3 Keys to promote employee wellness to tackle remote work challenges

As more and more people work outside the office, remote work challenges increase. One of the biggest challenges is ensuring employee wellness. Remote workers often feel socially isolated and experience difficulty separating work from homelife. Employee wellness is important not only for their life satisfaction, but also for the business’ bottom line. Organizations with happier employees see less turnover, more productivity, and higher profits.

Making sure the employees take care of themselves and focus on their own well-being so that it doesn’t interfere with their professional or personal lives. One of the biggest struggles for a company is figuring out how to balance providing autonomy and maintaining structure for their employees. We’re going to talk about how you can help your employees tackle one of the biggest remote work challenges: promoting employee wellness. 

We will discuss 3 key ways that can help you promote employee wellness, on its own one of the biggest remote work challenges, and how these keys can help you and your employees prepare to tackle other remote work challenges.

Our three keys are: 

  1. Mental and Physical Health Breaks
  2. Develop Remote ‘Commute Time’ Practices 
  3. Focus on Proper Workspace Setup

As always our researchers have looked through the best scientific research to help provide you with the best tips and tricks. We’ve pulled together these tips from research in psychology, ergonomics, behavioral economics, physiology, neuroscience, and cognitive science to ensure that you’re putting the best science into practice.


Science and Philosophy of Well-being

What is well-being? Often when we hear the term “well being” we think of either touchy-feely stuff (or what some might think of as new-age hippie pseudoscience) or physical safety (like helmet requirements at a factory). But in both science and philosophy, well being is much more. 

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When we use the term “well being” we are referring to both physiological and psychological wellness. Not just the absence of sickness, but positive mental and physical health. These components of wellness intertwine to help people lead happy, meaningful, and “high-quality” lives. 

For example, a key part of Jesuit Philosophy is what’s called ‘Cura Personalis’ which means ‘care for the whole person’. The key here is that well being is more than just an occasional mediation practice or more than following safety guidelines; well being is about caring for the whole person. This means the physical, intellectual, spiritual, and mental self. 

Scientifically, myriad research finds that physical and mental wellness influence each other. When a client has a mental health issue, oftentimes physical, spiritual, or other intellectual modes of treatment are helpful. For example, physical exercise is one of the most reliable treatments for depression. And our psychological outlook can similarly influence physical issues. For instance, stress and anxiety can cause real physiological problems ranging from muscle spasms to headaches to ulcers (called psychosomatic pain). 

Consider the whole person. Yet we often forget to think of others as complete people rather than just specific roles (e.g., employee, parent, friend). When we think about employee well being we should be thinking about not just that person as an employee but as a complete person.

proper workspace

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Start with a proper workspace setup

Historically employers were in charge of ensuring a work environment that promoted employee wellness and productivity. When employees work from home, this burden often shifts to them.  

A very simple way to promote employee well being is to provide resources and tips for them to figure out how to best set up their workspace. In particular, consider how their workspace can help them separate their work and non-work lives, and how their workspace can incorporate elements known to increase employee wellness.

Separate work and non-work lives. Work-life balance was a struggle even before remote work. But when the physical spaces merge, this remote work challenge intensifies. To mentally separate them, encourage employees to, 

  1. Create a workspace that is used solely for work. Ideally this can be an aesthetically pleasing, functional space with all your work supplies. But even if it is simply a specific seat at the kitchen table, tell them to pick a “work spot” where employees will not spend any leisure time.
  2. Never eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner at your workspace. Create a separate place to eat, even if it is sitting in a different chair or different angle to your work space (I.e. if you work at your dining room table, then sit on another end to eat)
  3. At the end of a day completely turn off your computer and don’t leave anything in the workspace. Act as though you are literally leaving work. If you’re using a laptop and need to take it with you or use it later, try using a different background setting or a different case/cover. 

Encourage physical comfort and psychological boosts. Workspaces are often the last thing people think about when starting to work from home, but the physical environment can have a profound effect on employee wellbeing and productivity. For instance, noise and lack of privacy can reduce wellbeing and productivity, whereas spaces that are tailored to specific activities and aesthetically pleasing can increase employee wellness.

Some of the recommendations are very simple: 

  1. Talk about workspace set up during onboarding and when new projects begin. Provide links to suggestions for ergonomic chairs and keyboards, standing desks, quality monitors and lighting. Suggest good ‘candidate locations’ for workspaces, I.e. in a room with lots of natural light if they often have meetings, dual monitors for research intensive work, or a place with a closed door if they deal with confidential information.
  2. Suggest incorporating nature into the workspace. Numerous studies find that contact with nature benefits mental health and wellbeing. Working in a forest might be impossible, but employees could place their desk next to a window, incorporate plants in their workspace, or simply hang a soothing nature picture.
  3. Setup a platform for employees to share tips and ideas for good setups and addressing problematic setups. This could be a Slack channel or email list.

Another great way for you to boost employee well being is to provide some funds for helping purchase a chair, desk, or other tech to help them set up a proper workspace. We realize not every company can do this, but it is much cheaper than paying for an entire physical workspace and well worth the investment if you are able to.

