Can you imagine anything better than waking up 30 minutes before work and starting your day in a pajama with a mug of coffee by your side? This is what most of us think remote employment is like; a more comfortable and upgraded version of working. However, in reality, lack of supervision and mixing home life with professional life can have many disadvantages and negatively affect your mental health. Whether you’re already a remote worker, manage a team of remote workers or thinking about implementing this model, keep reading to find out how to make sure your or your employees’ wellbeing doesn’t suffer.
What are the Downsides of Remote Working?
Working remotely is an arrangement that’s far from perfect – even though it might seem like a good opportunity to get extra sleep and feel more energized at first, you might soon realize that this employment model isn’t right for you. Here’s why remote work can negatively impact your mental health:
1. Feelings of isolation
While you might enjoy peace and quiet at first, working on your own can make you feel more isolated in the long run. In 2021 the American Psychiatric Association conducted a survey whose findings suggest that nearly two-thirds of respondents feel lonely because of being separated from their colleagues.  Remote work is pretty much synonymous with solitude.
2. It might be difficult to separate work from personal life
When you work from home, it’s only a matter of time before the contents of your job start spilling onto your personal life. You might be more likely to work overtime because you never really leave your workplace, find it difficult to stop thinking about work as your brain develops an association between rest and work and feel restless as a result. The longer you wait to learn to maintain life-work balance, the more likely it is that you’ll develop sleep problems and even serious mental health issues. People who work from home also tend to do it from their bed or sofa and that’s just musculoskeletal issues waiting to happen.
3. It can be exhausting
When you feel like you can never quite escape your job and put your feet up somewhere that doesn’t remind you of the workload awaiting you the next day, you’re likely to be stressed all the time. Feeling overwhelmed might affect your productivity and even lead to burnout, which is difficult to recover from without professional help.
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4. You might get easily distracted
In the comfort of your home, no one checks up on you so you might find it difficult to stay away from distractions. You might be tempted to look at your phone whenever you have to complete a tedious task, constantly check your email or let your mind wander a bit more than usual. And if you’re unlucky enough you might also have to deal with noise – dogs barking, your neighbor mowing the lawn, children screaming.
Remote Work Wellness Tips for Employers
A lot of businesses that consider introducing a remote working style are encouraged by statistics that show that 77% of remote workers show an increase in productivity  However, to get the most out of this model, it’s important to help your workers transition and check in with them to ensure their mental health isn’t affected. Here’s how you can do it:
1. Evaluate your work strategy
When the work environment changes, it might not be possible to reach some goals as fast as back in the office. Make sure that you evaluate your work strategy while taking into consideration additional challenges posed by a remote working style, such as lack of supervision and teamwork. Be prepared to tweak the approach along the way – this will ensure that you give your employees an opportunity to adjust well, without a negative impact on their health.
2. Schedule check-in meetings
Make sure you schedule a meeting with your employees and encourage them to voice their opinion on the change; is there anything in particular they’re worried about when it comes to working remotely? Do they have any questions about the working style or set-up? Helping your employees prepare for the transition will ease their stress and make them feel more supported. Going forward, schedule regular check-ins that allow your employees to share their concerns and try to find solutions that will improve their situation together. Provide additional resources when necessary to ensure everyone knows how to look after their mental wellbeing.
3. Help employees structure their work day
Remote work might make it more difficult for your employees to know which tasks to prioritize and how to factor in breaks. Encourage them to establish a work routine to stay on track and maximize their productivity. You can also suggest that they should try to squeeze in a light exercise whenever they can as sitting for a prolonged amount of time is bad for their mental and physical health.
4. Set clear goals
When goals aren’t clearly outlined, employees are more likely to feel stressed and overwhelmed, which can eventually lead to burnout. Let your employees know what’s expected of them in as much detail as possible to enhance their performance and keep their well-being in check.
Remote Work Wellness Tips for Employees
While your company can do a lot to help you transition and get used to the new working style, you’re the one who has to commit to a new routine and recognize when you aren’t coping well. Here are a few things that can help you maintain mental well-being when working from home:
1. Take regular breaks
Everyone loves breaks; just a few minutes away from your desk allows you to finally grab a snack or check the latest news. But when you work from home and the line between your professional and private life blurs, you might end up skipping breaks to make sure that you finish your tasks on time. While it might seem like a great way to improve your time-management skills at first, once it becomes a habit, you might end up feeling restless and unable to take your mind off work. Plus, remote work requires you to sit in front of a screen for hours, which is bad for your body. To make sure you take a break and make it count, set an alarm clock every 45 minutes and check in with yourself; if you’re feeling tired, look out of the window or stretch your body. If you’re feeling productive and already thinking about the next task you’re going to complete, take a deep breath and try to focus on being in the moment.
