Even in the best of times, striking a healthy balance between work and life can feel like walking a tightrope with no safety net. Introduce remote work into the mix, and what little balance you may have felt you had just left the building.
A study by Business Facilities found that remote workers’ hours increased by a whopping 40 percent in March of 2020. That’s an increase of three hours a day.
Regardless of the extra hours and struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance, many employees still prefer remote work. A study conducted by IBM in May and June of 2020 found that 61 percent of the WFH crowd want to continue working from home after the pandemic.
But while remote work has its benefits, according to a recent survey published by TELUS International, it can also have big consequences, including:
The inability to “shut off”: Leaving work behind when you’re working from home is a challenge. You can end up feeling like your engine is constantly running. The issue is so common that four out of five respondents to the survey said it was hard to quit working at the end of the day.
Running out of gas: Stress is exhausting. When we’re not taking care of our mental health, the danger of running out of fuel is high, and the cost is usually our productivity.
Killing your battery: Everyone needs to recharge their batteries with a good night’s rest, but higher levels of anxiety can make sleep elusive and drain us. According to the survey, half of people have had their sleep patterns interrupted by COVID-19 related stress.
The coronavirus pandemic has driven stress levels through the roof. Research has found that 75 percent of workers have struggled with work due to pandemic anxiety. And the TELUS International survey found that 80 percent of workers would leave their current position for a new one that focused on good mental health.
How leaders can help remote teams find their balance
Leaders play an important role in helping their people maintain their mental health and work-life balance in their new normal. Here are three tips to help:
Check in: You can’t know which way the winds are blowing for your employees unless you ask. Proactively check in about their well-being on a regular basis, beyond daily meetings and tasks.
Offer resources: Offer access to learning content and resources about self-care, mental health, and avoiding burnout. Employee well-being often falls into the category of self-awareness we refer to as the danger zone of the Knowledge Pie, also known as “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Your employees can feel the symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety without even realizing what it is. By offering resources to your people on a regular basis, they can bump into learning that helps them become aware of—and begin taking care of—their mental health.
Mind your flexibility: With the lines between work and home being blurred now more than ever, employees are finding it difficult to draw a line in the sand between work-time and self-time. Help them protect their self-time by reinstituting typical work hours. Asking your employees to be too flexible often leads to them working longer hours and feeling more stress.
Remote work mental health tips for everyone
Remote work can be a blessing. Without long commutes and the ability to toss in a load of laundry between meetings, it can be exactly what people need to strike the ideal work-life balance. But maintaining it is its own struggle.
Of course, this applies not just to employees but leaders as well. Everyone within the company, from top to bottom, needs to prioritize self-care to maintain that healthy remote work-life balance. Here are some tips we all can use to boost our remote work well-being:
Step into the sun: Finding moments of joy and calm amidst what feels like a sea of stress is more important than ever. And one of the best ways to do this is by literally stepping out into the sun. If you can, get outside! Take a walk, get some exercise, and find a little peace in the daylight.
Stay the course: When things we can’t control go awry, it’s important to increase our focus on those things we can. Make sure you pay attention to your regular needs, such as your nutrition and typical self-care routines. Even while the ground rumbles, you can help keep yourself healthy and steady.
Practice empathy with yourself and others: Studies show that empathy can help lower stress, promote good health, and prevent burnout. It helps build connections with others, which is particularly important for remote workers, and helps regulate our emotions. But perhaps most importantly, it brings perspective into our mental focus. If we can feel empathy for others, and even for ourselves, it can bring us up and out of our feelings of anger and anxiety and help us see the positivity and forward-movement in the world.
After many months of pandemic fatigue, we all need and deserve a mental health check-in. With the lines blurred between work and home, companies can and should play a bigger role than ever in supporting the well-being of their people.