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Remote Working – 2: Wellbeing

Chris Shenton | Head of People Science at Weekly10 / July 4, 2019

Well hello there and welcome back to our blog series looking at the world of remote working. In Part 1 of the series (available here), we discussed the past, present and likely future of the remote work approach to employment. We also looked at the often-overlooked environmental benefits of larger numbers of employees working from home on a regular basis and the huge improvements this could have for our urban and rural areas. In this post we look in more detail at one of the real key areas of remote working, that of employee wellbeing.


What is wellbeing?

Well first, it isn’t just about mental health. Obviously mental health makes up a huge portion of the conversations and actions around workplace wellbeing (for good reason, with 31% of UK workers reporting having suffered from a degree of poor mental health according to a 2016 CIPD investigation) but there are many more elements that impact our general wellbeing.

According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) and The What Works Well Centre Wellbeing, the official definition by which all wellbeing activities are measure against is:

Wellbeing, put simply, is about ‘how we are doing’ as individuals, communities and as a nation and how sustainable this is for the future.

The ONS go on to list 10 broad dimensions which have been shown to matter most to people in the UK, which make up the main stepping stones on which wellbeing rest. Of these 10, the three that are directly relatable to workplace wellbeing are that of physical health, mental health and financial health. These three dimensions will be our focus within this blog post, but please note that there are many more areas we can all look at when aiming to improve our wellbeing.

The impact of poor workplace wellbeing in the UK

Occupational health & staff wellbeing are of course, huge focusses in the UK due in no small part to the scale of issue caused when staff aren’t feeling their best. The UK Government’s Black Review found that, on average, over 120 million working days were lost every year in the UK due to sickness (the current record is 138.7 million in 2015).


On the financial health side of things, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) released a report in 2017 highlighting the impact money-based concerns can have on employee wellbeing and productivity. The FCA found that 49% of UK workers fear they will not be able to retire due to the state of their personal finances and that 1 in 3 loss sleep at least once a week due to concerns about money. Obviously, a feeling of ‘I’ll have to work until I die’ isn’t going to do much for workplace motivation, and a loss of sleep can only be bad news for productivity. In fact, the FCA found 90% of employers agreed that their employee’s financial concerns had a significant impact on workplace performance.

Mental wellbeing & remote working: the pros

Like most things in life there are certainly pros and some potential cons for mental wellbeing when working from home. We’ll start with the benefits, the first one being the great potential remote working has for reducing personal stress.

Let’s face it, the morning (and often evening) commute isn’t much fun. Being helplessly trapped in traffic watching the minutes tick by and worrying about just how late you are going to be is not the ideal way to start the day. While your set in your car wondering “why can’t people drive as well as me” or crammed on the tube thinking “has this guy not heard of deodorant?” the likelihood is your stress levels are being elevated way above where they should be. Now imagine getting out of bed, having a cup of coffee, seeing the kids off to school and slipping in to your quiet home office to start your day. Sounds much better right?

Once you get to work, the stress often ramps up what with the strong trend over the last few decades for open-plan office spaces and the constant buzz that these environments often entail. Sure, there are some great benefits to working in open spaces, but for some employees the constant ringing of phones, the office radio playing the latest pop hits (when your more of a classical fan) and the back and two office banter can be a real distractor and therefore, stressor. Working in an environment of your choosing means you can control the sounds, sights, smells of the space. You can create the perfect working environment for you, controlling temperature, air flow and setting up a workstation exactly how you want it so as to maximise your efficiency and therefore reduce the stress of distractions slowing you down.

Working remotely also allows you a level of flexibility in your daily routine and reduces the frequency of work-life conflicts. Without the lengthy commute to work (the average in the UK is now 27.5 minutes each way!) a remote worker can plan the start of their day, lunches, afternoon breaks and finish times around school runs, doctors’ appointments, a quick run or even an hour in the gym. This reduction in conflict is again a key way to reduce stress.

Another huge feather in the cap for remote work’s impact upon mental wellbeing, is the common finding that remote workers are happier. Dell have been leading the way on dispersed working for well over 10 years now and they have carried out numerous research projects that show time and time again, the ability to work remotely for their staff, increases self-reported levels of happiness. In makes sense that a more flexible approach to work, freeing up some time when life demands it, makes for an overall easier and thus happier life. On top of this, Dell have also found their staff are more loyal and engaged leading to a reduction in employee turnover and an overall increase to company productivity.

Mental wellbeing & remote working: the cons

However, there are potential drawbacks to remote working that if not managed could be detrimental to an employee’s mental wellbeing. One of the biggest areas for concern is a lack of socialisation leading to feelings of loneliness and perceived alienation.

The lack of face-to-face time can make it trickier for remote workers to properly engage and communicate with managers and colleagues. It could even become an excuse not to. Yet research has shown there is great benefits attached to being able to discuss work projects, issues or achievements, be that in a formula meeting, across desks or even at the water cooler. Working remotely often means working in isolation, leaving employees to feel like they need to deal with problems alone. Regular trips into the office, weekly check-ins (such as those championed by the Weekly10 platform) that give all employees an appropriate platform to raise issues, successes or simply shout out to peers who have gone above and beyond or the use of co-working spaces are all effective ways to remedy this particular issue.



Another issue is that of overcompensation and the feeling of guilt that many remote workers report feeling that they get to work from home when others do not. Many staff working from home have an intense willingness to “give back” to their employer leading them to work longer hours than they otherwise would. Research by LogMeIn found 46% of remote work employees feel pressure to prove they are actually working when at home, which included being more responsive on email (36%) and working longer hours (23%). While this in small measure can be a good thing, particularly for a business, the lack of ability to switch off and continual want to prove oneself to an employer or peers could actually lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety.

