Managing Employee Wellness during Remote Work

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It is fast becoming the new normal for organizations to take their work virtually. While remote work is not a new phenomenon, it is one that most companies have had to adapt speedily without prior preparation due to the current pandemic.

Remote work and remote work during a pandemic are nothing alike. While remote/virtual work, in general, has a positive impact on employee engagement as employees are given the choice to select their place and mode of work, the constraints of remote work during a pandemic is far more reaching than the other. This is because the pandemic removes the option of choice and employees are left to manage situations with limited choices.

It is therefore no wonder why when the team at Spazio Ideale surveyed a few employees about their stress levels at this period we got interesting responses.

This week, let’s take a look at the effect of remote work on the stress levels of employees and how employers can manage employee wellness and engagement during the pandemic. To begin with, we will explore why managing employee wellness and engagement is important.

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Employee Engagement has been proven to be a significant way for companies to meet their objectives. Employee Engagement contributes to attracting top talents and retaining them as well as enhancing creativity, innovation, and collaboration.

In short, Employee Engagement helps organizations achieve their top line and bottom line goals such as profitability, customer satisfaction, and revenue.

Asides organizational culture, one of the ways to keep employees engaged is through a properly designed workspace, one that allows for interaction, collaboration, and enhances connectivity and experience.

Are your Employees stressed?

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A 2017 joint report by ILO and Eurofound found that 40% of employees practicing remote work experience more stress compared to 25% percent of employees working at the office. The reason for this stress levels varied. Our team at Spazio Ideale decided to find out if employees were really stressed.

We asked a few employees within our reach, about their experience with remote work since the pandemic began, and 75% of employees reported higher levels of stress working remotely compared to working in a workplace.

Some of the reasons employees are stressed during virtual work based on our research are highlighted below.

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Based on the ILO & Eurofound 2017 report, one of the primary reasons employees felt stressed was because they felt separated from their colleagues. Now with compulsory isolation, the effects can only be imagined. The allure of virtual work which is the choice employees get to make becomes more of a necessity. That said, virtual work tends to focus more on tasks than relationships, therefore communication becomes very work-focused. Office banter which would usually take place around areas such as coffee stations, lunchrooms, and collaborative spaces are gone. A 2014 Fast Company article by Lisa Evans highlights that co-workers require face-time interactions away from their screens to build bonds and mental wellness.

The first thing on employee’s list is that they are stuck in their seats all day due to endless virtual calls. One particular employee mentioned that they had team calls with their team lead 3x daily. Tasks that required a 2min walk to a colleague’s work desk to seek clarification on a work challenge have now metamorphosed to hour-long video calls. While zoom and other connectivity device help make communication and collaboration seamless, they can also be overwhelming and stressful, especially when there are minimal breaks between meetings

Another pain point for employees is their inability to separate work and personal life. While this would have been very possible within the workspace, the blur between personal and work time is becoming a cause of concern. For some employees that are mothers, remote work wouldn’t be so bad but with the pandemic and with schools shut down, they are having to manage their direct reports, bosses, and families at the same time. While others can’t just seem to separate both functions. The stress of handling multiple roles and not being able to create clear cut distinctions between work and personal life is overwhelming.

Due to the pandemic and with businesses having to shut down or reduce the scale of their operations to be COVID 19 safety guideline compliant. The resulting effect has been more workload on organizations that can function efficiently virtually but depend on other services that require physical presence to perform. KPIs and expectations are not dwindling, employees are left to face the hurdles of managing dependencies while still delivering top results.

Having spent all day on zoom calls and meetings, employees are left to do their jobs after work hours, which in turn can lead to burnout. We spoke to a few employees who mentioned they were having meetings and responding to emails at odd hours. The majority of the employees we interviewed described themselves as overachievers and with the advent of virtual work, they feel the need to over-deliver to stay relevant within their organizations. While we understand that work ethics differ, the resulting effect is a burnout which in turn reduces productivity

Imagine your job role is customer service and you stay in a densely populated remote area that is largely off the electric grid with high levels of noise pollution from neighbors. (For employees living in Lagos Nigeria, Imagine Mile 12, Ketu or Ikorodu). Having to deliver excellently on the job is highly dependent on the environment the employees find themselves in. Factors such as location, electricity, access to reliable internet services, and the likes can impact employee efficiency and productivity. For employees that face challenges in terms of finding a suitable work environment, the effect can be intense and frustrating.

Equipped with knowledge from our research and our conversation with some employees, we proceeded to ask some professionals in leading tech firms about how they’ve been able to manage employee wellness during virtual work and below are the tips we got:

  • Find out unique issues that stem from remote work by taking internal polls.
  • Treat common issues within available budget limits
  • Dig deep for personal problems by creating the environment for employees to discuss personal issues
  • Deliver perks such as subsidized lunch to employees by partnering with food vendors located around employee locations
  • Incentivize electricity and internet bills

Asides from the tips above, we believe organizations can improve employee wellness and productivity levels by doing the following.

Allowing employees to take a break from their work desk by reducing endless meetings is one sure way to reduce stress. Organizations can take it a step further by enforcing virtual breaks where employees can log off their screens for a period of time.

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As mentioned earlier, virtual work can be very task-oriented at the detriment of fostering lasting bonds and relationships between employees. As an organization, you can incorporate the following activities to improve engagement

  • Weekly Photo Contest: These can be Funniest WFH moment, Cutest pet contest, Weirdest WFH event, cooking contest (Best meal photo)
  • Other contests such as America’s Got Talent or Idols can be reimagined to encourage employees to display talents that will be judged weekly by a poll or by a group of judges.
  • Banter rooms for coffee breaks and lunch breaks: This can be done via a dedicated slack channel or a specified time allocated zoom rooms.
  • Pet play dates for employees
  • Spelling bees, puzzle competitions, game nights via zoom (An example of an interactive game that can be played via zoom is Mafia)
  • Other ways to improve employee engagement is through engagement options such as Netflix movie of the week, In-house book club, Spotify list of the week, etc.
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Physical activity can help boost employee health and reduce stress. Create workout sessions for your employees. This can be done in collaboration with fitness experts. Workout sessions can be scheduled for mornings and evenings. Organizations should feel free to include other mindful sessions like meditation and yoga.

Improve the working environment of employees by providing comfortable WFH Kits or discounting WFH kits such as office desks, seats, partitions, storage, etc. needed by employees.

Organizations can help reduce employee burnout by creating policies that protect employee interests. Policies such as official work schedules during virtual work etc.

Finally, employees say working from home can be fulfilling most especially if the pandemic is resolved and they are given the option to choose their work location. We don’t see virtual work going out soon, neither do we see the need for the workspace going either. We believe the future of work will be a beautiful blend of virtual and physical work.

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Creative Director at Spazio Ideale | Expert in Millenial Focused Commercial Interior Design| www.spazioideale.com

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Tomi Bamgbelu

Creative Director at Spazio Ideale | Expert in Millenial Focused Commercial Interior Design| www.spazioideale.com