Wellbeing in remote teams: A manager’s duty of care
Updated 30th April 2022
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. That includes remote workers, with the workplace in question not being confined to a single geographical location.
In this article, we'll be discussing the challenges of safeguarding wellbeing in remote teams. Then we'll be looking at 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.
We originally wrote this piece about four weeks into lockdown-induced remote work. But even now, in more normal circumstances, remote work can be quite isolating, especially if an employee lives alone.
A lack of social involvement can impact an employee's engagement and productivity. But, even more importantly, it can affect 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. Most organisations have at least some degree of ergonomic office equipment. But you can't really say the same for your team's home set-ups.
At the time, lockdown only exacerbated this issue, as opportunities for exercise and fresh air were much more limited. The global pandemic may have magnified issues. But even normally, remote workers risk the pitfall of a poor diet. Healthy eating habits simply get replaced by the "whatever is in the cupboard" diet. This is especially likely if you've got a micromanager forcing you to stay at your desk at all times.
These problems can result in musculoskeletal disorders and poor cardiovascular health.
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.
At the time, it wasn't exactly feasible to deliver ergonomic chairs and keyboards to the homes of your team members. So managers had to make do with the next best thing. Now, though, there's nothing stopping you bringing proper remote workspaces to all your employees.
At the time, progressive employers supplied guides on how to set up a healthy workspace. They encouraged 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 in remote teams, 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. Needless to say, this is fantastic for engagement and social wellbeing.
Face-to-face time and opportunity to look at less traditional communicative signals such as body language are less common for remote staff. So 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.
Checking in with remote staff keeps you in the loop
Using Weekly10 as an example, our employee check-in allows you to set custom questions on a flexible cadence. Then you can 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. Then you can have the answer routed to just your mental health first aid team. Just make sure they're fine with you passing it up. The right to privacy is also part of wellbeing in remote teams you need to consider.
This approach opens up a new way for employees to engage with one of the most essential workplace services. It removes the hurdles of booking a meeting or picking up the phone. It also removes some of the burden from the individual. 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.
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. It's possible they might not be prepared to discuss their issues. In fact, they might even be afraid of how you'll react as their manager.
Where required, request help from internal services and senior leadership. You have a duty of care, sure. But the burden should not be on you solely to sort out any issues. Wellbeing in remote teams can be a complex issue. Don't forget, you can always turn to HR or other managers you work with for advice.
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. You might even need to reorganise their schedule to work around appointments. 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. It's 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 wellbeing in remote teams, and remote management practices in general, we have plenty of advice for you.