The rise of remote working – what’s the impact on employee wellbeing? – The HR Director Magazine

The past two years have been synonymous with change and transformation. At the beginning of the pandemic, many of us left our offices with little knowledge of what the future had in store. As we began working from home, routines settled in and we started to think about what our aspirations were, in career and in life. The rise of remote working opened up a world of possibilities for many.

But remote working also introduced limitations – especially in the mental health and wellbeing arena. For those accustomed to commuting to the office every day and seeing colleagues, and those for whom socialising was an important part of their lives, the pandemic was a lonely experience. There has been a clear impact on mental health as a direct result of lockdown measures, which also impacted workers. Some became overwhelmed with the unclear divisions between work life and home life, and it became difficult for employers to have sight over the wellbeing of their workforce because of a lack of technology to support this rapid change.

The rise of remote working
There are clear benefits to a remote working culture. Greater autonomy and flexibility allows for workers to structure how they spend their days, which can lead to increased productivity. And of course, the added benefit of having additional time to spend with family or on recreational tasks when we would normally be commuting to and from the office.

According to a recent Access People poll, half of workers prefer a hybrid working arrangement, working some days from home and some days from the office. A significant 41% prefer to work entirely from home. Less than 10% would like to return to the office full time. These figures reflect a significant shift in mindset of the majority of the workforce and indicates that this new working culture is here to stay.

The permanent switch to  hybrid working will undoubtedly have both a positive and negative impact on both managers and employees. On the positive side, it provides employees the ability to achieve greater work-life balance by having the freedom to choose how they spend their time. It also allows businesses the opportunity to innovate, upskill their workforce and make greater use of the technology available to connect workers and streamline processes.

However, amid this rapid change we must always keep the mental health and wellbeing of our people at the forefront of our minds.

The mental health cost
Despite the benefits of remote working, and the fact that many employees want to continue working at least some days at home (91%), there is also a great indication that the mental health of workers is continuing to decline. This is especially true when it comes to those who report suffering from anxiety.

Entering into endless streams of video calls can be mentally and physically draining, resulting in a sensation that has come to be known as Zoom fatigue, which impacts certain demographics harder than others – namely women and new employees who are going through the onboarding process. Days can begin to blur together, and burnout can be reached faster without the distinction between home and work.

Another Access People poll confirmed that 69% of workers are feeling some level of anxiety during this period of change. With restrictions easing and more people venturing out on public transportation to return to the office, 20% of workers report feeling anxious and overwhelmed, while nearly half of respondents  are slightly anxious about what the future might hold.

The role of management
There are things we can do to address the problem. Managers and HR leaders have the critical responsibility of helping their workforce navigate this transition by prioritising the mental health and wellbeing of their workers.

When asked about the health and safety challenges within their organisations, concern for wellbeing of remote workers topped the list, with 44% of those surveyed citing this as the main obstacle to tackle. This indicates that leaders within organisations need to have open communication with their employees to find out how the process of remote working can be made easier for them in order to alleviate their concerns. This might mean surveying employees to enquire about what equipment is needed, providing regular opportunities to check in, and doing a technology audit to ensure that the systems that are being used to connect employees are fit for purpose in the modern working environment.

The bottom line: Striking a balance
We have the power to support people’s wellbeing while also doing our jobs effectively during this challenging moment in history. The priority is finding the right balance between work and life, and helping our workforce navigate this change successfully.

Let’s take a step back and look at how far many of us have come over the last (nearly) two years since the pandemic began. In response to a crisis, many industries were able to move mountains to support their workforce as they entered into a new era of remote work, utilising technology to make a difference in people’s lives and reach organisational goals. There’s every indication that this is set to continue, and the possibilities are endless for what can be achieved if we continue to put the wellbeing of our people first.

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