Posted: 16 Mar. 2020 5 min. read

How working remotely impacts employee wellbeing

Over the last few years, remote working has become increasingly normalised, helping employers to attract and retain talent in a competitive landscape. This shift is providing greater optionality to employees, empowering them to maintain a better balance and increase their productivity. Employees value the flexibility of remote working, especially if they have responsibilities outside of work. Also, who doesn’t love escaping long commutes and getting some quality work done away from the distractions of a busy office? 

A 2019 study released by OWL Labs found 30% of survey respondents work remotely full-time and 48% work remotely at least once per week. Another study, published by IWG, found 74% of Australian survey respondents consider flexible working to be the new normal.

Whilst remote working does have many benefits, without a physical presence in the office environment, it’s possible after a while to find yourself disconnected from your colleagues and before long, head deep in project work with little to no human interactions. With work flowing in left, right and centre, soon you may start to feel isolated and lonely. This is an issue that is commonly experienced by remote workers, a 2017 United Nations report found that 41% employees working remotely reported high levels of stress, compared to just 25% of office workers.

Discussing how working remotely can impact our employees’ wellbeing is becoming more of a priority, as this practice becomes increasingly popular.

At Deloitte, our Virtual Office Team have found the importance of being adaptable and putting the right policies, technologies and frameworks in place to ensure employees feel part of the team and don’t burn out. We need to be aware of these issues and actively keep the conversation going.

Helping remote workers feel socially connected

Working remotely, individuals may typically find themselves separated from the same communication channels and support mechanisms that are found in the physical office. There can be a tendency to place too much focus on tasks and too little on relationships resulting in transactional relationships.

By placing every effort in having the right structures in place, maintaining regular team communication and fostering an inclusive, open environment - social disconnection can be alleviated, helping individuals feel like part of the team. When we are happier, we are more productive and likely to put more effort in. Here’s a few simple ways this can be achieved:

·  Schedule regular video calls to check-in and gauge how team members are handling their workload;

·   Include remote workers in group emails or inviting them to join team meetings or gatherings remotely via video-conferencing;

·  Organise virtual team building meetups to build rapport;

·  Include them in planned out-of-office activities to help boost morale and foster inclusion;

·  Offer the same opportunities for training and development as other employees, and; give praise and recognition where due

In our Virtual Office survey, 32% said they felt lonely while remote working and 35% believed that remote working had the potential to impact work social connections negatively.

Maintaining healthy boundaries

Although technology has allowed us to work more flexibility and suited to the individual, it has also introduced the 'always on' culture, blurring the boundaries between work and personal lives, can make it harder for people to have control over how they manage their time. Therefore, it is important that expectations are managed, and we are all respectful of our colleagues’ commitments.

·  It is important to communicate availability to teams on an ongoing basis

·  Be mindful of time zones

·  Use available technology such as Time Out for reminders to take regular breaks

The United Nations report found 70% of the respondents reported that technology led to a blurring of boundaries because it brought work into their personal lives, and 48% of them also reported that telecommuting creates more work–family conflicts.

At Deloitte, we want everyone to have an equal opportunity and embrace working remotely. We understand one size does not fit all, so we encourage you to engage your team, find what works for you and run with it. It is an open and on-going conversation which is continuously evolving.

The Flex framework encourages our people to create an environment that empowers them to achieve their full potential professionally, while respecting and supporting their personal commitments.

Support is available

If you or your colleagues need any support, reach out to your employer’s employee assistance program for confidential services or external services like Beyond Blue

More about the author

Erin Sidhom

Erin Sidhom

Consultant, Experience Designer

Erin is a consultant & designer in Deloitte Digital’s Customer Strategy and Experience Design Sydney practice. Her passion lies in creating meaningful human experiences by looking at how people use and respond to their environments. Erin takes a human-centred design approach, solving challenging business problems and ensuring that all outcomes and solutions are purpose led.