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HR Transformation

How HR can support mental well-being for remote teams

With many employees around the world making a sudden switch to remote work, HR teams are faced the difficult task of supporting them—and their mental well-being—through an onslaught of new changes and challenges. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic became a global crisis in late 2019, businesses all over the world began grappling with lockdowns, quarantines, and “shelter at home” orders that meant their employees needed to stop coming in to work.

With many employees around the world making a sudden switch to remote work, HR teams are faced the difficult task of supporting them—and their mental well-being—through an onslaught of new changes and challenges. 

Working from home comes with changes to office processes like workflows, meetings, and communication. There’s also the sense of isolation that can accompany remote work.

Recent studies on remote work show that maintaining a state of healthy mental well-being—and, in particular, battling loneliness—is one of the biggest struggles remote employees face. However, loneliness isn’t a guaranteed outcome of remote work.

There are small, yet impactful steps HR teams can take to not only help ease the transition to remote work, but to support employees and encourage mental well-being even after this crisis ends. 

Encourage clear and frequent communication among employees

Working remotely means missing out on the little office interactions that happen throughout the day. According to the Business Group On Health, remote employees say they feel separated from their work environment and culture, and they think they miss out on opportunities for more casual workplace interactions and learning. Conversations over coffee, Monday morning catch-ups, and small talk by the water cooler are all taken out of the equation when employees are working from home.

To keep your workplace culture alive and thriving, consider adding virtual events like coffee chat meetings to employees’ calendars. If your team uses a chat platform, start a few channels that aren’t work-related and get some open, light-hearted conversations going for others to continue. Here at League, we have a Slack channel called #cute, where team members share and comment on photos of their pets. It’s an easy way to emulate in-office interactions and add some fun into the workday, especially for our remote employees.

Encourage managers to check in and give regular feedback

HR teams should encourage managers to check in with their team members more frequently, both to give them feedback on their work, and to find out how they’re doing. In the absence of face-to-face meetings, encourage managers to use private Slack channels, direct messages, or one-on-one video calls for their check-ins.

A 2018 study by Joblist showed that 33.4 percent of full-time employees wish their supervisors would give them more feedback. To make things even more challenging for companies that have had to shift to remote work, 45.1 percent of the respondents in that survey said they wanted to receive feedback in a private, face-to-face setting.

That desire for feedback and interaction hasn’t stopped just because work is being done remotely. The challenge is figuring out how to give more feedback to a distributed workforce where face-to-face meetings are out of the question for now. 

Giving more work-related feedback to remote employees will promote better well-being by mitigating the anxiety that can come with feeling in the dark about your work—especially during a time of so much change and uncertainty. And to help combat the isolation so many remote workers report feeling, managers should also use these check-ins to provide encouragement and support. HR teams can guide the way by providing ideas and structure, like priming managers with specific questions they can use during the check-in. “How is it working from home? Does it feel too quiet?” or “What unexpected challenges are you facing since moving to remote work? How can I help you overcome them?

Encourage employees to unplug at the end of each day

Often, first-time remote workers struggle with creating and maintaining their new work rhythm. Many remote workers also report struggling with feeling that they need to work longer hours, take fewer breaks, and deliver more in order to compensate for not being in the office.

In fact, numerous studies and surveys find burnout to be one of the biggest challenges remote workers say they face. 

HR teams can help prevent burnout by encouraging employees to establish regular hours, and by allowing some flexibility for employees to fit their work hours in with other obligations. Keep in mind that one set of established work hours may not work for everyone—for example, some employees might be available to work during the evening, but employees with young children might not.

You can leverage whatever internal communication tools you use, from Slack to Google Calendars, to set working hours. Enforcing work times can be as simple as setting your Slack status to “Away” when you sign off at the end of the day and muting notifications outside of work hours so it’s not as tempting to respond at all hours. These are some healthy practices HR and other leadership can encourage remote workers to adopt.

Onboard remote employees to teach new processes and practices

According to a report by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM), 88 percent of remote workers report that they struggle with inconsistent processes and practices in their virtual workplaces.

That makes sense—in the office, your employees likely know where to go to file paperwork, how to pick up their mail, how to access their voicemail, and who to go to with specific types of questions.

Once they shift to working from home, employees will likely be left wondering how to complete tasks without the physical space and resources they’re accustomed to.

HR teams already know the importance of good employee onboarding practices. When shifting to a distributed workplace, those practices now apply to onboarding employees to a new system and structure for working.

Schedule a virtual “onboarding” session, even for experienced, long-time employees, to walk everyone through changes the organization will have to adapt to keep its processes running smoothly while working remotely. Encourage managers to keep open lines of communication for when their teams inevitably have questions about how to complete tasks outside the office. This should help alleviate some of the stress employees may feel amid the big changes that come with working from home for the first time.

Make benefits communication and engagement clear and easy

A notable challenge for remote employees is how easily important information can get lost in an overload of Slack messages and emails. It’s important to make sure employees aren’t missing important messaging like benefits communication.

HR leaders can address this challenge by using a benefits communication and engagement platform like a health operating system (health OS), providing their employees with a central platform where they can access their health benefits, as well as communication and education around them. Even better if the platform is personalized for each employee, and includes comprehensive health programs like family planning, stress management, and more.

Giving employees ways to stay in control of their own well-being is one of the best ways HR teams can support them. A health OS not only empowers employees to better manage their healthcare but incentivizes regular engagement with all their health benefits.

Provide additional mental health support

In the US, around 46 million people experience mental health issues each year. On average, only 41 percent of them receive any form of professional mental health care.

Mental health and well-being are crucial concerns in the workplace—that extends to remote work, too.

Many businesses with distributed teams are turning to telehealth solutions to support employee mental health. If your organization isn’t already, consider partnering with a third-party vendor program that can plug into your existing health OS. Ginger IO and Inkblot are practical, evidence-based platforms for monitoring and improving mental health.

Encouraging employee well-being in uncertain times

Whether your organization has teams of experienced remote employees, or it’s just become distributed for the first time, looking out for employee well-being is a crucial step to ensure happiness, productivity, and focus in the days ahead. With a careful strategy, HR teams can better support their workers through this and new changes that are sure to come in the future.

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