she is at focusing on work during work hours, the better off remote employees will be.
I still maintain the same 8a-4p working hours. This helps me to prioritize my day without allowing myself to get sucked in well past working hours. It also allows me to have a better work/life balance. As I sit here, I can run through a list of things that need to get done around my house, but just as they would have to wait until I got home from the office, most of those things will have to wait until after 4.
Keeping our normal working hours not only benefits remote employees, but it benefits his or her whole team as well. The team knows they can count on other remote employees to be available if/when he or she is needed throughout the day. If remote employees allow themselves to sleep in too late or log out early, his or her team won’t be able to rely on them.
Designate a Work Area
Having a designated work area might be our most important tip for maintaining mental health for remote employees.
It can be easy to post up in bed or in front of a TV, but those are not the best option to maximize productivity and mental health. Remote employees should try to recreate the same (or better) accommodations they would experience in their office. Having a separate workspace promotes a healthy work-life balance.
Create a space that promotes productivity and focus. For example, if you work remotely from your bed, it’s difficult to feel motivated to work. This is because your mind associates your bed with rest and relaxation, not focus and concentration. (TimeDoctor)
If remote employees don’t have the resources to create a “normal” workspace for themselves, it is worth offering to borrow equipment for the quarantine. As an employer, you should want to help provide remote employees with any accommodations needed so productivity doesn’t fall during quarantine.
Why Prioritize Mental Health for Remote Employees?
Prioritizing mental health for remote employees, and employees who are still able to come into the office is a special quality that not all employers have. But the employers who do have this quality see a happier, healthier team that works hard to meet the end goals of a company. Employees who have the resources to manage their mental health and wellbeing will prove to be greater assets to your business, and create a more positive working environment at times when it’s needed the most.