We all know that when employees are happy and supported in their roles, they’re more likely to produce their best work and be more engaged. This is no different when it comes to ensuring that your team is physically, mentally and financially well.
While many of us are now equipped with our remote working set-up, it’s time we shine a spotlight back on how to support remote employee wellbeing. At the end of the day, employers have a duty of care, and that’s to provide a supportive and safe work environment – even if it’s a virtual one.
But how do you know you know how your team is really feeling? Managing remote employees is a whole new ballgame compared to the office.
It involves using different strategies and looking out for specific social cues on video calls. When we’re face to face, you can sense when a co-worker is upset or stressed, however online, it’s a lot more difficult to recognise these signs.
Do employees want to work remotely?
Earlier this year, we conducted our own research to find the attitudes towards remote working. While we knew the feelings of our own team first-hand, our predictions were deemed true for other remote workers around Australia.
The most significant finding? People are enjoying the flexibility associated with working from home; however, missing their co-workers and daily interactions, causing their mental wellbeing to take a dip.
With these findings front of mind and as many of us continue to work from home, managing the wellbeing of remote teams has never been more important.
Read on as we share the rules of remote employee engagement and how to keep your team feeling motivated, inspired and at the top of their game – regardless of where in the world they’re working from.
What is remote work?
A remote employee can be a part of a distributed workforce or team that is not confined to working in one central office location. It allows employees to work flexibly while being located away from each other – whether interstate, overseas, at home, in a local coffee shop, a co-working space, or in the head office.
The main benefit of employees working remotely is it empowers employees to choose where they work best. In recent years, many businesses and employees have become accustomed to working from home, and for many – the benefits have been obvious.
Now, the question everyone is asking is how can you create a workforce that blends the best of both worlds whilst keeping employee engagement levels of a remote workforce at an all-time high?
First, we need to understand why.
Why is remote employee mental health important?
Employee wellbeing for a distributed team may look a little different compared to that of an entirely office-based team. When your team feels their wellbeing is supported, they’ll be more likely to remain engaged with the company.
However, an employee’s wellbeing and mental health can easily take a dive if they’re working remotely and feel the effects of burnout and isolation. That’s why it’s never been more important to support your team and prioritise their wellbeing.
Not to mention that 89% of employees at companies that support wellbeing initiatives are more likely to recommend their company as a great place to work.
What are the challenges of remote work?
As many benefits that remote working brings, and we believe it’s far more life-friendly overall than traditional models, it does present many real challenges. Without seeing your team in person, we can miss the subtle dynamics that help us be perceptive leaders.
Remote working, for all its benefits, does not come naturally to everyone. What’s worse, you may not discover that your remote employee is struggling before they disengage or look to alternative employment.
When we were in the office, it was easy to get a sense of vibe. You could pop over to your colleague’s desk, meet someone in the lunchroom or gather for a chat around the coffee machine. It was easy to interact socially, convey information quickly and easily get a lay of the land.
For remote employees, this is reduced to text and video on a screen. While remote work has made it easier for us to avoid distractions, it’s also made spontaneous communication far more challenging.
Remoteliness is – you guessed it – a feeling of loneliness experienced when working remotely and social isolation. In the absence of the bustle of the office, workers can begin to feel isolated and disconnected from their colleagues and organisation.
Even though 94% of workers want to continue working from home in some capacity on a permanent basis, there are a few things we miss about the office. 54% of our survey respondents said they missed being able to easily speak to coworkers, and 44% said they missed the sense of camaraderie with their team.
Like regular loneliness, remoteliness is a very subjective feeling depending on the individual. Some people may be able to spend long amounts of personal time alone and never feel a sense of remoteliness. For others, it may appear soon after they enter a remote work environment.
Read more: How to stay connected with virtual coworkers
Healthy work-life balance
Work-life balance is a paradox of the remote working environment. Without the commute and time spent in the office, remote workers get much more time back in their day. But, they also integrate their working life fully into their home spaces.
When your laptop is in the same room as your couch, what’s stopping you from picking it up and flicking through emails?
Unlimited access to work tools can make it all-too-easy for many employees to log on after work hours and be contacted 24/7 outside working hours. Before they know it, employees feel overwhelmed and overworked.
Our move to remote work has not happened in a vacuum. We’ve made the switch during an uncertain and chaotic time, which has negatively affected many employees and their family members.
The stress of uncertainty is difficult to spot and remedy in a remote environment. Such anxiety can cause disengagement, a lack of focus, overwhelming fatigue and a drop in interest.
How to support remote employee wellbeing
1. Use surveys and happiness scores
Although it seems obvious, more often than not, we forget to start with the basics.
When it comes to understanding the emotional wellbeing of our remote workers and how they’re feeling, it comes back to one simple (and free!) thing. Asking questions. Simple, right?
With remote working, it can be easy to forget to check in with your team. Not to mention that it’s more difficult to pick up on social cues over a video camera.
Hint: Ask your team to have their video cameras on during meetings.
If you notice that someone is particularly quiet or acting out of character, send them a direct message or give them a call after to check in on them.
