For employers trying to run a business amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing remote work can be a significant benefit to their employees. But managing remote team members can come with its share of challenges.
In order to have a healthy business in the current environment, it’s important to look out for the health and wellbeing of your employees, including their mental health. This can be especially difficult as your employees begin to work in other states or work from home while the risk of COVID-19 is present.
Unaddressed depression in the workplace (or, in this case, at home) can cause employee morale to suffer and makes your employees feel alone or isolated. For remote employees, these feelings of isolation may already be amplified, especially in a time of social distancing.
Fortunately there are some strategies you can use to help your remote workers stay healthy and happy while they keep things moving from home.
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Mental Health at Remote Workplaces
Nearly one in five American adults will experience mental illness in a given year. Despite this, there is still a significant stigma around mental health issues. The U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention found only 25% of people with mental health symptoms feel that others are caring or sympathetic about their illness. At a time when people are being asked to stay home and avoid social activities, these feelings can only increase.
While COVID-19 is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, employees might not reach out for help as readily.
For remote employees, there are other considerations. Working remotely or from home may seem like a great perk, but these employees miss out on things like colleague interaction and office provisions. Even loneliness can take a toll on people. Loneliness alone can take a toll on people, even in the best of situations.
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According to Fast Company, research published in the Perspectives on Psychological Science took a look at the impacts of loneliness on health. The researchers found that social isolation increases the risk of mortality by 29%.
In addition, social isolation and loneliness can sometimes lead to issues like stress-related sick leave and cardiovascular health complications. Facilitating more connections between employees could help to mitigate these risks as we focus on the existing risks of COVID-19.
As an employer, there are ways you can help.
Emphasize Interaction and Connection
Encourage all employees to help others feel included in your new remote community. Don’t leave it all on the individual team members to forge connections, but rather aim to make these interactions a priority for all employees in the company.
Although employees who work from home may be physically alone, there are many ways for them to interact with other members of the team throughout the day.
Thanks to technology, there are many strategies you can use to help remote employees feel less isolated:
- Utilize Slack, WhatsApp, or other messaging apps to create group channels where your workers can communicate with each other. These can serve more than project-related needs — create a channel or group chat for sharing productivity ideas or great articles.
- Encourage your employees to communicate socially on channels, as well as for work purposes. Without daily in-person interactions, it could be helpful to have a space for discussing the latest news or what’s for dinner.
- Set up weekly or monthly staff meetings, either via video chat, or in person whenever possible. Just seeing the faces of your teammates can make a big difference in employee morale.
Also, make sure supervisors are checking in regularly with their remote staff and addressing any issues they may have. While COVID-19 is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, employees might not reach out for help as readily.
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You can also consider encouraging remote employees to forge connections beyond the workplace. Networking with other remote workers and freelancers is a great way for them to not only interact socially, but to expand their professional networks. While social distancing is still being practiced, suggest virtual chatrooms like Google Hangouts Chat or message boards like Reddit where your employees can connect with others from the comfort of their own homes.
You can also provide resources or information about support groups in the remote employee’s area that offer help dealing with a variety of issues. Generally these kinds of groups are free, and can be great resources for people going through difficult life events or stress from the current environment.
Employees who work from home may go the whole workday without interacting with another person, especially if they’re being asked to remain at home. There is also the potential to fall into unhealthy habits. When an employee is already at home, it can be hard to find that important work-life balance.
It’s a good idea to encourage remote employees to take breaks throughout the day. Getting outside to take a walk in the park or heading to the gym for a workout are both healthy and helpful for relieving stress. There are many other ways an employee might take their break away from the computer, but the important thing is to take that time to reset, regroup, and relax.
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Of course, it’s tough for people to take breaks when they have a heavy workload, due to fears that they might fall behind. Make sure that managers are assigning realistic timelines and achievable goals for remote staff, much like they would in any other situation. Many people are already highly stressed, so it’ll help your employees if you can avoid adding additional stress to their plate.
Provide Access to Mental Health Services
As we know, there is still a stigma around mental health issues in the U.S. Many people suffering from these symptoms don’t want to talk about them the same way they may talk about a physical illness. A solution is to offer remote employees the help they need by providing access to anonymous mental health services and support that they can access anytime.
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One great way to do this is through telemedicine, which includes mental health services. For example, here at Justworks, we offer access to Talkspace to our team. This platform provides secure and anonymous online therapy, where users can access confidential help from professionals, any time of day.
Remote services like these are helpful for a number of reasons. Firstly, they’re anonymous, so people don’t have to feel that stigma. Secondly, they’re generally available at any time of day. Another great benefit is that they can be made accessible to anyone at the company — in-office and remote team members alike. This type of benefit is incredibly useful as employees experience lots of disruption in their normal day-to-day.
Finally, employers might consider an Employee Assistance Program, or EAP. An EAP can help small businesses and their employees with a variety of issues in and out of the workplace, including mental health services and employee assistance.
Justworks has teamed up with Health Advocate to offer our customers access to a number of helpful services to members with mental health needs, including:
- In-person, telephonic, and video counseling
- Licensed Professional Counselors who address stress, depression, family issues, substance abuse, and more
- Referrals for long-term counseling or specialized care
Again, the ease and convenience of these mental health services can be incredibly helpful to remote employees dealing with stress, loneliness, or other issues related to COVID-19 or anything else.
Employees who have the resources to manage their mental health and wellbeing, as well as other issues outside of the workplace, will prove to be greater assets to your business, and create a more positive working environment at times when it’s needed the most.
Justworks is monitoring multiple trusted sources including the CDC and WHO, as well as working with our insurance providers and other partners to ascertain the most accurate and current information about the COVID-19 outbreak. As new and verified information becomes available we are communicating it to our community.