As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage in hotspots throughout the country and around the globe, it’s beginning to dawn on the working world that the “new normal” may mean continuing to work from home full-time, part-time, or on a flexible schedule.
Remote work is likely here to stay for many companies. Is that good news or bad news for your employees’ well-being? As it turns out, it’s a little bit of both.
Here are some ways working from home may be affecting employee wellness, along with some tips for making it a positive experience.
3 Employee Wellness Benefits of Working from Home
Improved Employee Satisfaction
A mounting body of research makes it clear that, when allowed to build up, workplace stress can have a devastating impact on your employees' physical and mental health. Working from home can alleviate some of the stress associated with the typical workday.
For example, very few of your employees will miss inching through traffic, jostling with others for a seat on the bus, or frantically fighting through subway stations to get to work on time.
According to a study reported on by the New York Times, most people would gladly trade away five minutes of any other activity for one less minute spent stuck in traffic. (Plus, the more people who work remotely, the lighter traffic gets overall, reducing the stress of those employees who are unable to work from home.)
Working from home allows workers to spend more time with their families, take care of personal errands, and pursue their outside interests without sacrificing productivity. This level of flexibility is especially important to millennial employees, many of whom say work-life balance is a top priority when choosing a new job.
Some employees thrive in the work-oriented environment of an office. But others find it easier to focus and get work done without the distractions of chatty coworkers, faltering IT equipment, and the general hubbub of a busy office. Employees who have a hard time focusing in today’s open offices may find themselves flying through their to-do list when sitting in their quiet home.
Indeed, a recent survey found a 47% increase in productivity since workers have been stuck at home.
Working from home can also save your employees and your company money.
The cost of heating and cooling an unoccupied workspace is obviously much lower than maintaining the perfect climate for a building full of workers. There is also much less wear and tear on your infrastructure. If your company decides to transition to a permanent remote-work arrangement, you may be able to eliminate or downgrade your real estate costs altogether.
For employees, savings can come from spending less on fuel, parking, or train tickets, trading “dry-clean only” for smart casual clothing, and having lunch and coffee at home instead of out. Amidst the current economic uncertainty, every little bit counts.
4 Potential Downsides of Working from Home
The fact that remote work is even an option at all is thanks to modern communications technology, such as video meeting apps (like Zoom), group chat platforms (like Slack), and of course, email, text messaging, and the old-reliable telephone.
But not everyone is comfortable appearing on video. And even the most self-confident video chatter can get burned out after hours of meetings. “Zoom fatigue” is a well-documented phenomenon.
You can help your employees deal with the stress of digital communication by rethinking the necessity of every meeting. Would an email or quick Slack chat be sufficient?
Also, ensure your employees have enough time between video calls to stretch, exercise, or just decompress. No matter how much an employee embraces working from home, five back-to-back Zoom meetings will do a number on their energy levels and their body.
Low Employee Morale
Work gives us a sense of shared purpose with others. A workplace is a community.
But when workers are isolated at home, they’re more likely to feel on their own. They can lose sight of “what it’s all for” and disengage from their work and colleagues.
Working at home makes it harder to build relationships with coworkers. There are fewer opportunities for random encounters or bonding activities such as lunches, happy hours–or just one-on-one conversations that aren’t about work.
Make sure to integrate a bit of social time into your company’s remote work to improve morale and team building. “Every morning, we start the day with a Zoom call to say good morning to each other, talk about what we’re up to outside of work, and touch base on our goals for the day,” says Beth Carter, chief strategist at Clariant Creative, a remotely staffed marketing agency. “And every Thursday afternoon, we have a happy hour, where we share our successes and challenges that week, support each other, and have a good laugh. It goes a long way toward helping us connect as people and as a team.”
For helpful tips on maintaining a workplace community while everyone is working from home, watch our recent five-question interview with Judd Alan, President of the Human Resources Institute.
Poor Health Habits
When our routines get disrupted, it’s easy for physical wellness to suffer. That regular pre-work gym session falls by the wayside, the kitchen is always to hand, and a more flexible schedule may result in employees procrastinating during the day and then staying up late at night to finish tasks, impacting their sleep schedule.
Work-from-home experts say it’s crucial to develop a routine for working from home. This can include starting and ending work at the same time every day, building in regular exercise breaks, and sticking with planned meal schedules.
You can also help your employees stay fit and healthy at home by providing them a budget to invest in ergonomic furniture and equipment.
Inability to Focus
While some workers (as we pointed out above) find the home environment perfect for focusing and getting work done, others are bombarded by distractions at home: children demanding attention, spouses, and roommates interrupting, street noises drilling into the consciousness. Plus, let’s face it: There’s a lot going on right now, making it hard to tear ourselves away from the news and social media to focus on work.
In a recent video, speaker and executive coach, Stella Grizont told us that the key to focusing at home is addressing your emotions, "specifically, your negative emotions." Mindfulness exercises can help your employees process their emotions without getting overwhelmed by them.
One of the great things about mindfulness is that your employees can practice it at home without any special equipment. Your company can offer mindfulness training and resources through your employee wellness program.
The New Normal
While working from home has been a saving grace for many during this pandemic, it can be a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to employee well-being. Much like in-office work, there are upsides and downsides. So, it’s important for employers to listen to what employees need and to help them be their best selves—whether they’re working from the office, a coffee shop, or from the comfort of their own living room.