Since the pandemic forced the world indoors, many people have embraced this new age of remote work and the benefits it has brought. Lots of companies now offer wholly or partially remote work environments as there is a high demand from workers for more control and flexibility over both where and when they work.
While some companies have been more reluctant than others to offer remote working, the business benefits of hiring remote workers are clear to all: Lower office rental costs, ability to hire from a wider talent pool, more engaged and happier employees, lower attrition rates, improvements in productivity, and it’s great for the environment.
BPOs (Business Process Outsourcers) across the world were among the first to take advantage of the remote work phenomenon. Firstly, many had already been employing remote workers – even pre-pandemic, some BPOs employed only remote workers as it gave them and their clients more flexibility and access to better talent at lower cost.
Secondly, during the pandemic, BPOs worldwide were forced to rush their employees’ desks, laptops, and internet connections so they could continue to work for clients, many of whom were providing essential services.
But even though there are significant upsides to these flexible models for both company and worker, working from home can be challenging. For many, it can become too easy to spend all day inside and never leave the house. This can lead remote workers to quickly feel isolated, particularly if they are not given adequate support.
That’s why taking care of yourself is vital if you work from home. And if you employ remote workers, you must ensure they are looked after to the same standard as your in-office workers. Employee well-being is crucial in creating a functional and productive working environment and company culture. It’s also important that workers don’t carry stress and baggage over to their non-working lives, which means there must be a separation between the two. In this article, we’ll examine the impact of remote work on mental health and uncover some top strategies for improving workers’ well-being in remote settings.
Understanding the impact of remote work on mental health
While working from home can be extremely enjoyable, it has potential downsides. Remote work can cause prolonged isolation, mainly if you live alone, as you often have little reason to leave the house. Staying indoors all day can blur the lines between work, leisure, and rest, particularly if you work in your living room or bedroom, throwing off your body clock and causing distress, insomnia, and pent-up emotions to build up.
Additionally, many companies typically allow remote workers to choose their own schedules or at least have some flexibility to pick and swap their shifts. Whether in-house or outsourced with a BPO, contact centers cannot have agents log in whenever they feel like it. However, employees working for other types of BPOs that handle less time-sensitive tasks, such as marketing, accounting, or bookkeeping, can be offered total time flexibility.
While this undoubtedly has many benefits – such as fitting work around other commitments such as children, volunteer work or hobbies – the lack of structure and routine can lead to more stress and anxiety than a set schedule. Over time, employees may become less motivated and productive, reducing the quality of their work and increasing absenteeism due to illness.
Burnout, depression, and chronic stress are all significant possibilities for remote workers, so remote workers and their employers must understand the risks and employ successful strategies to mitigate the potential consequences.
Strategies for enhancing mental health in remote work settings
Fortunately for remote workers, many ways exist to improve mental health while working from home. These include taking up new hobbies or participating in company initiatives and meet-ups. Whatever self-care method you choose, always reach out to your friends, family, and coworkers if you feel stressed or overwhelmed. For employers, you need to consider implementing some of the strategies below to ensure that your organization provides remote workers with the support they need:
Healthy work-life balance
First and foremost, remote workers need to establish a healthy work-life balance. You can do this by setting boundaries between your work and your leisure time, such as designating a room in your house solely for work. Taking regular breaks will also ensure your work doesn’t consume you, and going on short walks over lunch may help you disengage from your current tasks.
Maintaining a good balance between your work and personal life is vital, so avoid doing too much overtime. Setting boundaries also entails refusing extra work when you feel overwhelmed, allowing you to leave an appropriate amount of time for yourself.
Employers can help here by monitoring how often and for how long their remote employees work. In a contact center setting, remote agents should always be logged into the ACD and contact center platform, so you should have this data already. For BPOs that employ other types of workers, non-intrusive monitoring software can tell you exactly when employees work and could alert you when someone is logging in too often or for too long. Remember, as crazy as it sounds, remote workers might not always fill in their timesheets accurately, so you can’t rely on that to tell you how many hours they really worked. If a remote worker is logging on in the middle of the night or too often at weekends, it’s a sure sign that they have a work-life balance problem, and you can take appropriate remedial action.