Setting boundaries such as the hours you work and having a separate room (or even space) in which you carry out your work duties can help create separation. Weekly10’s OKR/goal tracking functionality can serve as a frequently updated record of the work you are completing, so no more need to worry about proving yourself, or calling an employee to see how much work they are getting through.


Physical wellbeing & remote working

When it comes to physical wellbeing, there are a series of benefits to a life as a digital nomad, including:

  • You eat healthier
    • Working from home means your own kitchen is available to you throughout the working day so you are able to prepare healthy food whenever you feel like it.
    • Working as part of a large team means someone is almost always celebrating a birthday, returning from holiday or simply felt like a big hit of sugar. All this means is, workplace treats! Working from home eliminates the temptation of that 3pm doughnut or a second breakfast pastry.
    • Research by CoSo Cloud found that 42% of all remote workers believe they eat healthier when away from the office.
  • You exercise more
    • The time saved from daily commuting, getting ready for work and squeezing daily chores in to lunch hours means more time in the day for exercise.
    • Research from Dell found their staff were exercising 22% more frequently when working remotely compared to working from a centralise office.
  • You get more sleep
    • The vast majority of people don’t live right next door to where they work – as mentioned previously the average daily commute to and from work is almost 1 hour. By the time you factor in all the getting ready you might be getting up 2 hours before work starts.
    • Remote working means that some of that time can be claimed back, which could potentially go towards some extra zzz’s unlocking both the physical and mental health benefits a good night’s sleep can unlock.
  • You are less sick
    • It’s not rocket science but eating better, doing more exercise and getting more sleep are all beneficial for your health, and will keep you fighting fit.
    • Add to this the improvement in stress levels and the fact that one downside to the socialisation within an office-based environment is the easier spread of germs (one of the big issues with presenteeism), remote working has a great impact on how healthy you are across a year!
    • A 2016 Gallup survey found that extreme commuters (those who travel for 2 hours plus a day) often develop recurring neck and back issues. So remote work can also keep these sorts of long-term complaints at bay.


Financial wellbeing & remote working


This section is one that I’ve been looking forward to writing as it is going to be very short and pretty conclusive…working remotely saves employees money! In the UK the average cost of commuting alone is £146 a month, totalling £135,872 over a lifetime. Any amount saved from that frankly astronomical figure can go towards retirement, savings, mortgage payments etc. easing the stresses and burdens money has on many of us.

Some of the obvious costs where savings can be made by moving to a remote work life are:

  • Fuel
  • Car park fees
  • Car maintenance
  • Car insurance
  • The need to own a/more than one vehicle
  • Train fares
  • Bus fares
  • Food/Drink fees

Yes, there may be some additional fees associated with working from home, primarily around connectivity and hardware but often these are partly covered by employer stipends and even if not, the cost is far reduced from the typical commuting fees.


Summary

Whilst we must acknowledge potential pitfalls, we feel the potential wellbeing benefits to individuals, businesses and society in pursuing a culture of remote working is too good to ignore. Sure, some issues could arise (we haven’t even touched upon staff having the option to abuse the freedoms working from home affords, or the costs of setting up a distributed workforce – see part 3 next for that!) but the clear boosts to employee mental, physical and financial wellbeing should make remote work an appetising notion to employees and employers alike.



References

FINANCIAL WELLBEING IN THE WORKPLACE: A WAY FORWARD

In-text: (Fca.org.uk, 2019) Your Bibliography: Fca.org.uk. (2019). Financial Wellbeing in the Workplace: A Way Forward. [online] Available at: https://www.fca.org.uk/publication/research/fawg-financial-well-being-workplace.pdf [Accessed 27 Jun. 2019].

HEALTH AND WORK: INFOGRAPHICS

In-text: (GOV.UK, 2019) Your Bibliography: GOV.UK. (2019). Health and work: infographics. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-and-work-infographics [Accessed 27 Jun. 2019].

JAY, R.

The Benefits of Remote Work In-text: (Jay, 2019) Your Bibliography: Jay, R. (2019). The Benefits of Remote Work. [online] FlexJobs Job Search Tips and Blog. Available at: https://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/benefits-of-remote-work/ [Accessed 28 Jun. 2019].

REMOTE WORK: THE SURPRISING EFFECTS ON OUR HEALTH

In-text: (Digitalnomadsoul.com, 2019) Your Bibliography: Digitalnomadsoul.com. (2019). Remote Work: The Surprising Effects On Our Health. [online] Available at: https://www.digitalnomadsoul.com/remote-work-effects-on-health/ [Accessed 28 Jun. 2019].

THE POTENTIAL STRESSORS OF REMOTE WORKING

In-text: (People Management, 2019) Your Bibliography: People Management. (2019). The Potential Stressors of Remote Working. [online] Available at: https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/voices/comment/the-potential-stressors-remote-working [Accessed 28 Jun. 2019].

UK COMMUTERS WILL SPEND OVER £135,000 BY THE TIME THEY RETIRE | TOTALJOBS

In-text: (Totaljobs, 2019) Your Bibliography: Totaljobs. (2019). UK commuters will spend over £135,000 by the time they retire | Totaljobs. [online] Available at: https://www.totaljobs.com/insidejob/uk-commuters-will-spend-over-135000-by-the-time-they-retire/ [Accessed 2 Jul. 2019].

WHAT IS WELLBEING? | WHAT WORKS CENTRE FOR WELLBEING

In-text: (Whatworkswellbeing.org, 2019) Your Bibliography: Whatworkswellbeing.org. (2019). What is wellbeing? | What Works Centre for Wellbeing. [online] Available at: https://whatworkswellbeing.org/about/what-is-wellbeing/ [Accessed 28 Jun. 2019].


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