Self-care at work is hugely beneficial – in an always-on world, it's more important than ever to practice the things that protect our emotional and mental health.
What does remote employee wellness look like? Employee wellness has been a business priority since before COVID-19 disrupted our lives. It’s not only good for employees, it’s good for business.
Now, after a year+ of stay-at-home orders, companies are starting to open their offices again. But, many are also recognizing remote work as a viable option for their teams.
As we look to establish new standards and embrace a remote-friendly work environment, there are some best practices – for both employees and employers – when it comes to taking care of employee health.
Remote by choice vs. remote by necessity
Before we dive into what a remote-friendly world could look like, it’s important to remember that choosing to work from home is not the same as being forced into it due to a global crisis.
There’s a lot to be learned from that experience, but the challenges employees face and the types of support they need will be different under more normal circumstances.
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Remote employee wellness: Tips for employees
Working from home comes with a lot of flexibility and autonomy. It also comes with a lot more personal responsibility.
Looking for ways to take better care of yourself while working? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Routinize your workday.
We’ve become all too familiar with work-from-home time distortion. When you live and work in the same space, days blend together and it can have a serious impact on your mental health.
Routines can keep us organized, and help us work and unwind more effectively. By establishing patterns, they signal our brains when it’s time to shift our energy and attention.Here are some ways to build a daily routine into your remote workday:
- Establish morning and evening “commutes.”
Setting daily morning and evening routines can be extremely effective for transitioning into and out of the workday. Some ideas to consider:
- Take a walk or exercise before or after work
- Sit down and enjoy your morning coffee while reading a chapter of a book, doing a crossword puzzle, or listening to your favorite podcast
- Start your day with a shower and get dressed for work
- Shut down your computer and turn off work-related notifications on your phone at the end of the day
- Set office hours and stick to them.
They don’t have to be 9-5, but having set working hours and sticking to them is crucial work-from-home self-care. Figure out what schedule works best for you and set expectations for when you’re online, and when you are effectively “OOO.”
- Have a dedicated workspace.
This is your office. When you’re there, your brain knows it’s time to work; and the act of stepping away at the end of the day can help kickstart your evening routine.
Take your PTO and sick days.
When you go into an office with the sniffles, a colleague will likely tell you to go home and get better. But when your office is at home, you’re the one in charge of your time and monitoring your limitations. Sign off when you’re sick and let your body fully recover. And use your vacations days to time off to recharge.
Need more motivation? Remember that taking the time you need signals to others that they can do the same. On the flip side, working through illness or checking in on vacation sends the opposite message. Model the behavior you want to see at your company.
Create a menu of wellness activities and do at least one a day.
Wellness encompasses everything from physical fitness to stress management; from managing chronic conditions to nurturing meaningful interpersonal relationships. It’s different for everyone.
So, ask yourself: What activities and behaviors make you feel your best? The things that make you feel like you. Write a list. Some examples from mine:
- Journaling & creative writing
- Walking with my dog
- Quality time with my friends and family
- Quiet alone time
Once you have your list, treat it like a menu of self-care. Every day, pick at least one item off your menu, and commit to doing it.
Remote employee wellness: Tips for employers
For business and HR leaders looking to support a more remote-friendly environment, now is a great time to evaluate your remote employee wellness initiatives. Of course, what you offer will depend on your company and its culture, the resources you have available, and what percentage of your staff will be remote.But employee wellness is critical, whether you’re together in-person or not.
Here are a few ideas and thought-starters to consider:
Understand why your employees are choosing remote work
As we mentioned earlier, there’s a huge difference between being thrown into remote work during a global pandemic, and choosing to work from home.
To best support your remote teams, it’s important to understand what about remote work they prefer.
Is it because they’re able to work from a completely different city? Are they trying to minimize childcare costs? Or is it the flexible hours they don’t want to give up?
Use employee surveys to understand their preferences and priorities, and to get a sense for the challenges they’re facing day-to-day from home.
Those insights may help you craft a more thoughtful and impactful employee wellness program overall.
Employee wellness has become one of the most critical factors in business outcomes, as the always-on culture gives way to holistic approaches to work.
Offer remote-friendly wellness resources
Make it easy for remote employees to take care of themselves. Some companies provide ergonomic office equipment, healthy snacks, or access to a gym as perks to their employees, but those benefits don’t apply if you’re not in the office.
Remote-friendly alternatives could include:
- Offering a catalog of ergonomic home-office equipment
- Partnering with on-demand wellness apps like WellBeats, Calm, and Headspace to provide them as a benefit to employees
- Ensuring your employee portal is up-to-date and easy to navigate, so employees can easily find and access all your wellness resources and benefits
Business leaders are discovering how to improve the employee experience as the pandemic crisis redefines how we live and work.
Strike a balance between connectivity and productivity
When we were thrust into WFH due to stay-at-home orders, social isolation became a hot topic for employee wellness. Companies went all-in on video chats and virtual happy hours, and it didn’t take long for Zoom fatigue to set in.
Of course you want your employees to feel connected and engaged with their team, and to make it as easy as possible for teams to collaborate from a distance. The trick is finding the right balance:
- Embrace collaboration apps like Teams and Slack, but be mindful of how many platforms you’re asking employees to check each day to avoid app-burnout
- Host virtual team-building or social events to foster connection. But set the expectation that those are out-of-office hours, just like they would be for an in-person event, and team members are not expected to work a full day on top of the events.
- Implement “quiet hours” or “quiet days” where no one schedules calls and people can take care of tasks that pile up. (For this to work, though, you need top-down buy-in and enforcement from leadership.)
More paid time off, free mental health counseling, and regular check-ins via surveys: The focus on employee well-being has never been better - or more important.
Invest in effective management training
Managers have the biggest impact on employee experience, whether in-person or remote. When it comes to employee wellness, they’re often the first to recognize a team member isn’t performing as-usual.People frequently get promoted to managerial roles because they’re excellent at their jobs. But the skills that make them great workers may not make them great managers.
Effective managers are a lot like coaches. They need to be strategic, emotionally intelligent, and able to bring out the best in their team. They need to create a psychologically safe environment where employees can ask for support without fear of repercussions. And now they need to do it long-distance.
Training your people managers to have healthy and productive dialogues with their teams can have a huge impact on employee wellness and can help create a positive company culture overall.
The new rules of employee engagement
Work from home is here to stay, in some form or another. As companies and employees alike figure out how the new rules of engagement work into their lives, remember:
- Don’t expect working from home to look the same as working in an office. Design your employee experience(s) with your work setting in mind, whether it’s remote, in-person, or hybrid.
- Don’t expect working from home now to look the same as working from home during quarantine. Instead, learn from that experience and let it inform your future experience.
Take this opportunity to shape the culture of work on-purpose.