Remote and hybrid working patterns, which were thrust upon many of us during the Covid pandemic, have continued to be the norm for firms across the country.

Indeed, for employees who previously endured long commutes, the shift in working patterns has been a positive way to improve their work-life balance. Doing away with the commute enables them to spend more time with family, pursue their hobbies, and even eat more healthily as they can cook a fresh lunch in the kitchen rather than grabbing a pre-made sandwich.

There are also benefits to employers. Remote working policies lead to better staff retention and a much broader talent pool for recruitment, not to mention reduced costs for office space.

But alongside these benefits, according to a report by CNBC, remote working has led to some unique, and perhaps unforeseen consequences for employee mental health and wellbeing. Produced by Mark Bingham, read on to discover how you can support your employees who work from home.

Working from home presents some unique challenges for employees

Roughly three years after the government enforced the first Covid lockdown and encouraged everybody to work from home where possible, research is beginning to shed light on some of the ways this change has affected workers’ wellbeing.

Full-time remote workers have reported:

  • Difficulty creating and maintaining relationships with work colleagues
  • A lack of energy
  • Difficulty “switching off” at the end of the day
  • Musculoskeletal problems
  • Disturbed sleep.

One phenomenon that has been identified by multiple research studies, in particular by researchers at Stanford University, is that of “Zoom fatigue” – the idea that conversations taking place on a video conference are more tiring than face-to-face chats.

“Zoom fatigue” and burnout are on the rise

Video calls allow us to work from anywhere in the world. But, compared to face-to-face conversation, they can be extremely tiring. This is because you must interpret non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and body language that is much more difficult to notice on a screen.

Not to mention the strange feeling of being able to see your own face reflected back at you during every online interaction; it’s so unnatural that it becomes emotionally exhausting.

Sadly, since the start of the pandemic, workplace burnout has also been on the rise. According to figures reported in HR News, burnout cases increased by 48% to a record high in the year to July 2022.

The report put this increase down to a combination of employees neglecting to take their full annual leave entitlement when working from home and feeling unable to switch off since their work and home lives became too intertwined.

You can read more about why burnout is increasing and how to stop it from affecting your team on our website.

5 practical ways to support employees who work from home

There’s no doubt that remote and hybrid working patterns have enabled a plethora of positive changes to our working lives. But the challenges that have come alongside this mean it’s important to take the time to understand how best to support your employees.

  1. Encourage employees to set boundaries around work and home life

It’s all very well saying that everyone should log off from their work at a certain time of day and take regular breaks, but further measures might be helpful in enabling your employees to implement these behaviours consistently.

Having work emails accessible on their phones is a classic example of how technology has blurred the lines between work and home life. To help your employees switch off and leave their work behind at the end of the day, you could encourage them to uninstall their work emails from their phone so that they aren’t tempted to check them in the evening.

If anyone does need to write emails outside of work hours, perhaps they could use the scheduling function, so that the message isn’t sent until the recipient is likely to be logging on for their work day. This removes the chances of a notification disrupting a colleague’s evening.

Sharing details of the short regular breaks that employees are taking through the day could also be helpful. For example, sharing a message to let team members know they will be unavailable for 20 minutes, or adding breaks as a calendar item all normalise being unavailable for certain periods of the day.

  1. Check in with direct reports and colleagues regularly

To counter feelings of loneliness and isolation, schedule regular check-ins with those you work with. Not only does this help to ensure that those working from home have regular social interactions, but it also allows you to keep tabs on anyone who may need a bit more support.

Providing regular opportunities for remote employees to socialise with their colleagues is also important. You could do this with team Zoom meetings, online quizzes, or group “water cooler” chats to encourage team members to interact socially, rather than only talking about work.

  1. Be mindful of how long employees are spending on video calls

While it will be necessary to use video conferencing regularly for team meetings and to keep everyone feeling connected and supported, there is a balance to be kept.

Zoom fatigue is real, so try to make sure meetings don’t take up too much of the day.

A helpful way to ensure that meetings stay productive and concise is to have a specific purpose for the meeting and a set agenda. If conversation strays too far from this purpose, nudge the participants to remain on track.

Sometimes, going off on tangents can be helpful, such as in a creative brainstorming session. At other times, it may be more helpful to leave the conversation for another time so that the meeting can proceed.

Schedule in time for a quick screen break at least once an hour on Zoom meetings. It might also help to encourage employees to utilise the “hide self-view” button so that they aren’t confronted with their own image for the duration of the call – possibly one of the most unnatural parts of video conferencing.

  1. Invest in equipment to keep your employees healthy

It’s not just employees’ mental wellbeing that requires support – working from home can present challenges to physical health too.

According to the Royal Society for Public Health some groups of people are more negatively affected by working from home than others. This includes people who live with multiple housemates or those who work from their sofa or bedroom.

Offering remote employees access to equipment to help them improve their working from home setup could assist in alleviating these issues. A supportive office chair could avoid the problems caused by hunching over a laptop on a sofa. Similarly, a laptop riser and external keyboard could help employees to sit further from their screen and reduce eye strain.

  1. Communicate regularly – even if you don’t feel it’s necessary

In the study reported by HR News, one of the surprising findings was that many employees who work remotely aren’t taking their full annual leave allocation each year. In fact, 40% of the people surveyed admitted they had not used their full allocation and, more worryingly, 18% of under-25s admitted they had not taken any annual leave in the previous 12 months.

Only 34% of the people surveyed said that their employer encouraged them to take their annual leave days. Given how effective annual leave is for preventing burnout and improving wellbeing, this is a simple way to help your employees to support themselves and feel less stressed.

So, even if you’ve already told your employees about their annual leave allocation, it bears repeating.

Finally, make sure you’re clear about the other strategies and resources available to employees to support them in their work and their wellbeing. It’s easy for this information to get lost among the daily tasks and workload, so make sure you help your employees to keep it at the front of their minds so that their wellbeing is consistently prioritised.

Get in touch

While remote working clearly has its benefits, implementing a policy that benefits both your business and your employees can be tricky. If you’d like some support in making sure your workforce remains happy and healthy, we can help.

Email or call us on 0330 332 7143.

This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice.  Information correct at time of publishing, 21st April 2023.