What employers can do to help employees overcome work-from-home challenges

COVID-19 has us all shook up in more ways than one. But work environments are up there at the top of the list of what’s been most affected. Employees suddenly went from dedicated office spaces with tons of interaction and collaboration to hunching over their computers at kitchen tables in isolation (or with the backdrop of their spouse and kids all trying to work and play in the same space).

Working from home presents unique challenges on a normal day, but mid-pandemic, stress is heightened, jobs feel less secure, and the stakes feel higher. As great as it is that many companies are learning how effective people can be remotely — and may even continue to offer this flexibility after the pandemic — employees are simultaneously learning how stressful it can be to manage a career where they also eat, sleep, play, parent, and live.

You can’t make any guarantees about the future of the economy to your employees, but you can help support their health and well-being (both mental and physical) during a time when it could really go haywire. Here’s what your teams may be up against right now, and what you can do to help.

Offer balance during the constant parade of video meetings.

Zoom became a bit of a cultural phenomenon in the U.S. (and the butt of several internet memes) with 14 times as many downloads compared to the last quarter of 2019. And app downloads for all video conferencing platforms including Microsoft Teams and Google Meets increased by 90%. This means two things. Your team is empowered to stay connected, but they also have a harder time stepping away.

This video culture evolved so quickly. We now feel the need to be seen at our desks during all hours of the day, and that can lead to some really unhealthy behaviors. 

“This video culture evolved so quickly. We now feel the need to be seen at our desks during all hours of the day, and that can lead to some really unhealthy behaviors,” says Christine Sherry, vice president of client communications. For people who’ve never worked from home it can be a real learning curve to juggle the fear that someone will assume you’re not working hard if you miss an impromptu video call.

EXOS CEO Sarah Robb O’Hagan had a great conversation on LinkedIn Editors’ Business Unusual series where she shared the idea that not every meeting has to be a video call. Her advice? If a meeting can be a good old-fashioned phone call, get outside, walk, and talk. More movement, sunshine, and fresh air. The idea resonated with Sherry. “That's such a simple switch to say, ‘I'm going to go on a walk during this meeting. Will you do that too and walk and talk with me?’” she says. Why not give it a try?

Foster a sense of community to fight isolation.

Right now, people are lacking human connection. A study in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, that found that loneliness and isolation could be twice as harmful to both mental and physical health as obesity, and it increases the risk of premature mortality.

Even if employees are at home with their spouse and kids, they’re missing their friends, colleagues, and that sense of community at work. Bonding over simple activities like break room chats and team lunches — that’s all on pause. “People were suddenly uprooted from their day-to-day working environment where they have their usual space and faces around them, and they had to transition quickly to virtually connecting with people,” says Sherry.

So make sure you give them more opportunities to do just that. It could be as simple as spending time on meetings to catch up before getting down to business and encouraging team members to touch base with each other on a personal level. Many corporate wellness strategies are evolving to include virtual events that keep employees connected like wellness bingo, virtual run clubs, or having group coffee chats with a coach (yes, virtually).

Help employees disconnect and separate personal time from work time.

Historically, telecommuters wind up working longer days. One study looked at data related to remote workers from 1989 to 2008 and found that rather than getting back a few hours of commute time to spend with themselves and their families, they’re more likely to spend that time working and letting work intrude on their personal lives. Throw in a pandemic and employees may be feeling even more pressure to prove their worth.

“There's an added sense of pressure to be visible to their organization and continue to demonstrate output,” says Sherry. “They could be pushing themselves more than ever.” While that’s not necessarily bad — motivation and drive are good things — it could be leading employees to put in longer hours with higher levels of stress.

The easiest solution? Be direct with your team members about expectations, encourage them to sign off, and share how you yourself are focusing on self-care away from work. For example, on a weekly company update, EXOS president and founder Mark Verstegen recently encouraged employees to try box breathing four times per day for four days to help reset and refresh. Share recovery techniques like this with your teams and ask them how they’re taking time for themselves so they know it’s a priority.

Be direct with your team members about expectations, encourage them to sign off, and share how you yourself are focusing on self-care away from work.   

Bolster routines to encourage healthy habits and reflection.

You know that image many have of remote work as peaceful mornings spent with a cup of tea after yoga or a workout that makes you feel ready to tackle anything? Well, it’s an image remote workers keep close. And that’s because it’s easy to forget, and instead, wake up, saunter to the computer to answer just a few emails, and accidentally get stuck — especially during stress-filled times.

One solution is to remind employees to establish routines that allow for wellness-focused time every day. Go a step further and encourage them to add this time to their calendar, just as they would a meeting. “Everything's a little bit more stressful than usual right now, and as we attend to more outward needs, we often lose track of our own needs,” says Sherry, who has been a remote worker herself for years.

But if employees take at least a few minutes to ask, “what do I need right now?” throughout the day, it can help them stay grounded. It could be a walk outdoors, a quick mindset practice, a workout before lunch, or a short mid-day movement refresh. (Hint: Employees can add these live sessions directly to their calendars ahead of time from exosathome.com.)

Be flexible for those juggling work and care giving.

Employees are doing everything in a single space right now — working, spending time with family, dealing with pets, eating, exercising. As employers, it’s important to understand that working from home looks different for caregivers. Keep this in mind as you communicate about your virtual wellness offerings. Opt for empathy.

According to UNICEF, two key ways you can be helpful to working parents during this pandemic are flexible schedules and providing ways for families to cope with stress. Verbally communicate that you understand this. You can also encourage them to get their kids in on daily mindset practices and family-friendly workouts to help ease stress and chaos.

O’Hagan shared one way she’s both energizing herself and getting her kids out of the house: She’s taking daily drives around the neighborhood with the music way up and having a dance party in the car. As employers, know that a working parent might have to step away to home-school their child or have a family dance party to tame stress, but they’ll put in their time one way or another.

Want more wellness strategies for your team? Check out these tips on how to build a resilient mindset that can weather tough times.

About the Author

Catherine Conelly

Catherine Conelly is a California-based health, fitness, and lifestyle writer.

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