By sending around a survey or asking your team to rate their happiness score, you can gain great insights into how everyone is really feeling. Are they burnt out? Are they feeling uninspired? Do they feel unappreciated? This is where you can find out the attitudes of your team ad begin to turn things around, pronto.
Armed with this information, what do you do next? You use this data to help guide your people and culture strategy to better support your team and give them what they need and want. Simples!
Tip: Use our Employee Happiness Survey to gauge employee happiness.
2. Offer virtual yoga or meditation for your team
We all know that practising yoga or meditation has great benefits for our physical and mental well-being.
Whether you practice regularly or whenever your calendar aligns, yoga and meditation are a great way to switch off, de-stress and clear your mind.
Even one 30-minute session per week can make a huge difference in your mental state and can lead to increased productivity, too!
3. Encourage employees to take annual leave
When working from home, it’s easy for workdays to overlap into your personal life. However, it’s important that you encourage employees to use their annual leave, especially if they’re showing early signs of burnout.
For many of us, we often associate annual leave with travelling. However, even when international travel off the cards, you need to remind your team that they still need to take some R&R for themselves.
It’s incredible what even just a few days off can do for your overall wellbeing!
4. Create dedicated time for virtual chit chat
Working remotely can be isolating, especially if you’re an extrovert adapting to limited social interaction.
With this in mind, you should allow your team to have dedicated time to have general, non-work related chit-chat with your co-workers.
Not only will your team start to form greater relationships with the wider team, but they’ll also feel a boost of energy.
The result? They’ll be motivated to hit the ground running with their work and who doesn’t want that? Looking for some ideas to help build relationship with remote teams?
We’ve rounded up 39 of our favourite online team-building games here.
5. Lead by example
When it comes to supporting employee wellbeing, it’s crucial for your management team to lead by example. It’s all well and good to say that you support your team’s wellbeing, but you need to have your leadership team walk the talk.
So what exactly does this mean? It means that you encourage work/life balance. It means that you encourage flexibility, and it means that you don’t expect replies to emails or messages outside of work hours. It’s allowing your leadership team to be transparent and communicate when they’re taking their kids to swim practice or to ducking out for a gym session.
When your team sees that this is the culture within your organisation, they’ll feel comfortable doing the same. It all comes down to communication and creating an open and honest line of communication in your virtual office.
Read more: How to build trust with remote colleagues
6. Offer discounts on health and wellbeing services
If you were to offer discounts on health and wellness services to your team, we bet our bottom dollar (see what we did there?!) that you’ll have lots of people take you up on the offer.
Did you know? Employment Hero has its very own Benefits feature. Here, you have access to savings goals, wellbeing content and most importantly, Discounts.
Discounts is Employment Hero’s virtual marketplace with access to discounts on thousands of everyday items. From discounts on groceries, health insurance, gym memberships, movie tickets and technology, it’s a great way to encourage your team to improve their physical and financial wellbeing. Sounds good right?
Read more: Free perks you can offer to remote employees
What can managers do to support remote employees?
When you have a distributed team, communication is a top priority. Without the ease of simply being able to tap someone on the shoulder in the office, you need to have a thoughtful, effective way to communicate that works for everyone.
7. Have the right tools to support internal communications
Basic requirements will see you use emails to communicate with external stakeholders and an instant messaging tool like Slack to communicate internally. But proactive leaders will think far beyond this.
You should introduce a tech stack that includes everything from project management right through to HR and people management tools.
Having a full suite of software can make all the difference when it comes to keeping your team engaged.
Remember, providing them with everything they need can empower them to produce their best work.
Read more: Running effective virtual brainstorming sessions
8. Hold regular WIPs, 1:1s and All-Hands meetings
Now you’ve nailed how you’re going to manage your digital communication, it’s time to set a cadence and agenda for meetings – both face to face and virtually. Before you jump in, you should outline what meetings you want to have, and once you’ve decided – it’s time to commit.
By holding regular meetings, your team will be across everything they need to know. During All-Hands meetings (which everyone in the business attends), you should encourage members of your leadership team to talk through any exciting updates, upcoming events or milestones.
This is a chance for them to lead by example and can really help build your team up to create an inspired workforce. Think of it as an opportunity to keep your team feeling inspired about your company’s mission.
Whether it’s daily team WIPs (work-in-progress meetings) to identify any roadblocks and updates, weekly 1:1s with your direct reports, or fortnightly All-Hands meetings, the ball is in your court when it comes to finding what works best for your team.
Read more: How to create an effective remote first workplace
9. Replicate in-office culture for those working remotely
When you’re in the office, it’s easy to see and feel your workplace culture firsthand. Within the first few minutes of entering an office, you’ll be able to get a general feeling of the company culture.
Having a great company culture can do wonders for employee engagement which in turn leads to increased team engagement and performance. But with a distributed workforce, it’s a whole new ball game.
Developing a positive distributed workplace culture requires work. You need to set expectations for both on-site and remote workers to make sure that values and policies align.
