Home Business & Industry The Double-Edged Sword: How Remote Working Can Impact Employee Well-Being

The Double-Edged Sword: How Remote Working Can Impact Employee Well-Being

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The past few years have seen a major shift towards remote and hybrid working arrangements. Driven by advancements in technology, the Covid pandemic, and a push for greater flexibility, remote work has gone from a fringe benefit to a default for many employees and organisations.

With the ability to tap into talent globally and minimise real estate costs, it’s no wonder that companies are eager to embrace remote working policies. The business case is clear – remote work leads to higher productivity, access to a wider talent pool, and significant cost savings on office space and overhead.

However, the impact of remote work on employees themselves is more complex. While remote work certainly offers many potential upsides, there are also downsides that can negatively impact employee wellbeing if not addressed appropriately.

The impact of remote work

In reality, remote work can be a double-edged sword, impacting employees’ well-being in ways that are both beneficial and detrimental. Remote work can indeed provide greater freedom and flexibility, enabling a better work-life balance. However, it can also lead to isolation, overworking, and a blurring of boundaries between personal and professional life.

The critical aspect to understand is that remote work does not affect all employees equally. Individual circumstances such as one’s living situation, personality type, and job role can significantly influence how remote work impacts their well-being. For instance, an extroverted employee living alone may find remote work more challenging due to the lack of social interaction compared to an introverted individual who may find the solitude more conducive to their work style.

The benefits of remote work on employee well-being

Remote work offers several key benefits that can greatly improve employee wellbeing, satisfaction, and work-life balance.

Greater flexibility

Employees have more autonomy over their schedules without the constraints of commuting or being stuck in an office all day. Remote workers can more easily shift their hours to accommodate personal responsibilities and needs. Surveys consistently show increased flexibility as one of the biggest motivators for employees when it comes to remote work arrangements. This freedom and control over one’s calendar can dramatically improve work-life balance and reduce stress.

Personalised work environment

Remote workers can optimise their home office in a way that brings them joy and comfort. The ability to craft a personalized workspace with ergonomic equipment and decor suited to one’s taste has been shown to boost morale and productivity. The comfort and familiarity of working from home results in higher job satisfaction. A comfortable and relaxing home office environment also encourages employees to take mental breaks throughout the day leading to higher energy and focus when working.

Increased autonomy 

Working independently fosters a sense of responsibility and self-management. Without relying on supervisors for direction, remote employees develop strong skills around structuring their own time, meeting deadlines, and staying motivated. This boosts confidence, problem-solving, and overall job performance. Greater autonomy also allows employees to have more control over their work and personal lives. They can more easily attend a medical appointment or care for a child when needed without jeopardising their productivity. 

The downsides of remote work on employee well-being

While remote work certainly provides benefits, there are also potential downsides that can negatively impact employee physical and mental health if appropriate strategies are not implemented:

Isolation and loneliness

Lack of daily in-person interactions with coworkers can increase feelings of isolation and loneliness. Virtual meetings are simply not an equivalent substitute for organic social connections and relationship-building that occur in an office setting. Without seeing coworkers face-to-face each day, some remote employees struggle to form meaningful connections causing declining mental health over time. In fact, 60% of workers report that they feel less connected to colleagues, yet only 29% of companies have provided resources to address this isolation that impacts wellbeing.

Work-life balance

Without a physical separation between work and home, work often bleeds into personal time in unhealthy ways. The lack of boundaries causes some remote employees to overwork nights and weekends leading to increased stress and burnout over time. Constant access to work via technology makes it challenging to mentally disconnect after work hours.

Physical strain 

For some employees, improvised home offices frequently lack ergonomic equipment and space. Hunching over makeshift workstations can contribute to back, neck, wrist, and eye strain. On top of this, lack of movement from not commuting also has negative physical health effects over the long-term – especially if employees are not mindful to build in movement breaks throughout the day. Sitting for prolonged periods while working remotely can also contribute to weight gain and other issues.

Tips to improve employee well-being when working remotely

While certainly not insurmountable, these potential pitfalls should be addressed head-on. Some tips for boosting employee wellness in a remote environment:

  • Encourage regular breaks away from the desk. Short breaks during the workday are vital for mental refreshment, rest, and movement.
  • Employ a 9 box grid for remote employee well-being. This tool provides a systematic approach to evaluate each employee’s unique circumstances, aiding in the development of effective strategies to improve wellbeing in a remote environment
  • Promote healthy work-life balance. This can be done by establishing boundaries and policies around after-hours communication and availability. Make it clear that personal time is to be respected.
  • Have regular communication. Emphasise the importance of communication through regular virtual meetings, digital water cooler chats, and team-building activities. Combat isolation by making social connections a priority.
  • Invest in proper remote office setups. Provide employees with ergonomic equipment and a reasonable stipend to improve their telecommuting environment.
  • Promote positive mental health. Support mental health by expanding access to counseling services, mindfulness apps, and other resources that can be used discreetly at home.

Final thoughts

The rise of remote work is a fascinating double-edged sword. While it certainly provides benefits in terms of flexibility and autonomy, the potential downsides like isolation and burnout are real and need to be taken seriously. 

With proper strategies centered on communication, boundaries, and mental health support, companies can take full advantage of remote work while keeping employee wellness top of mind. The future of work will require adapting to maintain optimal physical and emotional well-being for distributed teams.

Ellen Diamond, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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