Did you know that April is stress awareness month? This year’s theme is ‘community’, which was chosen by the Stress Management Society because feelings of loneliness and isolation arising from a lack of support can be detrimental to an individual’s wellbeing and mental health.
This theme is particularly relevant following the disruption caused by the COVD-19 pandemic over the last two years, which has resulted in a huge shift towards home working and hybrid working models. When staff are working from home they’re usually working alone, which puts them at an increased risk of isolation and work-related stress (for example, as a result of reduced contact with colleagues and/or less hands-on support from their managers). As an employer, you have a duty of care towards your staff which extends to their mental as well as their physical wellbeing. This means it’s crucial for you to be alive to issues of loneliness and isolation and to work towards creating a supportive and inclusive community at work.
This stress awareness month, consider reviewing your processes and procedures for managing staff who work remotely to make sure they’re fit for purpose. To get you started, we’ve highlighted some best practice steps you should be taking:
1. Set up proper communication systems
First things first, you won’t be able to support remote staff properly without making sure you have appropriate and effective communication systems in place. You’ll need to make sure you can keep in regular contact with staff during the working day, whether that be by phone, email, instant messenger or video-conferencing. Make it clear to your staff which methods of communication they should be using and when; having too many channels on the go at the same time could be confusing and stressful for them.
2. Provide IT support
We’ve all experienced the frustration caused when the technology and/or equipment we’re relying on breaks down just as a deadline is approaching! Reduce the stress for your staff by making sure they have easy access to helplines for IT support or assistance with their equipment when they’re working remotely. It sounds simple, but it can make a big difference!
3. Check in with your staff
Make sure you encourage regular communication with remote staff; this could be daily team calls to check in and share company updates, regular one-to-ones between remote staff and their line managers, or informal discussions about how they’re getting on.
Encouraging regular communication helps you to monitor staff wellbeing and look out for any potential red flags (such as changes in their usual behaviour). It will also help you check that they have the tools they need to accommodate working from home. Bear in mind that you will need to find a balance between checking in regularly and overwhelming your employee, because too much contact could be stressful for them too!
4. Remind your staff to take their breaks
Make sure you’re promoting a positive workplace culture with an emphasis on employee wellbeing by encouraging staff to take regular breaks throughout the day. It’s easy for staff to blur the lines between work and home when they’re working from home, so remind them that they’re not expected to work beyond their contractual hours.
5. Don’t overlook staff who work from home
Whether you’re planning a work social or considering staff for promotions or development opportunities, make sure you don’t overlook staff who work from home. Work socials can be a great way to tackle feelings of isolation and create a sense of community between colleagues, and it’s important that all staff are given the opportunity to participate. Equally, you will need to consider how you will provide training and development to remote staff so that they are still able to progress and be considered for promotions.
Finally, encourage your staff to discuss any mental health concerns with their line manager, or another designated individual in your business. If they know there are discreet lines of communication open to them, staff who are struggling may feel more able to ask for help where necessary.
For further guidance about managing staff who work from home, see our Q&A on Staff working from home.
Before joining Sparqa Legal as a Senior Legal Editor in 2017, Frankie spent five years training and practising as a corporate disputes and investigations lawyer at leading international law firm Hogan Lovells. As legal insights lead, Frankie regularly contributes to Sparqa Legal’s blog, writing content across employment law, data protection, disputes and more.