Remote working does not always work out in terms of employees’ mental health, affirms Helen Snowball, Head of Human Resources, JLL Asia Pacific.
The great work from home experiment imposed by the outbreak of COVID-19 has seen employees around world scramble to turn their homes into offices. Was it successful? By the looks of it, yes. Does it represent a paradigm shift in where and how we work? That remains to be seen.
Being able to do your job effectively from the comfort of your home is a privilege not afforded to everyone. However, I think many would agree it has its ups and downs.
While COVID-19 has proven it is possible, that doesn’t always translate into it being ideal. Here in Singapore, where I am based, we had been under a ‘Circuit Breaker’ – similar to lock down – from 7 April to 1 June. Just before the measures took effect, a number of colleagues mentioned their hesitation about working from home on a full-time basis.
While it provides great flexibility, more time with the family and cost-savings in terms of the commute, our JLL employees have openly shared the less-than-positive experiences they face. These include not having dedicated space to work effectively; distractions – whether it’s children, elderly parents or pets; insufficient Internet bandwidth and work infrastructure at home; and even the phenomenon of not being ‘heard’ and ‘seen’ in virtual meetings.
Lack of boundaries between work and leisure has led to additional stress as people struggle to manage responsibilities on both sides. Let’s not forget those who live alone and their feelings of isolation. After all, humans are naturally social creatures who crave some form of interaction and connection whether it’s collaborating for a task, enjoying a shared lunch, or grabbing a coffee together.
The prolonged period of WFH could have a significant detrimental effect on employees’ well-being. Moreover, there is a heightened sense of anxiety and uncertainty over what lies ahead as the economic impact of the pandemic is felt around the world. My personal prediction is we will pay the price of it through a secondary epidemic of burnout and stress-related absenteeism in the latter half of 2020.
Taking care of the mind
It is thus crucial for companies to extend empathy and care for their employees during this time and after. Employees need to feel that they are valued and are being supported. This can take the form of encouraging managers and employees to switch off to recover and detach, having virtual informal catch-ups, or organising helpful health webinars.
Firms could also introduce an element of fun or friendly competition to these programmes. At JLL, we launched an indoor step challenge to get people moving in addition to offering on-demand resources to nurture our employees’ physical and emotional well-being such as virtual Zumba lessons and free access to the meditation app Headspace.
And even though there are many employees who are looking forward to being back in the office after WFH fatigue, there are others who may still want to continue with their home-based working. There is a balance to be struck between the two.
Preparing to re-enter the workplace
Something I have noticed is that COVID-19 has made it much more acceptable to talk about mental health issues in the workplace and I’m hopeful this will go a long way in driving positive changes in unhealthy work cultures and habits in the office.
Such changes can start as employees return to the office in the new post-COVID normal. What will be of utmost importance is acknowledging their concerns and anxieties as we all face challenges over observing new protocols, and finding ways to reconnect with colleagues.
There is a need to ensure that the workplace is not only physically safe by following government mandated safe distancing measures. It should also be psychologically safe by focusing on the human experience, which encompasses more than just their physical well-being.
We as HR professionals can support leaders and employees in reimagining this experience. By welcoming employees in an engaging manner. That can mean arranging informal workshops to facilitate discussion, scheduling quality one-on-one chats between managers and employees, and keeping a constant pulse on employee sentiment in order to take appropriate actions to address the issues that surface.
And even though there are many employees who are looking forward to being back in the office after WFH fatigue, there are others who may still want to continue with their home-based working. There is a balance to be struck between the two. The onus is on employers to show flexibility and empathy as employees look for a sense of normality in these extraordinary times.
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