When it comes to creating a positive culture in a remote-first workplace, you need to make sure all activities are done virtually – and if that isn’t possible, provide remote employees with an opportunity to attend in person.
Read more: Companies who have embraced remote working
10. Encourage career development opportunities
An important part of the employee lifecycle, discussing opportunities for professional growth and career development is key to keeping your remote employees engaged, and this is no different when working from home.
Whether it’s upskilling, partaking in a course, or paving the pathway for a more senior role, these discussions must not be left to the wayside for your remote workers.
You could even argue that it’s harder to keep remote workers engaged because they’re missing out on the opportunities that present themselves in the general office buzz. This means it’s actually more important to have these conversations with them!
Whether you choose a bi-annual or annual performance review at your company, it’s important to recognise that doing them remotely will be a little bit different. It’s up to you to set the right tone and allow for two-way communication.
Read more: Performance review guide for managers
What warning signs can HR leaders and managers look out for?
Withdrawal from communications
No morning greetings, one-word answers, or a drop in contribution to team meetings; these are all signs that your remote employee may be struggling. This is especially true if they were a very active communicator when working face to face and you’ve noticed a shift.
How to tackle it: One-on-one (1:1) meetings are a manager’s best tool to confront these types of issues. These confidential weekly meetings between an employee and their direct reports build a sense of trust and make it easier for the attendees to open a constructive dialogue.
If you have one, share the details of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) with your team. This confidential counselling service can help your team members feel supported through tough times. If you don’t have an EAP, reminding your team of trusted mental health resources is a good alternative.
Read more: Can technology ever replace physical interaction?
Cameras are constantly turned off
We all have mornings when we’re not feeling like our most glamorous selves. We might have our hair in a towel or be wearing our laundry day outfits. Once in a while, turning your camera off is no big deal; but if your team member never has theirs on, it’s a sign of disengagement.
How to tackle it: Firstly, create a culture of ‘cameras on’ at your company. Leaders should always have their cameras on and be visually engaging, setting an example for good remote communication etiquette. You may even wish to make a general request at the start of a Zoom call for all employees to have their cameras on.
A drop in productivity
If your employee is missing deadlines, dragging out their tasks and not meeting their role requirements, this is a big red flag. They could be feeling demotivated by the lack of an office environment, losing interest in their role or struggling to prioritise.
How to tackle it: Does your team have a task management system in place? How about clearly defined goals articulated through a step-based process like Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)? Using these tools can help increase transparency around productivity and give you and your team members a clear indication of deadlines, workload and priorities.
Using these tools can increase visibility around productivity and help you and your employee discuss their workload and priorities. A confidential conversation might reveal that their workload is too much, they are fielding too many requests from other sides of the business, or there is a knowledge gap which is keeping them from completing their tasks.
Read more: Establishing goals for remote teams using OKRs
Resistance to opportunities
When we feel disconnected from our work, we lose interest in growing or developing within our roles.
If your team member has turned down opportunities for; learning or coaching, team-building days and events, celebrations, rewards, recognition or career progression – it’s likely that all is not well.
How to tackle it: Assign your employee the task of sourcing their own development opportunity. This could be enrolling in a short course, finding a mentorship or attending an event that they’ve always wanted to be a part of. Show that you want to invest in them; however they choose to learn.
Empowering them will not only support remote employees in re-engaging with career development but gaining new knowledge could help them rediscover why they were interested in their role in the first place.
They’re online constantly, or not at all
Being situated at either end of this spectrum is a red flag.
Unless you have an asynchronous working agreement, spotting your employee online at all hours of the day is a sign that their work-life balance is taking a hit. There’s very little pay-off for this style of working. Our research shows that employees who felt they lacked work-life balance were a whopping 174% more likely to experience low productivity.
To the other extreme, frequently being offline is another obvious warning sign that your employee may be struggling to stay present. While you don’t want to establish a surveillance culture – everyone is going to be offline sometimes throughout the day for well-deserved breaks and general interruptions – a constant inactive status might be cause for concern.
How to tackle it: We recommend tackling this one head-on during your 1:1 meeting. In the case of your team member always being offline, have a gentle check-in to say you’ve noticed they’re offline during the day and offer assistance to get them back on track.
If they’re always online, offer to help them prioritise their workload or delegate tasks to others. Discuss strategies about setting up their workspace or devices so that they’re not tempted to log on at all hours of the day. Leaders should also set an example; don’t reward working overtime or outside hours and make sure that you are taking adequate time to rest.
The wrap up
As we continue to see a shift to remote working, employee wellbeing has never been more important. When you support your team, you’ll experience an uplift in productivity and overall business performance.
With a few different ideas and steps in place, you’ll be able to support your employees wellbeing easily from afar.
Employment Hero is built to support remote teams. We care about employee wellbeing and have a range of features that can help you support your remote team, including a service to hire international employees, payroll processing, and employee wellbeing management.
If you’d like to find out how we can help you manage your remote employee wellbeing, get in touch with one of our small business specialists today.
The remote first workplace playbook