Thanks to COVID-19, remote working has become the ‘new normal’ for many workers across the globe. While many profess to prefer this way of working, the impending re-opening of offices and a gradual return of many colleagues to the 9-5 , is causing increasing anxiety to those who will remain almost, or entirely working from home.
A new study of over 1,000 employees, conducted by Business Electricity Prices has revealed that a whopping 53% of remote workers are worried about being left out of in-person team meetings and other activities that take place in the office.
While over a third of home working employees have fears about being overlooked for promotions and pay rise opportunities in favour of people who actually work in the office.
There are clearly two key issues here that employers need to address. The first is the anxiety stemming from feelings of exclusion, and the second is the worry and concern that they will be overlooked professionally.
While the first may seem like a harmless case of FOMO (fear of missing out), feeling isolated and lonely has serious implications on both physical and mental health. One study revealing that loneliness can actually increase the likelihood of mortality by 26%!
Beyond the potential physical harm caused by long stretches of loneliness, a feeling of exclusion can create or exacerbate a number of mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression.
Despite the comfort that working from home can bring, remote workers are susceptible to feeling disconnected and excluded, owing to the lack of face-to-face interaction and the casual ‘water-cooler’ talk that usually breaks up a normal working day and offers brief periods of respite and relaxation to staff.
Matt Bradburn, the co-founder of London-based People Collective, conducted an internal survey and discovered that 70% of his network were experiencing social and mental health issues, as well as feelings of loneliness. Many workers claimed to want to return to the office as a result of this.
A sense of togetherness is important whilst working. However, this comradery can be difficult to establish when some employees are working remotely.
Off-site workers regularly miss out on social interaction with colleagues, like group lunches and team building activities.
And what about those who have started a new job whilst working remotely? These workers are likely to find it especially hard to build relationships having never officially met other team members before.
If there’s one thing that the pandemic has taught us, it’s the importance of relationships, inside and outside of work.
It’s therefore important for employers to ensure that efforts are made to make all workers feel included, even if they aren’t physically present in the workplace. Not only could this be beneficial for their mental health, but it could also help to boost productivity.
There is a common misconception regarding productivity and working from home. In the past, bosses have been reluctant to allow remote working due to fears that it would negatively affect staff’s work rate.
While these fears have been significantly reduced since the pandemic, with two-thirds of employers reporting that productivity has increased for remote workers compared to in-office workers, this has not necessarily filtered down into a feeling of security for employees.
Many remote workers cannot help but compare themselves to in-office colleagues and feel the need to work harder since management cannot physically see the energy they’re expending.
This feeling of inadequacy compared to in-office staff, directly bleeds through into anxieties around job security and abilities to progress within the company.
A study conducted by Indeed revealed that 37% of remote workers believe that working from home can lead to reduced visibility and less access to company leadership.
According to Business Electricity Prices, this translates into one in three people (35%) worrying that they may be overlooked for pay raise and promotion opportunities in favour of those who always work from the office.
Research has revealed that 46% of employees feel that the most successful managers check in frequently and regularly with remote employees.
A further 39% of workers stated that they feel a greater sense of belonging when their colleagues check in with them and enquire about how they are doing, personally and professionally.
The data suggests that communication is key when attempting to get remote workers more involved, both on a personal and professional level.
As an employer, you’ll need to be willing to put in some extra effort to communicate with out-of-office employees. You should also encourage other members of staff to do so.
Thanks to applications such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Slack, having team meetings and frequent check-ins is fairly simple, however management needs to ensure that communication is maintained and encouraged so that digital bonding and engagement doesn’t peter out.
Making time and creating a space for non-work-related or light-hearted conversation is important for maintaining morale and promoting interpersonal work relationships. A professional way of doing this is to create a daily news channel, where employees can share funny or relevant news articles.
To improve communication further, employers should ensure that any physical meeting minutes are taken and distributed to all relevant employees, to maintain transparency and keep remote workers in the loop.
Of course, there’s only so much team building that can be done virtually. To boost colleague relations and create a more integrated workforce, you should aim wherever possible, to have face-to-face catch ups at least quarterly and ideally monthly (when COVID restrictions permit you to do so).
These meetings don’t necessarily have to be formal, or even about work. A group dinner or a simple coffee shop catch up can help to make remote workers feel more part of the team.
All in all, improving communication between remote workers and in-office employees can not only help to keep them in the loop, but it could also make them more comfortable in their job. This could make them more willing to voice their concerns should any issues arise.
When an employee is comfortable and content in their role, they are less prone to stress, anxiety and other damaging mental health issues.
With double the number of people expecting to work from home 5 days a week post-pandemic compared to the amount pre-pandemic, it is clear that worklife conventions are changing.
It’s key for all employers to ensure that their workforce adapts with these changes, as this will help them safeguard the wellbeing of their staff, and ultimately improve the success rate of their business.