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With the COVID-19 pandemic upending the way many of us perform our jobs, remote work has become the new normal. Around the world, this was a necessary step to not only ensure business continuity, but to keep employees safe and healthy during the pandemic. Much has been learned along the way through engagement strategies that have kept us more connected than ever before. However, with everyone constantly connected to their computers, fatigue can begin to set in. Employers must consider strategies that prioritize employee mental health while continuing to collaborate in the virtual setting that may not be for everyone.
For many, remote work remains a viable option, with one employee survey from June revealing that eighty-one percent of respondents want to continue working remotely at least some of the time, while 61% would like remote work to become their primary work method. Remote work offers flexibility and comfort while revealing that many jobs once primarily performed in-person can function just as well remotely, causing business leaders to rethink their strategies.
However, additional research reveals that not all employees are thriving in the remote world. Global market research firm the Martec Group collected data in April 2020 from 1,214 remote individuals across various industries, demographics, and seniority levels. While sixteen percent of respondents were identified as thriving employees and 25% were identified as hopeful, 27% were identified as discouraged and 32% were identified as trapped. Some are struggling, with the survey revealing a thirty-four percent decrease in mental health while 42% of respondents said their stress level worsened.
This is one survey, but it’s important to consider the toll that remote work can have on the workforce. Harvard Business Review notes that Google searches of “Zoom fatigue” are increasing, explaining that video calls can make it easier to lose focus. Constantly having to demonstrate that we’re focusing on what someone is saying can be mentally draining. Mental health during – and after – a pandemic is a crucial component to employee wellbeing, and leaders will need to continue to plan for it. Consider every day tactics to boost mental health, while constructing a comprehensive wellness program for remote employees.
In the meantime, being an effective virtual manager means balancing the needs of the employees who may not be adapting well to the virtual environment with the critical need to be collaborative. For instance, according to Fast Company, continue to conduct virtual meetings while structuring them loosely rather than having a strict agenda. By also removing the requirement to be responsive, “managers can train their teams to become more comfortable with silence during meetings, and in turn more likely to think constructively during pauses rather than make assumptions.”
Additional tips from Harvard Business Review include reducing onscreen stimuli, making social events opt-in, and avoiding multitasking. It can be easy for many of us to quickly glance over our emails while someone else is talking during a staff meeting, but that can quickly devolve into multitasking, which according to research from Stanford, can lead to reduced memory. Other helpful practices include creating clear start and end times to the day, blocking out lunch, openly communicating about boundaries, and avoiding the late-night emails.
The hard truth is that remote work is unlikely to go away completely any time soon. For some, this is a welcome change, while to others, it marks the beginning of an era that isn’t conducive to their working style. In whichever way an employee experiences remote work, leaders must focus on mental health to ensure their needs are being met, while introducing practices that balance these needs with virtual collaboration that keeps business running smoothly.
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