These days, most of my interactions with colleagues happen digitally. After all, we’re mostly working from home. With COVID-19 cases rising again and new variants emerging, we’re not sure when we’ll all be back in person again.
Our situation isn’t unique, of course. Companies believe around 40% of their employees will still be doing the carpet commute when 2022 rolls around. In other words, remote work is here to stay — at least in some capacity.
With the continued isolation from co-workers (and for some people, other support systems) and stress from the pandemic, employers must reconsider their philosophies surrounding the employee experience as it pertains to wellness for remote workers.
What exactly is wellness, though? It’s hard to define, and it often has different meanings for different people. For my team, it’s feeling a sense of healthy balance. We want our staff to feel empowered to take care of themselves and prioritize their mental, physical, and emotional needs. Sure, we want them to be productive, too; that’s a necessary given. At the same time, we realize employee productivity can’t happen if people are feeling a strain on their mental health, lacking motivation, or losing sleep.
Here’s the issue: It can be much harder to get a sense of employees’ wellness and engagement levels through Zoom, Slack, and email interactions. In person, you might be able to spot red flags such as lowered participation or social withdrawal. Online, it’s difficult to figure out if someone’s just having a rough day — or if they need time off to take care of their well-being.
Despite those obstacles, we’ve made it our mission to prioritize employee wellness even though we’re all scattered geographically. If you’re in the same situation, try some of these methods that have proven effective for our team:
1. Check in with employees regularly.
When you’re in an office, you don’t need to make as much of an effort to check in with your team. After all, they’re right in front of you and you see them in the hallway or break room. When you have telecommuters, though, you need to make check-ins happen by design.
We communicate regularly with staff both en masse and individually. These touchpoints allow us to pass along reminders to stay safe, mask up, follow healthy protocols, and prioritize well-being. Be open about your feelings and how you’re taking care of your health to make it easier for employees to talk to you about their own needs. If they believe that you’re trying to be superhuman, they might assume you want them to do likewise. That’s not realistic or healthy.
2. Encourage healthy habits.
Your employees aren’t your kids. You can’t force them to stop visiting the freezer for ice cream at midnight or cut back on how much they drink. What you can do is make healthy living more practical for them. For one, I suggest offering an employee assistance program, or EAP. Remind everyone that the EAP is free for them to use and that it’s a private way for them to deal with any struggles they might be facing.
We’ve also allocated dollars toward sending organic, all-natural snacks to employees. Even if they can’t be on-site, they can still eat better. Additionally, we share ways to keep our bodies moving, such as walking outside, going to gyms (when they’re open), and eating healthy meals. And be sure to encourage them to take vacation time to decompress and get away from work. You don’t have to be heavy-handed — just look for opportunities to help your staff understand that they always have options.
3. Gauge workloads and performance — not productivity.
When you were all in the same office, you might have measured everyone based on productivity. At this point, however, it’s probably better to monitor everyone by performance and workload. For example, you might need to reallocate certain responsibilities temporarily from week to week. However, you’ll have to ask your employees to tell you honestly if they’re feeling overburdened or burnt out.
Most workers won’t tell you they’re having work-life balance issues affecting their tasks until they’re way in over their heads. Therefore, you’re going to have to seek out how they’re feeling by asking related questions during your check-ins. You can also introduce companywide changes to help with work-life balance, such as clear bookends for the workday. Setting expectations of when the workday starts and ends through a fun ritual can encourage team members to stop overworking themselves early in the morning or late into the evening.
4. Pay attention to the caregivers on your team.
You probably have a few caregivers on your team. These are the parents whose kids are still at home or whose daycares aren’t safe yet. Or they might be employees assisting older relatives who have health or mobility concerns. Being a caregiver is tough on its own, so trying to juggle telecommuting on top can be daunting for many people.
With this in mind, look into providing extra resources for your caregivers. These could include online tutors for their children, fresh meals delivered every once in a while, or more flexible hours. Your assistance can go a long way toward making their lives easier — and in turn, helping them do better work.
At this point, we’re eager to get back to the office in person, but in a modified way. Our goal is to adopt a hybrid working model to accommodate everyone’s needs. But one thing is clear: We’ll make sure to keep our wellness initiatives in place for the health of the people who help our brand succeed.
No matter what the future of work holds — be it hybrid, fully in person, or fully remote — employees’ wellness should always be a priority. Accommodating your team’s needs and taking care of the people who help your brand succeed is just good business.