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Managing mental health when working remotely: 8 tips for individuals and managers

As a manager, your employees’ mental health and wellbeing should always be something that you consider regularly. But in these exceptional times, it is especially the case.

Remote workers need to be managed carefully at the best of times to protect against burnout, anxiety, depression and isolation. If you’re managing a suddenly entirely remote team or working from home and starting to feel the effects of your new lifestyle, read on for some advice.

What are the dangers of working remotely?

Isolation and loneliness

According to a recent study, 48 percent of remote workers admit to feeling lonely, with 46 percent claiming freelancing can be “isolating.” Working from home means a significant portion of social interaction has been removed from your day to day. Depending on your role, this could mean days without speaking to people. Even if you are still chatting on Slack and Zoom, the camaraderie of being in an office rarely translates in the same way.

Anxiety, stress and burn out

In the current covid-19 lockdowns, you might find there’s some people in your team who have flourished, seemingly hitting all their targets and learning a language in their spare time. The pressure to keep up and achieve is enormous when we seemingly have “more time on our hands”. When you aren’t used to working in the same place as you sleep, your boundaries can get blurred all too easily. The potential to work is constant (your laptop is just there, you could maybe squeeze in another half hour?) so it’s very easy to burn out. 

Depression

Especially with the current levels of global uncertainty, it’s easy to feel insecurity about how your career is progressing. Paired with anxiety, stress and isolation, it’s easy for these to escalate into, or contribute to feelings of depression. Understand the symptoms of depression here. 

How to protect mental health when working from home

1. Treat mental health as seriously as physical health 

Recent figures show that millions are lost each year due to work-related stress, anxiety, and depression. For a long time, mental health was handled as a taboo subject. While not yet fully addressed, this is an attitude that is slowly changing. 

As a manager, make sure you lead by example. Deloitte UK had a campaign called “This Is Me“, where senior leaders shared stories of their own mental health struggles. Normalising this often difficult topic, and taking it seriously when people do share, are significant steps to help people accept mental health as being just as important as physical health.

2. Communicate frequently

Introvert or extrovert, humans are all inherently social. Communication is key. When working remotely, make sure to communicate regularly – give feedback, check in, have chats. All of this contributes to a sense of connection.

And don’t forget to talk about non-business topics! Using tools like Slack and Zoom are important for meetings, but make sure to take a bit of time to allow people to chat casually as well. It’s all too easy to ignore small talk, but it’s really important to maintain that human connection between employees.

3. Set clear boundaries

With the pressure on and your working space right in your line of sight, it’s achingly easy to overwork. While the odd extra half hour might give the satisfaction of completing a task, overworking can easily turn into a bad habit. Managing your work/life balance is harder than ever.

Make sure your teams are aware that they are expected to keep work hours, and work hours only. Like many things, it’s essential you lead by example. Make a point to not email or contact your team at all hours of the night – contact outside of working hours from a manager sets up a confusing expectation. 

4. Allow flexibility…

Speaking of working hours, talk to your team about the possibility of flexible working. Everyone has different set ups at home, and not everyone’s most effective home office hours can be the same. Focus on output rather than worked hours. Allow people the flexibility to work at whatever points suit them best.

5. …But stick to a schedule

While the fantasy of getting up whenever you want and working in your pyjamas might seem appealing, it’s actually much harder to work effectively and happily without a schedule. The old adage is true – no one likes change! Whatever your new working hours are, minimise the impact of your changed working environment by setting some structure around it. 

6. Encourage regular breaks

While in the office you might grab a cup of coffee or chat on the way to a meeting with your colleagues, it’s all too easy to ignore these when you’re working at home. Don’t! Quite literally, all work and no play takes a toll on your focus, motivation, and physical health. Ten minute breaks aren’t drastic, but are likely to help with motivation, performance, and improve the mental well-being of remote employees.

7. Look after yourself

It’s very easy to throw any healthy habits to the curb, but healthy eating and exercise can contribute to your mental health. Exercising 20 to 30 minutes daily can significantly lower anxiety levels. You’ll also boost endorphins and serotonin to flood your brain with happiness. Looking after yourself with healthy food (and going easy on the booze) is also a form of self care, which can help elevate your general mental wellbeing. 

8. Learn to say “no”

A 2019 survey found that 82% of remote tech workers felt burnt out, with 52% reporting that they work longer hours than those in the office, and 40% feeling as though they needed to contribute more than their in-office colleagues. If you’ve started remote working for the first time, it might be worth letting those figures sink in. 

With unemployment rates soaring, it’s understandable you or your team want to secure your positions. While it’s very tempting to take on more and more work, you need to know you limits. Don’t over promise and take some time to brush up on time management skills. Learn the difference between tasks you can do and tasks only you can do. Saying no to people is not being rude – it’s understanding where your value best lies. 

If you feel that you or any of your team are suffering as a result of working from home, it’s important to address it. Compassion during these times essential, both to teams and to yourself. These tips are meant to assist with caring for mental wellbeing. Please be aware, mental health issues can be extremely serious, so treat them as such – please get help and speak to a professional as soon as you can.

 

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