Mental and Physical Health

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Mental and Physical Health Breaks

Providing time for breaks is an obvious way to promote employee wellness. Cognitive overload is a major problem for employees, especially when working remotely. Constant distractions plague the employee who works from home, and even more things vie for attention when employees are using shared workspaces or group offices. 

Cognitive overload occurs when individuals who have too many things are trying to get their attention. This can happen when you’re trying to learn a large number of things quickly or when there are many things in the environment that could grab your attention. Most people think this is purely a problem with attention span, but cognitive overload is what is really going on. With people working outside the traditional office space, it becomes one of the major remote work challenges employees must face. 

So it is important to create time for your employees to rest and relax. Remember, even small breaks can recharge their brain and their abilities. Yet, just giving them some free time may not be the best way to achieve employee wellness. Additionally, this becomes even more of an issue when you think of this as a remote work challenge. 

Here are a few ways to help you better promote employee wellness even when your employees are working remotely:

  1. Automate 10 or 15 minute break windows in employee calendars where each break is supposed to be something slightly different, such as get a healthy snack, a quick stretching routine, walk around the room, write a reflection, etc.
  2. Coordinate group break activities such as having Zoom snack breaks or curate a schedule for people to share a funny video or favorite song.
  3. During breaks, have employees watch or take part in ‘distractor tasks’ such as doing a quick word search exercise, 5-10 minute yoga exercises, or meditation routines
  4. Establish schedules were break time after meetings is standardized, for example when scheduling hour-long meetings, break 50 minutes in so the last 10 can be used as a break
  5. Check-in bi-weekly with employees and focus on LMX, or leader-member exchange where you take time to connect and engage with your employees in ways that aren’t directly related to work, such as giving new coffee recommendations, asking about favorite travel destinations, etc. 

These are great ways to get your employees to be engaged with your work community while also taking breaks from work. It helps them structure breaks so that they exercise different parts of their brains and bodies. You can also help them build loyalty and community engagement with your company even though they’re remote. 

The main part of this key to promote employee well being is to help them structure breaks so that they are engaging and resting different parts of their brain, body, and mind. This not only helps keep them alert, but it gives them an opportunity to break up long work days without having to take extra time figuring out what to do or using their time unproductively. For example, if an employee gets food during every break, it can harm their physical health or cause overeating, or if they exercise during every break, they will likely become tired faster.

Remote ‘Commute Time’ Practices

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Develop Remote ‘Commute Time’ Practices

Cutting commute time can be a huge benefit for people working remotely. You don’t have to hassle with traffic, parking, crowded busses, and train schedules. Yet, having a lack of commute time can become a remote work challenge that hurts employee wellness. This is because commutes offer the opportunity to separate work from the rest of your life. They are a routine that signals the transition to your personal time. They create real and psychological distance needed to maintain this separation. 

Try to encourage employees to have structured and useful ‘commute time’ to work. I don’t mean that they should drive around the block before work, but that they need to take time to create space between being at home and being at work. 

Here are some great ‘smart commuting’ strategies to help promote employee well being:

  1. Take your coffee or morning beverage away from your desk and drink it in the kitchen, on the porch, or even in front of your building.
  2. Have a pre- and post-work mobility routine such as walking around the block before and after the work day ends, or going to the store right after work instead of just saying home.
  3. Create pre- and post-work habits like writing a 5-sentence journal entry about your goals for the day or the things you achieved that day
  4. Listen to a specific song before you start your work day or at the end of it. This helps your brain associate the beginning and end of the day with specific songs and creates audio cues.
  5. Have a special alarm for the beginning and end of the work day. 

We’ve also specifically looked at this as a way to help you get motivated for starting your remote work week and how to get motivated on Monday’s after a relaxing weekend. 

The most important part of this key is to help your employee have a little mental and physical separation between their work and non-work life. Research has shown that short commutes with physical activity is essential to promote employee well being and has been shown to increase their ability to enjoy leisure time before and after work. It is important to maintain that balance so that employees don’t get burned out or overly stressed with work at home when they work from home! 

promoting employee wellness

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Recap of 3 Keys to promote employee wellness to tackle remote work challenges

Managing and promoting employee wellness is a major challenge for employers, and is exacerbated as a remote work challenge. We’ve talked about 3 keys for employers who want to promote employee wellness with their remote workers. 

Our three keys are:

  1. Mental and Physical Health Breaks
  2. Develop Remote ‘Commute Time’ Practices 
  3. Focus on Proper Workspace Setup

Mental and physical health breaks are often talked about but seldom explained. We’ve talked about ways to help you encourage your employees to take time during the work day to exercise their body and mind beyond work. Providing structured breaks helps your employees remain at their best mentally and physically so that they can properly engage with work while also preventing burnout and exhaustion.

Developing smart commuting time is essential to keeping a balance between work life and non-work life. Establish either a physical or mental separation is critical to helping to promote employee wellness. 

Focusing on proper workspace setup is a major remote work challenge, and one that you can tackle immediately when you bring on board new employees or by starting a conversation with current employees. Setting up a good workspace is key to promote employee well being. 

Remember that while someone is your employee, they are so much more! They are people who have lives, desires, dreams, and other concerns beyond just their job. Make sure that you remind them that they need to care for themselves as a whole person and not just as a company man.