Benefits and Compensation, Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The Future of Corporate Wellness: How to Engage Remote Employees in the COVID-Era

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our way of life indefinitely. While the immediate changes are apparent, less is known about the lasting effects as we embark on the new normal. One of the biggest changes for Americans is the way we work.

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For years, most employees have commuted into offices or jobsites and spent their days surrounded by colleagues. Now, many employees are working from home, and their daily routines have been significantly altered. In addition to setting up a remote work space and handling demanding jobs with children at home or in school a couple of days a week, many employees are isolated from their colleagues and struggling to maintain their well-being.

The sudden shift in the work environment and the current health crisis have highlighted how critical it is to develop and maintain a healthy workforce. To do this, corporate wellness initiatives and program delivery must change to meet the times.

How Have Corporate Wellness Programs Changed in Recent Months?

When work transitioned from the office to the home, many corporate wellness programs pivoted to meet the needs of the country’s newly remote workforce. Wellness providers utilized more technology to deliver content, and programs transitioned from in-office seminars and cooking demos to webinar and video-based formats. Rising levels of employee stress and anxiety led employers to focus on mental health offerings.

The importance of managing chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes was prioritized because it became apparent that improving these conditions can prevent or minimize complications from the coronavirus.

How Can Employers Engage Remote Employees in Corporate Wellness Programs?

With the country in various phases of reopening and COVID-19 cases still rising in a number of states, many of the recent changes are likely to remain for the foreseeable future. Corporate wellness providers must embrace these changes, expand their offerings, and develop more robust programming to engage remote employees.

As offices begin to reopen, it will be a long time before they are filled to capacity. In addition to reducing the number of employees in the office to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, many organizations will incorporate work-from-home aspects into their future frameworks.

For corporate wellness programs to reach the same level of engagement as before the pandemic, providers will need to utilize robust, interactive technology to keep remote employees engaged.

What Will Corporate Wellness Programming Look Like in the Coming Months?

Technology and virtual programming will play a key role in the future of corporate wellness.

  • Health portals that allow employees to enter health data such as weight, activity, and food choices, as well as virtual sessions with dietitians and other health professionals, will provide accountability and support that used to only be available face-to-face.
  • Wellness challenges that cultivate communication within teams and allow for socialization, whether they’re in the office or remote, will foster a sense of community while improving the health of employees.
  • Webinars, virtual grocery store tours, exercise classes, and cooking demos are all initiatives that can be used to engage remote employees.
  • Telehealth sessions with dietitians, mental health professionals, or health coaches will ensure that employees have access to support on-site or from home.
  • Virtual initiatives, whether they include wellness coaching to improve fitness or bringing employees together socially, will help employees feel more connected, engaged, and productive.

Employers will focus on mental health offerings. While the importance of mental and emotional health has received attention in the past couple of years, the pandemic highlights how critical these initiatives are to employee well-being.

Employees are struggling with working from home while managing young children, feeling isolated and disconnected from colleagues, and dealing with other issues, including the loss of income from a spouse or the fear of getting the virus. In April 2020, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that nearly half of people in the United States felt the coronavirus was harming their mental health.

The future of corporate wellness must address mental health in the same manner it handles nutrition, fitness, and chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. One of the first steps is to encourage open and honest communication around mental health and provide training to managers so they can spot issues and respond appropriately.

Employers can take a number of other steps, including educating employees on the benefits available through their employee assistance program (EAP) and health plan and developing programs that focus on mental and emotional wellness. Providing resources and counseling to all employees will increase productivity and create happier, healthier employees.

Population health management will be a priority. Recent research suggests that individuals with chronic health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease, are far more likely to experience severe COVID-19 symptoms and outcomes. The same is true for individuals who are obese.

Developing wellness programs that focus on managing and improving chronic diseases will be a priority for employers. Encouraging employees to take control of their health is more important than ever. Managers and company leaders often set the tone for program participation, so it’s vital that support for the program comes from the top.

Programs should emphasize the role wellness has in supporting a healthy immune system and provide employees with the resources and support needed to make healthy lifestyle changes.

What Steps Should Employers Take Now?

The opportunity to expand and enhance corporate wellness offerings to meet the needs of employees during these unprecedented times is exciting. Those in leadership roles should work with their wellness provider to assess their current wellness program and identify what is working and what is lacking. It’s important to determine the needs of your workforce and develop a customized strategy to engage your remote employees in wellness.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone. In the midst of the chaos, employee well-being is more important than ever, and a well-designed program can positively impact productivity and engagement.

Adding technology and virtual programming to promote on- and off-site engagement, incorporating mental health support, and promoting healthy lifestyles to those with chronic health conditions will keep employees engaged in well-being while working remotely. Even as the country finds its new balance, employers should prioritize employee wellness initiatives to encourage mental and physical well-being and develop a healthy workforce.

Additional Sources

Debra Wein is CEO and Founder of Wellness Workdays (2004), headquartered in Hingham, Massachusetts, and has extensive experience working in the health and wellness industry.

An engaging and dynamic speaker, Wein has presented to the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy Seals, the USA Track and Field Olympic coaches, MIT, and Harvard Business School, to name a few. She has appeared on many of the major networks and cable stations in the Boston area, speaking on worksite wellness.

Wein is also the Program Director of the Wellness Workdays Dietetic Internship, one of the largest nationally accredited programs in the United Sates, training future registered dietitians in the areas of worksite wellness and health promotion, sports nutrition and entrepreneurship, and nutrition communications and marketing. 

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