There are many benefits of remote working – it can help improve work-life balance and autonomy and reduce commuting time.
But remote working isn’t without its challenges. Yet there are plenty of actions businesses can take to support employees working remotely, at risk of burning out.
Breaking down barriers is a key strategy. Remote working is often viewed as a benefit for the younger, tech-savvy workforce. But our recent whitepaper, The Effects of Remote Working on Stress, Wellbeing and Productivity, revealed most remote workers are over 40 years old.
So, before rolling out any new remote working opportunities, employers should communicate the health and lifestyle benefits for every demographic and how it can be tailored to the individual.
Balance is also key. Those new to remote working may thrive under the added flexibility but spending too long, which I would describe as over 2.5 days per week, away from the office can have a negative impact on job satisfaction and work relationships. This in turn can lead to feelings of isolation and stress, as employees struggle to clock-off and can’t seek immediate support from a manager.
While all employees of 26 weeks’ service or more can ask for flexible arrangements, for responsible businesses healthy remote working relies on more than longevity.
It’s up to employers to assess the suitability of employees for healthy remote working. An employee is not better suited by age or length of service, but by their ability to be productive and maintain a healthy relationship with work outside the office.
Those able to use their initiative and who are confident tackling tasks alone are suited to working remotely.
An ability to separate work from home life is also key. Just because you’re using your home as a work base for the day, doesn’t mean you should be checking emails into the evening or working an unhealthy amount of overtime.
Once the appropriate employees have been identified, or training has been provided to those less suited, the next step is establishing a trusting relationship, where employees are given autonomy to manage their time and tasks.
This comes down to each employee’s role and seniority in the company. Senior workers may require fewer contact hours and catch-ups than junior colleagues and some job roles may simply not be feasible for productive remote working.
In today’s gig economy, it’s not just permanent staff to consider either. Our research shows 45 per cent of businesses also use independent workers for short-term projects. Responsible employers shouldn’t neglect the wellbeing of freelancers.
This may include negotiating deadlines that prevent overworking or extending employee benefits to longer-term freelancers to help alleviate some stresses, like healthcare.
Remote working is often viewed as a work perk, giving employees the flexibility to manage their personal and professional lives in equal measure. Our research suggests the stress and isolation of remote working can take its toll on the mental wellbeing of remote workers.
That’s why remote working shouldn’t be a blanket benefit for all employees. Employers should take the time to make sure flexible arrangements work for the individual. This should begin with assessing their working environment. Do they have an ergonomic working set-up and if not, can you support them with equipment to make home-working a sustainable option? This may also include providing a laptop, so you’re not adding financial pressures to those looking to pursue remote working.
It is also important to provide support throughout the remote working arrangement. Let employees know you’re free to chat to if they feel stressed or point them towards a mental health champion. Schedule catchups as and when suits them. It may also help to choose one day per week when all employees are in the office, so you can tackle shared projects and maintain personal relationships.
Personalised interventions are also important. Today tools can use employee-inputted data to suggest tailored support. Just as remote working shouldn’t be a blanket policy, likewise wellbeing support should be tailored to the individual. This might be a helpline they can call when an individual experiences a sense of stress or isolation or an employee assistance programme (EAP).