I’ve been a remote worker for 14 years. There’s much to love about working from home; not fighting traffic, getting more done, and wearing yoga pants all day rank near the top for me. I enjoy the perks, but it hasn’t all been peachy… there are some surprising downsides to leaving the traditional work environment for a telecommuting lifestyle.
Addressing the well-being needs of this often out-of-sight, out-of-mind worker segment is essential, not just for wellness and HR managers, but team leaders, too. A 2017 report by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics states 3.9 million US employees work remotely at least half the time — a 115% increase over 2005. Continued growth in telecommuting is likely with more workers placing high priority on flexibility, work-life well-being, and eco-conscious living.
Don’t Assume Remote Workers Are Thriving
With no commute and fewer interruptions, remote workers enjoy less stress, more time to exercise, and an automatic boost in well-being, right? Not necessarily. Some aspects of working from home affect well-being in ways other employees and employers may not consider. A few insights and recommendations:
1. Keep telecommuters in the loop.
Feeling forgotten is a common concern.
Does your remote staff know about in-office happenings and celebrations like group volunteering or coworker baby showers? Do they get left out of relevant meetings? Are they aware of practical benefits and services that diminish home office distractions and help them get their work done?
Tailor communications for telecommuters and have others pitch in to help remote team members stay informed about organization news, events, childcare assistance benefits, concierge services, meal delivery, product discounts (such as noise-canceling headphones), and more.
2. Underscore healthy boundaries for the telecommuting lifestyle.
Changing to a work-from-home lifestyle is an adjustment not just for the employee, but also for their colleagues, family, and friends. Some interpret this new arrangement to mean the worker is always available because they’re “home all day.” Offer tips to help employees clarify expectations up front; strategies include:
- Having a conversation with household members and coworkers
- Establishing specific times to respond to nonurgent texts and emails
- Setting phones to do not disturb except for high-priority contacts
- Signing out of messaging apps during deep work.
3. Promote the benefits of structure for remote workers.
The flexibility of a work-from-home arrangement is a huge part of the appeal, but without a certain amount of structure, health, job satisfaction, and productivity can quickly tank. Recommend that new telecommuters sketch out what their typical work day will look like, for their own benefit.
Allotting regular time for self-care, tasks, meetings, and project work, for example, will help them stay well, organized, and on track. Remote workers also may not realize they no longer have the buffer of commute time to mentally prepare for work or decompress on their way home. Intentionally creating think-time routines and activities to bookend the day helps offset this loss.
4. Foster forethought about healthy work-from-home habits.
Theoretically, working out before, during, or after work is more convenient for telecommuters — and preparing meals and snacks at home is a bonus. But the temptation to work early and late, skip breaks, and wander out to the kitchen all day is real. Routines that support well-being are vital for everyone, but remote workers should take extra care to build exercise, good nutrition, relaxation, meditation, and breaks into their schedule. It’s easy for work to take over and healthy habits to slide when the lines between work and home are fuzzy.
5. Make connection with remote workers a priority.
As an introvert, working alone in my home office was a dream come true… at first. No politics, fewer interruptions, lots of peace and quiet. But I quickly realized how much I’d undervalued the importance of working in-person with colleagues I considered friends. Missing the daily hubbub, friendly banter, shared experiences, and the simple pleasure of workplace camaraderie is likely a big loss for many telecommuters. And with loneliness now considered a significant health risk factor, helping remote workers feel connected isn’t just something nice to do. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways for leaders to strengthen feelings of connection:
- Offering team well-being challenges and specifically inviting remote workers to join in the fun
- Holding FaceTime® or Skype® meetings
- Making scheduled or occasional onsite time an option
- Encouraging work travel and conference attendance with coworkers
- Promoting inclusion in gatherings for after-hours fun
- Using intra-office messaging apps like Slack®.
6. Encourage telecommuters to get enough in-person social recreation time.
This helps to balance time spent alone. A few ideas:
- Informal gatherings with friends, family, and colleagues like potluck dinners, weekend hikes, and fun downtime
- Group fitness classes, sports leagues, or team training (for running, biking, or multi-sport events)
- Special interest groups like book clubs, hobby meetups, or Toastmasters™
- Town, school, and faith community events and activities
- Art appreciation such as concerts, exhibits, fairs, and poetry readings.
Everybody Wins When You Address Remote Worker Well-Being
The telecommuters I know are generally happy and grateful for increased flexibility in their work and personal schedules. Thoughtfully addressing the unique well-being needs of your remote team members will help them thrive in what can become a more-challenging-than-you’d-think work environment. And it reinforces the message that they’re as vital to organization success as their onsite colleagues. As a long-time telecommuter, I can’t overstate what a huge difference this makes in terms of enduring loyalty.
What About Consultants, Contractors, and Temps?
Have you considered extending eligibility for well-being campaigns and services to others in your workforce, regardless of employment status? With the rise of the gig economy, more consultants, contractors, and temps are a regular part of many teams. They may not be eligible for benefits, but the company still has a stake in their well-being:
- Just like employees, non-employees perform better when they’re healthy and thriving
- Participating in a wellness challenge with coworkers, whatever their roles, strengthens connections and translates into better teamwork
- Welcoming non-employees to the table shows you care about them as people, fostering a culture of inclusion and goodwill, which bodes well for recruitment and retention.
Well-being consultant, educator, writer ｜ICHWC National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach ｜ACSM Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist ｜Lifestyle medicine advocate ｜25+ years in wellness ｜Jazz enthusiast.