The pandemic has created a situation in which almost all employees who were able to work from home have started to do so. Many companies are now saying they are going to find ways to keep this transition after the virus is less of a risk in the future. After all, remote work means less commuting stress for employees and lower costs for employers.
However, remote work can come with stressors. Right now, it may even be more stressful than before. Here are a few reasons:
- There may be the added stress of worrying about a virus.
- Child care is often not available, meaning parents may currently have dual roles at the same time (and may be feeling like both are suffering).
- Employees are often working more hours than usual because of not having to commute.
- There may be higher expectations for each employee after a reduction in the workforce.
- The lack of social interactions and interpersonal conversations may increase anxiousness and stress levels.
- When remote work is new, there may be less separation between work and home life, leading to more work being done outside of normal work hours.
- Feelings of loneliness or isolation can be draining.
These issues and stressors aren’t always obvious either. Employers may not even be aware their employees are suffering. But knowing there is a high likelihood means employers can be proactive about remote employee stress before it becomes problematic.
Helping Remote Employees Manage Stress
Here are some actions employers can take to help remote employees manage stress:
- Change wellness initiatives and benefits to ensure they can be utilized at home.
- Communicate with employees about wellness initiatives they may not be aware of.
- Communicate about stress-reduction options.
- Communicate about mental health resources on offer.
- Offer video-based fitness courses for all fitness levels (optional, of course). Also offer stress-reduction options like guided meditation.
- Encourage employees to create and stick with routines, which can be helpful for managing the workday and for keeping work and home life as separate as possible.
- Encourage employees to still take their vacation time if they would like. (Just because they can do their work remotely doesn’t mean they should be working nonstop.)
- Train everyone, especially the entire management and HR team, to be emotionally sensitive in all communications. Everyone is under stress now, and how things are said can have an outsized impact.
- Encourage people to use the most personal interactions that are appropriate for the situation. Encourage phone calls and video chats when appropriate, rather than e-mails. While they’re not the same as being in person, they can help.
- Encourage employees to make time for interpersonal communication that may or may not be solely work-related. This type of communication fosters better working relationships, and it’s easy to lose it when working remotely if you don’t purposefully include it in the day.
- Ensure that the organization’s policies for remote work are flexible enough to accommodate the current situation. That may mean allowing different work hours to accommodate child care or care for ailing loved ones, for example. Flexibility to manage work around other life stressors is key right now. The easiest way to accomplish this is to stop judging employees based on specific hours worked and start caring about the outcomes of the work. As long as the work gets accomplished in a timely manner, that’s what counts.
- Ensure employees have the software and hardware they need to be efficient and effective while working remotely. There’s no need to add to the stress by making the job more difficult than it needs to be because of not having the right tools.
- Ensure managers are not micromanaging remote employees, which will only add to stress levels. Also ensure the organization is not micromanaging in the form of employee surveillance.
- Show employees trust. Having autonomy and not feeling like everything you do is subject to question go a long way toward satisfaction, especially when working remotely.
What has your experience been? What else would you add to this list?
Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.