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2. Minimize distractions
Leaving your phone in plain sight is never a good idea when you work from home, even if you keep it on silent. Most of us don’t realize how much time we spend scrolling on social media each day and even if you have a strong will, one thing often leads to another and you end up using electronics for longer than you initially planned to. Being constantly distracted might make it difficult for you to focus on work and clock out when you’re supposed to so you should keep your electronic devices out of reach. It’s also a good idea to download software that doesn’t allow you to check social media sites for a certain amount of time. When there’s nothing you can occupy yourself with but work, you’re bound to be more productive and finish on time.
3. Learn to recognize when you aren’t well
Remote work can put you under a lot of pressure. Initially, you might focus on working harder to distract yourself and before you know it, feeling overwhelmed might turn into chronic stress that impacts your sleep and affects your productivity. Unfortunately, mental health issues develop gradually and you might not realize there’s a problem unless it becomes serious. To learn how to recognize signs that you need to take better care of your mental health, consider keeping a mood journal. There’s no specific technique you have to use; all you have to do is write about your day and feelings. Putting your thoughts down on paper can improve your mood by helping you work through difficult emotions and will make it easier to spot any worrying patterns. If you notice that you’ve been experiencing negative emotions for a couple of weeks in a row, don’t wait until it’s too late and see a mental health professional.
4. Learn to set boundaries
Some employers mistakenly assume that remote work gives their employees more time to complete extra tasks but it’s not usually the case. While saying no to your boss isn’t easy, it’s what you have to do to prioritize your wellbeing, especially since maintaining a work/life balance is more difficult when you work from home. Be firm and remember to set boundaries straight away. Don’t wait until you’re forced to answer work calls a few times after hours and make it clear that you’d like to focus on your personal life after you clock out. Additionally, try not to say yes to new projects unless you’re confident you can fit them into your schedule without compromising on sleep and family time.
5. Keep in touch with your co-workers
While your co-workers might no longer be around when you work from home, they share similar responsibilities and know better than anyone how difficult your role is at times. Additionally, studies show that maintaining positive relationships at work is associated with higher job satisfaction, and the more motivated you are, the more likely you’re to achieve better results.  If regularly catching up over Zoom isn’t possible, you can always set up a group chat where you check up on each other. Even if you just end up complaining about the amount of work you have to do, it can still be a good bonding experience.
6. Improve your work environment and working style
Even a small adjustment in how and where you work can have a huge impact on your mood and productivity. If you’re currently feeling stressed, consider if there’s something about the environment that could be contributing to the distress. For example, even if you might be more or less used to the noises your neighbors make by now, they might still be distracting and you might benefit from wearing earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones. If you feel like your productivity is always low in the morning, you can tidy your desk before you start working – a sense of achievement can be a great motivator. Similarly, if you feel overwhelmed by the workload, consider breaking the goals into smaller ones, and divide them into high and low-priority tasks.
7. Practice meditation
Although meditation is now recognized as one of the most effective mental health treatment tools, many people still believe that it involves sitting in silence for half an hour and are discouraged by the idea. However, the goal of meditation isn’t to empty your mind and be still but to sit down with your thoughts, learn to observe them and feel more relaxed in the process. There are also many different types of meditation you can give a go; from guided meditation that requires you to focus on your breath, to those that rely on visualization. Meditating is especially helpful to people who work from home. Being in the moment can help you ease the stress and allows you to have a break from thinking about work.
8. Try to socialize more
Remote working can make you feel extremely lonely, which is why you should try to prioritize your relationships even more now. Luckily, there are many ways to stay connected with your loved ones; you can keep in touch virtually, schedule a Skype call or ideally, ask your friends to hang out once a week. Socializing is not only great for your mental health as it makes you feel more emotionally connected but can also improve your self-esteem which might translate into more productivity at work.
Learn more about contributor, Joanna Cakala