We know the trend for people working from home is rising. The HSO says 50% of workers in the UK will be remote-based by the end of this year. It promises freedom, trust, control and flexibility. With no commute. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But, in reality, serious consideration needs to be given to the mental health of staff who work remotely.
There’s less interaction with the wider outside world. Think about a typical day in an office; you rub shoulders to get there, you see the same people on your commute and share that experience. You say hello to people in the coffee shop who smile as they hand you your usual order. Small things add up.
Aside from not having physical interaction with peers, there can be a lack of idea sharing and building on ideas with others. But, there’s an increase in the number of people living and working in the same space, attracted to this promise of flexibility. The issue is keeping the lines between home and work clear.
The common downsides to working where you live include depression, anxiety, stress, isolation, weight gain and a reduced interest in interacting with others (thanks to the straightforwardness of online interaction with colleagues).
The job can be lonely. Not many remote workers speak aloud during their working day, with no one at the next desk for a chat. They don’t see any other people, which can be isolating. It can also cause friction with the people they live with as they become their sole point of contact.
It’s easy to get consumed and before you know it, you’re working into the evening or weekend. Imposter and procrastination syndrome(s) can tear you down. There’s a desire to be “seen” to be working. There’s a false idea that remote workers watch Netflix all day and as a result, work hours dissipate in an attempt to disprove this. Can you imagine going into an office at 11 pm to send an email to your boss? This puts undue stress on a person and causes all manner of mental ill-health.
Perhaps the biggest challenge faced by home workers is picking yourself up after a setback? If things don’t go how you expected, there’s no one there to turn to for a cuppa and a vent.
So, what can you do to mitigate those downsides? The secret to keeping afloat is self-confidence. Mix this with the ability to clearly communicate and the self-discipline to be consistent. Finally, self-awareness and knowing when you need a break.
I remember one day where I just couldn’t get into my work. I felt uncharacteristically depressed. I hadn’t achieved anything by midday and I felt guilty that I was wasting the company’s time. I worried I’d have to answer for my lack of productivity the next day. I wasn’t physically unwell, so there was no excuse.
I quickly realised this was wrong. I told my line manager I was struggling and that I was going to wrap up what I could and take the afternoon off. He was great about it and said that sounded like a good idea. I went for a walk. I went to a cafe. I bought myself a huge piece of cake. I felt immeasurably better. I’ve not had a day like it since because I realised the importance of keeping yourself mentally well.
Doing this right means having an office space just for you, with a closed door and a routine. Simple things like getting up at a certain time, doing some exercise, having a shower and some breakfast before firing up the laptop can be a huge help. Getting dressed can make such an impact. It’s tempting to stay in your pyjamas all day, but how would it actually make you feel, day in, day out? (The jury’s out on shoes. If you wear slippers every day be warned that your feet won’t like it when it comes to wearing ‘proper’ shoes!).
If your personality naturally suits remote working, you’ll find this easier.
Our designer, Aaron, can’t imagine a life where he isn’t working remotely. He travels the world and logs in from different countries throughout the year. “Honestly, to me, it’s not a novelty any more so don’t think about it as something out of the ordinary,” he says. “The idea of being settled in one place with stability and comfort sounds terrifying!”
What can employers do?
A good company will recognise the needs of their staff. Here are a few things that can be done to ensure no one gets left behind.
A wellbeing program: investing in an Employee Assistance Programme not only shows your dedication and loyalty to employee wellbeing but helps them to make proactive self-improvements.
Ask them: Perhaps the simplest thing to do is ask people how they’re feeling. Use feedback to make your employees feel heard. Every Friday at Code Enigma we do a ‘happiness check’ where staff tell us (anonymously or not) how their week has gone, and why. (We also play the Kenn Dodd song when we ask for this feedback).
Help staff create their own space: offering to help with the expense of office furniture helps staff ditch the sofa and create a working space they can close the door on when they’re not working.
Regular communication: Using things like Google Meet means teams get to see one another and interact more than purely using a chat client. At Code Enigma, it’s not unusual to see someone wearing a dinosaur mask, or a chicken on a lap during a Meet. We always have our chat running, too. The conversations range from the serious to the ridiculous.
Meet up whenever possible: if there’s a conference or event, or you happen to be in the same town as a colleague, it’s a great idea to meet in person. Code Enigma also meets up for an away week in June or July every year. It’s a perfect balance of work, team bonding and wine drinking.
Enforcing the work-life balance: at Code Enigma, we don’t have our work emails on personal devices and this is just as much for data security as it is for ensuring a work-life-balance for our staff. We have core hours, and, on the whole, most people stick to them unless something truly important comes up.
Trust your staff: finally, working on a foundation of trust is the glue that holds this all together. Some companies have apps that monitor what staff are getting up to. If they’re using their own equipment, though, it’s not reasonable to expect this. It’s downright intrusive. Trust means letting people be accountable for their own work.
Maygen Jacques, marketing manager at Code Enigma.