A healthy, happy employee is more likely to be engaged and productive at work, whether they work remotely or in the office. According to a survey from software company Quantum Workplace, over 75% of engaged employees said they were also happy with the way their company supports their health and wellness.
But helping distributed teams stay well presents unique roadblocks. Remote workers face challenges different from in-office counterparts. And as more jobs move online due to the ongoing pandemic, corporate wellness has become even more important for remote workers.
Remote work involves unique stressors and challenges, but a robust corporate wellness strategy can address those issues and ensure that your team works optimally.
Corporate wellness programs can help teams thrive
Corporate wellness has an abundance of benefits, including increased employee engagement, improved relationships at work, reduced employee turnover, and even increased cognitive function among workers.
As remote work is normalized, corporate wellness programs can be the key that keeps remote workers engaged and can improve performance, commitment to their job, and overall satisfaction. This can include initiatives that promote healthy diet and exercise habits, support employees’ mental health, or even foster well-being and community within teams.
For example, the healthier our diet, the more engaged and creative we are, and the better we are at our jobs. According to Harvard Business Review, what we eat and how much we exercise affect our work performance and motivation. Remote workers often have unlimited access to snacks and can easily make a beeline for the refrigerator during the day, so healthy eating is essential.
Meanwhile, remote employees who do the bulk of their work in front of the computer can spend a lot of time sitting and staring at a screen, leading to reduced energy levels. But corporate wellness programs that encourage healthy eating and physical movement can solve these issues. According to the academic journal Management Science, employees who changed their diet and exercise routines increased their productivity by around 10%.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, for example, is known to refuse early morning meetings so that he has time to eat a healthy breakfast, and entrepreneur Tim Ferris drinks a special blend of tea with phytonutrients to boost his energy levels.
Corporate wellness programs can also boost self-motivation and focus, both of which are crucial for a remote worker to succeed. Research in the academic journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience shows even brief meditation sessions improve attention span. That can benefit remote workers who might be distracted by things going on around them, whether they are working from home, a busy café, or a co-working space.
Meanwhile, an Economist Intelligence Unit report “offers striking evidence that wellness programmes align employer and employee goals more closely” and “increase employee engagement with the company’s mission and goals.”
For remote employees who work independently and without direct supervision throughout the day, this feeling of alignment with a company can radically alter their approach to work.
Remote teams face unique challenges
Remote workers face all of the same challenges as co-located employees, but they also encounter their own unique stressors. That makes corporate wellness programs even more critical to a remote employee’s success.
When people work remotely, it can be tough to set boundaries between work and home life. That can often lead to burnout.
I have also seen a ‘constantly on’ trend, where virtual work can extend into evenings and weekends because your work is in your home.
Nadia Eran, vice president of people operations at Talkspace, says she’s witnessed remote workers experience burnout this way before.
“I have also seen a ‘constantly on’ trend, where virtual work can extend into evenings and weekends because your work is in your home,” Eran says. “From not having clear boundaries or rituals for work hours to forgetting to block out time for breaks or meals, remote work is challenging the limits of our emotional and mental well-being, which at the end of the day, impacts the energy reserves to be an agile and dynamic team.”
Not only is burnout common, but it’s also more difficult for managers to gauge whether their employees are happy and healthy when they’re working remotely, or to support them the way they would if they were working face-to-face.
“Bouncing from one meeting into another means that managers, peers, and stakeholders only get a glimpse of your state of mental health, limiting the number of available signals or data points we can extract insights from,” Eran says.
Remote workers can also deal with feelings of isolation and loneliness, meaning that wellness programs that build team cohesion and foster a sense of solidarity are essential.
When remote teams struggle due to a lack of company culture or struggle to communicate effectively because they don’t have the right tools, they can feel isolated from their team and become depressed or apathetic.
Remote teams stay connected with intentional support programs
Corporate wellness programs tailored to meet remote teams’ needs can address some of these unique challenges by fostering a sense of community between colleagues.
Talkspace, for example, found innovative ways to create a cohesive team within a unique company culture. That often required thinking creatively about new ways to build a connection between remote co-workers, Eran says.
“Intentionality is the most important aspect to connection in a virtual world, and when done right, can be so creative and fun. By mapping out the experience of work across the organization or customized to teams, we can look at how we want an employee to feel connected,” she says. “No longer can we lean on the serendipitous or random connections that happen in a lunch line, an elevator, a bathroom, or even on your way to a conference room.”
There are numerous ways to do this. Some teams choose to ask their employees to share photographs of themselves based on specific prompts, like “silliest hat moments.” Others organize virtual happy hours for their teams or mail gratitude packages with company swag that people can wear outside of work. Some companies send care packages to their employees with plants or blankets to use in their homes.
Talkspace held a “secret planta” event that matched employees with another random teammate.
“The employee sent a plant through the mail for under $25. Whenever you received a plant, you posted it in the plant Slack channel to give thanks to your Secret Planta,” Eran says.
Remote wine-tasting events, cooking classes, and paint-and-sips are also just a few of the options on the table.
Even 15-minute virtual meet-ups between colleagues can help build relationships within a team.
“Easy connection hacks include finding ways to automate touchpoints,” Eran says. “We use Donut, a Slackbot that can randomly select employees to meet up on any cadence, so we can automate a potentially overwhelming experience, like setting up meet-and-greets with colleagues you don’t know, and scale it in different ways to make it palatable to both introverted and extroverted teammates.”
“Well-being is a huge space, and the good news is that sometimes it doesn’t take a huge lift to make a big impact,” she added.
Corporate wellness for remote workers is more relevant than ever
According to a Gallup poll, around two-thirds of U.S. workers who began working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic would like to continue even when the pandemic is over.
Another survey showed that remote workers are more engaged than their in-office counterparts. A two-year study conducted by Stanford University found similar results, discovering that remote employees worked a full day more than their in-office counterparts and saved their company around $2,000 per person on office space.
That all creates additional incentives for employers to offer long-term remote working options as they look to cut costs and increase productivity.
Originally published Apr 26, 2021, updated May 26, 2021