Remote Work

Remotely Happy: How to Take Care of Remote Employees’ Mental Health

July 27, 2023

While some people are opting to return to the office at least part of the time, for many others, remote work is here to stay. Remote work offers time flexibility for caregivers, makes work more accessible for people with disabilities, and helps others find their perfect work-life balance.

But despite these benefits, remote work also has its drawbacks. While certain aspects are good for employee mental health and wellness - such as getting rid of the daily commute - others, such as social isolation, can take their toll, highlighting a growing need to supply employees with adequate mental health support and resources.

A survey of 500 HR decision-makers for Towergate Health & Protection found that, for nearly half of all employers (49%), mental health is their biggest health and well-being concern now that remote working has become accepted practice.

While remote work is undeniably a welcome change for a lot of people from diverse parts of society, it comes with its set of unique features and possible challenges we need to navigate. Today we’ll explore some of the mental well-being challenges remote workers face and strategies employers can adopt to support them.

Mental Health Challenges for Remote Workers

1. Unplugging from Work

The widespread rise of remote work has largely put an end to the idea that remote workers are slackers — in fact, they report working more than before, according to Buffer’s 2023 State of Remote Work report, and 22% of remote workers say unplugging at the end of the day is their biggest remote work challenge.

While 71% of respondents agree that setting work boundaries is important, 48% say they frequently work outside of traditional hours, and 44% said they worked more this year compared to the previous year, with one in five reporting that they feel burnt out.

Not having a clear physical division between work and personal life can make remote workers feel like they’re “always on,” leading to feelings of burnout, which can negatively impact both their mental health and productivity at work. 

2. Loneliness, Social Isolation, and Staying Home Too Often 

The biggest challenge cited by remote workers in Buffer’s report was staying home too often because they don’t have a reason to leave, followed closely by loneliness. 

The two are arguably closely linked: 82% of remote workers say they work from home, and working long hours prevents the social interactions people would get in an office setting, especially for those who live alone or whose partner or family are out during the day. Additionally, people who live in more isolated areas may struggle to find the time to socialize outside of working hours.

Even before the pandemic, loneliness was being described as “deadlier than smoking” due to its links to a range of physical and mental health problems. With remote work now a feature of everyday life for many people, remote workers and their employers need to look for ways to minimize loneliness and isolation. 

3. Team Communication and Collaboration

Communication and collaboration have always been a challenge for remote teams, but according to Buffer, the number of remote workers still citing this as a problem is decreasing every year and is just 15% in 2023. This suggests that remote companies have taken steps to improve communication by introducing new tools and procedures. A higher figure — 19% — reports that their biggest challenge is collaborating with team members across different time zones

The absence of casual interactions like impromptu lunches or coffee breaks can make it harder to form meaningful relationships and for new members to integrate into the team, which can exacerbate feelings of loneliness. However, 75% of remote workers say they feel connected to their colleagues thanks to regular collaboration, as well as knowing about each other’s lives or having met in person. 

4. Motivation and Focus

Staying focused and motivated continues to be a challenge for 16% and 20% of remote workers, respectively, according to Buffer. 

It’s not surprising that workers might be a little unfocused, given that the majority work from home — a place filled with distractions ranging from household chores to childcare responsibilities that can hinder productivity. 

Additionally, a lack of motivation is a byproduct of loneliness, which can also make remote workers feel irritable, anxious, bored, and unfocused.

5. Learning and Upskilling Alone

For remote workers, learning and upskilling is often a self-motivated process that requires a proactive approach from employees. There is no learning “by osmosis,” particularly for younger colleagues who could benefit from spending time around more experienced team members.

Limited access to in-person training, reduced opportunities for informal learning, and increased isolation all contribute to the possibility of remote learning being an ad-hoc, self-driven initiative that doesn’t provide the benefits of a consistent training plan. 

Ways to Keep Your Team Remotely Happy

The Buffer report highlights that while companies have made progress on the technological challenges of remote work — like introducing tools and protocols that facilitate workflows — the personal challenges remote employees face remain pressing. 

Here are some ways businesses can address the five challenges outlined above. 

1. Disconnecting from Work

Encourage your employees to set clear work-life boundaries using the tools at their disposal. Remote work culture often makes employees feel they need to be “always on” and responsive to emails and requests. 

Encourage them to set their working hours in team calendars and collaboration tools, and make sure managers lead by example. This means respecting employees’ time by avoiding sending work-related messages outside working hours as well as respecting their own personal time. When employees see leaders enjoying their down-time, they’ll feel safe to do the same without fear of judgment. 

Additionally, remind employees of the importance of taking breaks and encourage them to take care of themselves with physical activity and hobbies outside of work that help them disconnect and recharge. 

Lastly, it’s important to make sure your team members aren’t struggling under heavy workloads. Set reasonable deadlines and realistic goals and expectations, and use project and time management tools to help employees manage their tasks.

2. Combating Loneliness and Isolation

While you can’t control your employees’ social lives, there are things you can do to help them feel less lonely at work and less isolated from their colleagues. For instance, you can:

  • Offer them a stipend for a coworking space (or pay for a Hubble Pass) and encourage them to work outside of their home at least once a week.
  • Organize team-wide or company-wide virtual coffees or after-work drinks. 
  • Facilitate regular visits to HQ or a common location. 
  • Schedule a company-wide event at least once a year. 
  • Hold regular team-wide and one-to-one check-ins to find out how everyone is doing and what support they need. 

3. Team Coordination and Collaboration

In a remote work environment, it’s essential to establish regular communication channels, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, and clearly communicate norms for using them. 

Additionally, you can use these tools to encourage informal interactions between employees, such as a watercooler channel in Slack, dedicated chat channels for hobbies or interests, or virtual team-building activities.

You can also improve collaboration by planning regular team meetings to discuss ongoing projects, address questions, and maintain a sense of connection among team members.

4. Help Your Team Stay Motivated and Focused

Motivation and focus will always ebb and flow, but there are a few things you can do to keep your team focused and motivated. 

Company culture plays an important role in employee motivation levels, so foster an environment where employees feel safe, valued, and cared for. There are many ways to do this, from offering comprehensive benefits packages to four-day work weeks. 

It’s also essential to ensure that employees have all the tools they need to do their remote job and that the tools you choose make their lives easier. Offering professional development and training can also help employees stay engaged, motivated, and focused. 

5. Provide Learning Opportunities

Which brings us to our final point: how to upskill a remote team. Offering team members subscriptions or access to reputable online learning platforms or courses relevant to their professional growth is a great way to facilitate professional development for remote workers. 

You might also want to consider offering virtual mentorship or coaching through a platform like More Happi, which provides affordable virtual coaching for teams. 

Finally, you can offer online training and webinar opportunities with industry experts to provide remote employees with learning opportunities specific to their roles and skills development.

A Happy Remote Team Is an Engaged Remote Team

Managing remote team members around the world to ensure employee happiness and motivation levels stay high is essential to the success of your business. 

Addressing these challenges requires ongoing communication, support, and adaptation to remote work dynamics. Regularly assess the effectiveness of implemented solutions and gather feedback from employees to make necessary adjustments.

For more tips on keeping your remote team engaged, check out this article.