Maintain social connections and team engagement
For remote workers, keeping yourself active and sociable while working from home will enhance your mental health. Whether you start an evening class, take up a new sport, or simply arrange weekly catch-ups with colleagues, increasing physical contact with others will keep your mind healthier. Even scheduling virtual meetings with friends or coworkers will boost your mentality and reduce your feelings of isolation.
Employers can facilitate this by offering free gym memberships or classes, encouraging remote workers to get out of the house and get some much-needed exercise. If you have offices, make them available to staff for meet-ups or encourage them to form clubs or societies even if they have nothing to do with work. Allowing your staff to make use of your facilities, particularly if they are generally underpopulated due to remote working, can become a major perk of working for you.
Create a structured and supportive work environment
Having access to a dedicated workspace, a consistent routine, and mental health resources will all contribute to a more structured and supportive work environment. As a remote worker, you should look to give your working days some structure, as this is what our brains crave and need to do our best work. The same goes for your choice of work location to ensure a clear separation between your work life and your personal leisure time.
Auditing their remote workers’ work environments is one thing employers can and, arguably, must do. You are responsible for providing a safe workspace for remote workers as you do for in-office workers. If you have a policy on the type of office chair and desk that in-office workers should have, that policy should apply to homeworkers. Many BPOs and contact centers during the early days of lockdown became the biggest customers of local furniture stores as they had to set workers up with suitable desks and chairs in double quick time.
Prioritize self-care and personal wellness
Incorporate self-care practices into your daily routine to boost your well-being as a remote worker. These include physical exercise, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and hobbies. These can stimulate endorphin and serotonin production to enhance your mental health. Finding time for self-care, even just for 30 minutes per day, can drastically improve your overall well-being.
As an employer, you can support this by offering incentives to individuals and teams who participate in these activities – without making them mandatory, as that is the fastest way to ensure nobody wants to participate.
Introduce company initiatives and support programs
If you’re overseeing a team of remote employees, create company initiatives and accessible support channels for your staff. Company-wide no-meeting days and mental health education can boost your employees’ overall well-being.
Additionally, providing access to wellness resources and mindfulness apps will help your team members get the proper support whenever needed. BPOs and contact centers can even make this part of any gamification activities they undertake to incentivize their staff.
How Time Doctor helps improve employee well-being
Improving employee well-being for remote workers seems complicated, but it’s far from impossible. By introducing non-invasive productivity tracking software like Time Doctor, companies can monitor their remote workforce and spot signs of overworking, stress, and anxiety before they overwhelm their staff.
For example, Time Doctor’s Work-Life Balance feature helped Geoff Ainsworth, VP of Engineering, reduce employee burnout and improve staff well-being levels in his remote workforce. By providing Geoff with a dashboard with real-time productivity metrics highlighting working hours, he could easily see who was at risk of burnout and could adjust his management style accordingly.
Companies that measure the work-life balance of their remote employees report higher staff retention rates and greater employee well-being. Time Doctor’s Work-Life Balance widget helps you do just that. Take a tour of this feature here.
Since remote work is undoubtedly here to stay, more should be done to provide adequate support for those working from home. Remote workers need to know how to look after their mental health, but education and support start from within the company. Both employees and employers should take proactive steps to create a healthy and non-toxic remote work environment.
Employers can do this by offering company-wide initiatives like days without meetings or by providing free access to mindfulness apps and other mental health resources. Meanwhile, remote workers can improve their well-being by bringing structure to their workdays, maintaining social contact, and setting aside time for personal hobbies and physical exercise.
Above all, employers have a duty of care towards their staff and must do everything possible to ensure a healthy working environment. By utilizing Time Doctor, companies can monitor the work patterns of their employees to determine who needs support before the issue gets out of hand. Book your free demo with Time Doctor today before your staff get too overwhelmed!
Carlo Borja is the Content Marketing Manager of Time Doctor, a workforce analytics software for distributed teams. He is a remote work advocate, a father and a coffee junkie.