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Managing mental wellbeing in remote teams

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 15 Jun 2023

With one in eight people now working exclusively from home, the director of one fully remote business shares his tips for prioritising wellbeing for remote teams.

Remote working is one of COVID-19’s biggest legacies. According to government data, only one in 20 of the UK workforce worked from home in 2019. Fast forward to September 2022 and these numbers have more than doubled, with one in eight people now working exclusively from home.

But while many UK organisations report benefits such as increased productivity and a better work-life balance, the rushed transition to remote work hasn’t come without its challenges. According to a recent survey of remote workers from Statista:

  • 25% are unable to unplug;
  • 21% have difficulty focusing;
  • 21% don’t feel motivated;
  • 20% now work longer hours; and
  • 15% worry about career advancement and growth.

Our experience of transitioning to a 100% remote working business has highlighted some key elements to ensure that the mental health of our staff stays on an even keel.

Maintain frequent communication

In an office environment, teams naturally collaborate and update each other on the status of their projects. If you don’t try to replicate this within a remote team, you could end up with unmotivated, ill-informed and disconnected employees, contributing to poor mental health.

Be purposeful with your communication. Organise frequent, short, video meetings to keep everyone in the loop and provide a platform for them to ask for help or feedback if needed. Encourage non-work conversations in these meetings, too. This will help your team connect and get to know each other, which can help to build trust and ease feelings of isolation.

Prioritise task management

Constantly feeling the need to ask “what’s next?” or not knowing what’s expected of them, and when, could cause unnecessary stress among your team. That’s why tasks, responsibilities and deadlines should always be crystal clear.

While regular team calls can help, investing in task/project management software is the best way to promote a seamless workflow. It provides a central location for your team to see their delegated tasks, understand what deadlines are coming up in a given day, week or month and gauge the status of each project without having to step on other people’s toes.

With 21% of remote workers feeling unmotivated, it’s also a great way to ramp up productivity. Seeing a list of tasks and physically being able to tick them off releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that generates feelings of accomplishment and happiness.

Establish an open-door policy

One of the downsides of remote working is that it’s easier for team members to hide the fact they’re stressed, anxious or struggling with personal matters.

For this reason, it’s extra important that your employees feel comfortable enough to reach out if they need support. Encourage an open door policy where managers regularly ask for honest feedback and employees are actively encouraged to discuss any problems, without fear of repercussion.

Find the time to schedule regular video one-to-ones with each team member. This will help you to gauge how they’re doing both personally and professionally, while providing them with a natural opportunity to voice any concerns.

Judge on output, not attendance

Research shows that 39% of bosses believe their team doesn’t work as hard or as effectively as they would in an office setting. Typically, this is because they’re unable to see how long each employee is physically sitting at their desk.

But constantly looming over your employees, setting strict working hours and tracking their every move is a surefire way to cause stress and burnout among your team. Instead, consider measuring their success on output, not attendance. Does it really matter when, where or even how your staff do their work, so long as they deliver the results you need?

At Marketing Signals, giving employees the freedom to decide where and when they work best has led to increased productivity, as well as improved staff wellbeing, work-life balance and retention.

Set clear boundaries

With computers and other devices within instant reach, remote employees often feel the need to be available 24/7. This is a key contributor to the fact that 25% of remote workers feel unable to unplug, while 20% work longer hours since going remote.

But never switching off from work is guaranteed to increase stress levels and, ultimately, negatively impact mental health. If you need to contact one of your employees outside of their core working hours, make it clear that they only need to reply at a time that’s suitable for them. Personally, I’ve added a permanent note on my email signature to make it clear that I don’t expect an instant response.

You can also promote a better work/life balance by encouraging your staff to take regular breaks throughout the day to eat, stretch, rest and exercise. This is a great way to manage and reduce stress throughout the working day.

It’s also helpful to assist your team in creating an effective home office set-up. Having a specific working room or area that they can physically walk away from, rather than working from the sofa, will help them to establish a firm boundary between work and personal life.

Lead by example

You might have told your employees they should take breaks and truly switch off from work outside of their hours, but what will truly set the tone is leading by example.

Ensure those at the top of your company are modelling a healthy work-life balance. If your employees see that leaders are taking breaks, using their annual leave entitlement and truly switching off after work, they’ll feel more comfortable doing the same.

Gareth Hoyle is the founder and director of fully-remote marketing agency, Marketing Signals 

  • Wellbeing charity caba provides free and confidential advice and support to ICAEW members and their families, on areas including managing your mental health, coping with stress, financial support and careers advice

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