Improving Productivity By Focusing On The Mental Health Effects Of Remote Work

No question about it, in a matter of a few short months, life has changed. We’re all still learning how to navigate this new normal.

Many parts of that means figuring out how to adapt to our new, and seemingly far more precarious, working lives. Even as states across the US relax or lift their lockdown orders, more than half of employees who transitioned to telework when the coronavirus pandemic hit in earnest last March want to continue working remotely.

Some of the nation’s largest companies have already announced their plans to keep their doors closed for now, while more than two-thirds of companies who made the transition to a virtual workforce are considering making things permanent. And with experts warning of a possible second surge, that might not be only good public health policy but also sound business practice.

In light of all this, it seems that remote work might be the best option many companies have right now. But it’s far from ideal, and if you’re tasked with leading newly remote teams, then there are some special considerations you need to be aware of to keep your team healthy, happy, and productive. It starts, above all, with supporting the mental health of your virtual workforce.

Mental health matters

Since COVID-19 struck, we’ve spent so much time focusing on protecting our physical health that it’s been all too easy to forget about the importance of mental health. And yet, corona virus hasn’t just wrought havoc on our physiology, it’s also taken a tremendous toll on our minds and our spirits.

In an environment where millions of people are already struggling with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the pandemic, fledgling telecommuters are at particular risk.

Studies show that remote workers may face significant mental health challenges relating to the virtual work environment, with burnout and loneliness posing the greatest threats. To be sure, no one wants their employees to be exhausted and unhappy.

It’s not just hurtful on a human level to know that your team members are suffering, but it’s also bad for the bottom line. Employees experiencing burnout have been shown to be less productive, less loyal, less engaged, and less healthy. Further, loneliness can exact even more significant harm. A growing body of research indicates that not only is loneliness the most common complaint of online workers, but also the most dangerous, putting them at heightened risk of premature death.

What is to be done?

With so much on the line for your company and, above all, for your crew, it’s more important than ever to ensure that you’re engaging your employees effectively, even from a distance. The good news is it doesn’t have to be complicated or onerous. It just takes a bit of strategy and a dash of creativity.

A good place to start is by taking a look at your company culture and trying to figure out how to translate that into the remote work environment. Developing a virtual engagement strategy that aligns with your company’s mission, values, and processes is going to provide your team with a reassuring sense of familiarity, continuity, and simple normalcy.

So if your company culture is a highly interactive one with lots of interaction and communication between employees throughout the typical workday, give your team the tools to replicate that in the virtual space. Productivity and communication tools like Slack, Asana, and Google Meet can help your team stay in close contact, all day, and every day.

And that kind of constant communication isn’t just going to boost engagement, but it’s also going to increase morale and decrease loneliness. It’s also going to help you manage your remote team more effectively because you will be able to keep your finger on the pulse of how your team members really are doing, even though you’re not able to see them in person.

To help mitigate your team’s risk of burnout, it’s incumbent on you to promote, and to model, self-care. One of the reasons why remote workers are at such a high risk of burnout is because telecommuting could mean that, physically, you’ve never left the office.

And that dramatically increases the temptation to be always on and connected, to be constantly checking email or instant messenger, to always be checking or doing some little thing for work. Such a temptation comes with a nasty flip side, which are the feelings of guilt and anxiety that arise in your workers when they do actually disconnect at the end of the remote workday.

So it’s imperative that you help your employees maintain a healthy work/life balance. Respect boundaries by not trying to contact your employees or assign tasks outside of their regular work hours and model the same with your own work schedule.

Finally, encourage your team to get outside and play. Ask them to post videos and pictures of their latest hiking trip. You might even schedule a socially-distanced bike ride with your team. When it comes to physical and mental health, after all, it doesn’t get much better than spending time in nature.

The takeaway

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot about our world, and, for many of us, the way that we work is one of them. Even though remote work may be physically safer than returning to the office, it brings with it its own risks, particularly to employees’ mental health. But with a bit of planning and a lot of compassion and understanding, you can help your employees stay healthy, happy, and productive, even when they’re working from home.

Author bio: Beau Peters is a creative professional with a lifetime of experience in service and care. When he is not writing, he enjoys reading and trying new things.

Photo credit: Pixabay