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Wellbeing in remote teams: A manager’s duty of care

Reading Time: 5 minutes

One of the most important facets of being a great manager is the duty of care you have to your employees. The term “workplace wellbeing” is a common one, but slightly misleading. A manager’s duty of care extends to all employees, including remote workers, with the workplace in question not being confined to a single geographical location. 

In this article, we’ll be discussing the challenges to wellbeing that exist for remote teams, and what managers can do to help overcome them.

What makes remote workers potentially more susceptible to poor wellbeing?

Telecommuting can be hugely beneficial for wellbeing due to empowering employee autonomy and improving work/life balance. But it also comes with its own set of unique hurdles, many of which that can affect an employee’s wellbeing.

Even in normal circumstances (at time of writing, we’re currently in week 4 of the great ‘COVID-19 Remote Work Experiment’), remote work can be quite isolating, especially if an employee lives alone. 

A lack of social involvement can not only impact an employee’s engagement and productivity but importantly their overall mental health as well. Loneliness is often reported as one of the key negatives for remote workers, so as a manager, this needs to be something you look out for and mitigate. 

Working from home can also pose risks to physical wellbeing in remote teams. While most organisations have at least some degree of ergonomic office equipment, the same cannot necessarily be said for your team’s home set-ups. 

The lockdown currently in effect will only exacerbate this issue, as opportunities for exercise and fresh air are much more limited. Even outside of global pandemics, remote working can mean reduced exercise as the daily commute is scrapped and healthy eating habits are replaced by the ‘whatever is in the cupboard’ diet. 

These problems can result in musculoskeletal disorders and poor cardiovascular health.

Wellbeing in remote teams can be hard to manage with a reduction in face-to-face time between managers and their team members.
Spotting the signs of poor wellbeing can be that bit trickier as face-to-face time decreases

What can managers do to promote wellbeing in remote teams?

As a manager, the first step in fulfilling a duty of care to your remote team is to promote best-practice and model great, healthy behaviours. 

Right now, it isn’t exactly feasible to deliver ergonomic chairs and keyboards to the homes of your team members, but you can do the next best thing. 

Supply guides on how to set up a healthy workspace, and encourage staff to take regular breaks from sitting at their computer (which has also been shown to boost productivity). You can also support your staff’s physical health by helping them access information on fitness training, as well as dietary advice.

You can take a similar approach to promote mental wellbeing, by sharing mental health resources.

Since isolation can significantly affect mental health, it can help to have video stand-ups with your team on a regular basis. Aside from reducing isolation, this can help form a connection between your team members, which is fantastic for engagement and social wellbeing.

With face-to-face time and opportunity to look at less traditional communicative signals such as body language reduced, it can often be difficult to gauge your team’s wellbeing remotely. As a result, remote teams stand to benefit hugely from the use of regular check-ins

Using Weekly10 as an example, our employee check-in allows you to set custom questions on a flexible cadence, and respond directly to individual answers. Employees can even perform impromptu check-ins if anything urgent comes up between updates, and you can look at the answer history for each question. This provides your team with a way to quickly flag issues, and you with a way to keep track of it all easily. 

Sticking with the benefits of Weekly10 specifically, you can even set answers to route to particular inboxes across your company. This means you can include a question in your weekly employee check-in that relates specifically to mental health and have the answer routed to just your mental health first aid team. 

This approach opens up a new way for employees to engage with one of the most essential workplace services, removing the hurdles of booking a meeting or picking up the phone. It removes some of the burden from the individual as instead of a staff member having to take the initial action of asking for help, this ‘push’ approach poses the question to them.

We believe a ‘push’ approach to raising mental health issues such as this could have a huge impact on wellbeing in the workplace.

Implementing a robust and holistic strategy is key to boosting wellbeing in remote teams.

What to do if wellbeing is a concern

Promoting good wellbeing practice serves as a preventative, keeping small issues from turning into big problems. But then there’s the question of what to do when you’re concerned for the wellbeing of someone in particular.

As a manager, if you’re worried about one of your team members, you have a duty to take action. 

It’s best to find out as much as you can about the issue from the employee in question. This could be done through a 1-1, via a check-in platform if you have one, or both. 

Avoid acting on hearsay from the rest of your team. It’s also important to be tactful, as it’s possible they might not be prepared to discuss their issues, and might even be afraid of how you’ll react as their manager.

Where required request help from internal services and senior leadership. ou have a duty of care sure, but the burden should not be on you solely to sort out any issues. 

When it comes to problems with physical or mental health, always encourage the employee to seek proper help. Help them organise their work schedule around any appointments they may need to make. Depending on the issue, they may need time off to recover, or for their schedule to be reorganised around treatment. Flexibility on your part here is key. 

For issues with mental wellbeing, in particular, employees may require a lot of encouragement to seek help. You should have a list of accessible services to point them towards. 

What services are available for mental wellbeing concerns?

Mind, a UK-based charity has a lot of information on their website about things like GP referrals and other points of access. Their website also has a live-chat functionality that lets users talk to one of their workers for more personalised advice about what services they can use.

The NHS’s IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) program allows users to self-refer for online counselling. 

During a lockdown, access to online counselling is a valuable lifeline. Even in normal circumstances, the waiting list for face-to-face counselling and other therapies can be impractically long. This is what IAPT aims to fix, and it is probably the fastest way for your employees to get help from an NHS-certified professional. 

Finally, if an employee’s poor mental wellbeing has you concerned about their safety, you should encourage them to use the Samaritans helpline.

If you’d like to learn more about remote team management in general, we have plenty of advice for you.

Like to know how a weekly check-in can help shine a light on wellbeing in remote teams?

Research Associate