Companies who already have the policies and IT infrastructure in place to enable their employees to work from home are weathering the storm of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). But while they may have internet connectivity, a laptop, secure software and remote meetings capability, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their employees have all the skills and tools they need to work from home.
A recent live poll conducted by Mercer Hong Kong during the Healthy People Webinar revealed that 84% of respondents report that their workforce’s top concern is workplace safety, with 55% concerned about returning to work and just under half (48%) feeling anxious about having adequate health coverage.
Work from home arrangements have helped mitigating some of your workforce’ concerns and benefiting your workforce’s physical health: but what about their mental health? The following challenges may be affecting them in a way that could negatively impact their productivity as well as their overall wellbeing.
What are the challenges of working from home?
Some of your employees may struggle to execute certain tasks. While this may be a limitation of the tools and technologies at their disposal, it may also be that they don’t have the adequate training or ability to work on these tasks remotely.
45% of respondents report that communicating amongst coworkers is a challenge when working from home. Employers should schedule regular catch ups and progress reporting meetings – but keep these open and honest. If employees feel able to admit what they are struggling with, working from home may actually provide new opportunities to do online training or development courses.
Half of the respondents report that difficulties with their work space or set-up at home are negatively impacting their work, as are and interruptions from children (39%) and other family members (27%).
Consider making flexi-time an option during this difficult period. Parents may find they are more productive outside of traditional office hours when working from home. Some companies may even consider assisting employees by providing an allowance for a childcare helper or to support employees in setting up home office.
The live poll revealed that more than half (54%) of respondents struggle with self-discipline: becoming distracted or frustrated by home-based tasks. Some people crave the interaction of an office environment or the discipline that results from sitting at a desk, surrounded by peers who are also working.
Ensure employees report in regularly and advise them on time management, if necessary. Some employees might benefit from scheduling tasks in their diaries as if they were meetings, or by setting frequent deadlines, having an ‘accountability buddy’ or setting alarms to remind them to return to work when they take a break. People manages can also conduct regular team huddles to engage your team members in a digital and effective way.
In some circumstances, employees who work from home simply don’t know when to stop or don’t say no, particularly in global working environments where other colleagues may be online and asking for support for 18-24 hours of the day!
Support your employees by setting up a clear work plan and guide them in communicating it to their internal and external stakeholders. Regularly review the work plan to ensure that the plan developed is measureable and effective. Remind employees that recommended working hours are for their own benefits. As employees are adopting flexible work hours, people managers should communicate clearly to their team members that they do not need to reply in real-time if they are scheduled to work at different hours.
While staying in your pyjamas is a benefit of working from home, being cooped up inside for too long isn’t good for anyone. Employees should be aware of the need to exercise and keep themselves fit, groomed and eating healthily, especially over extended periods of remote working.
Share tips and ideas in a casual way (e.g. via Whatsapp chat) to remind your employees to be mindful of their wellbeing. Be a role model to demonstrate work-life balance. If your health benefits include mental and wellbeing benefits, promote it during these time to encourage your workforce to do exercise at home, for example by buying a yoga mat to do yoga.
Supporting a healthy work-from-home workforce: things to consider
For employees who struggle with tasks while working remotely it may be worth re-considering the skills required for the job. Going through a large-scale work-from-home event can open managers’ eyes to their current and future recruitment needs, how talent is assessed, and the company’s ability to communicate roles and responsibilities clearly with employees.
A wake-up call for employee health
While working from home for short periods of time has been shown to be a benefit for many employees, being forced to work from home may be a wake-up call for employers from a recruitment, workforce design, policy, and healthcare perspective.
Essentially, the fundamentals of good management remain in effect, no matter where your employees work: ensure they know what needs to be done, have a framework or deadline for completing the work, have the support to ensure it gets done or the ability to report back if it can’t be done, keep in touch with them, keep checking on their wellbeing and take time to make sure they still feel like they’re connected with their team members and your company’s purpose.
At Mercer we believe that there are 5 essential elements to flexi-work:
Following these basics will keep your workforce healthy, productive and engaged.
Want to talk to someone about your employees’ health?
If you have any concerns about these issues – including whether your employees are sufficiently covered by your healthcare policies to support their physical and mental health in challenging times – you’re not alone. At Mercer we see the bigger picture: from an employee health, wealth and career perspective. We’d be happy to listen to your challenges and put you in touch with the right person to help you.