While 2020 has certainly been a challenging year for many, with mental health impacts being felt globally, the way that organisations support their people while working remotely needs to be prioritised.

As we head towards the end of the year, many individuals are feeling the load of stress, anxiety and uncertainty that has built up over time. Many are also bracing for the challenges likely to arise when government support for businesses and individuals ceases in the new year.

mental health at work

With all of this in mind, here are a few strategies that your business can implement to support the mental health and wellbeing of employees while working remotely.

Supporting the Mental Health of Employees Working Remotely

1. Look out for the warning signs of poor mental health

As a leader and team member, it’s worth familiarising yourself with the warning signs for poor mental health. These signals vary from a typical co-located office environment and may be trickier to notice at first. However, if a pattern emerges it’s a good sign that a gentle conversation needs to be had.

Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Change in tone of voice 
  • Tiredness / commenting on lack of sleep
  • Showing up late to virtual meetings
  • Cancelling on virtual meetings last minute
  • Being scattered in their conversations
  • Sense of cynicism or ‘what’s the point’ in their language (particularly if this is unusual for them) 
  • Struggling to meet deadlines or complete tasks
  • Minimal or no interaction with group discussions
  • Withdrawing from connecting with the rest of the team 

2. Encourage regular recovery breaks

When working remotely it can be easy to spend hours sitting at a desk, only to find that you’ve completely missed lunch and the sun is setting outside your window. If this becomes a habit, it can send your people into a downward spiral and on the path to remote working burnout.

If you want to help your team members maintain strong mental health and continue to perform at their best while working remotely, reiterate the importance of taking regular recovery breaks throughout the day. Science has actually shown that there’s a correlation between regular breaks and increased creativity, productivity and mental wellbeing, so it really is time well spent.

Some organisations offer their teams subscriptions to meditation and wellbeing apps, where others offer access to virtual training and wellbeing-centered masterclasses.

3. Set and maintain strong remote working boundaries

Of all of the challenges facing remote workers, Buffer found in their 2019 report that struggling to disconnect from work at the end of the day was by far the most common. With the lines blurred between ‘work’ and ‘home’ and the morning commute consisting of walking from one room to the next, it’s easy to see why this is such a sore point for remote workers.

With this in mind, take an active approach in encouraging your team to set work from home boundaries. Work from home routines make for a great topic of discussion in an all-team meeting and can help to lay the groundwork for an ongoing conversation about creating physical and mental boundaries between ‘work’ and ‘home’.

4. Ask questions to start a mental health conversation

If you want to take things up a notch, familiarise yourself with these questions to help set the tone for a mental health conversation. This can often be one of the most daunting elements of supporting employees through mental health challenges – knowing how to start the conversation.

Questions to ask to start a mental health conversation:

  • How have you been finding working from home? Is there anything you are struggling with?
  • I’ve noticed that you’ve [insert behaviour], how are you feeling at the moment?
  • It’s been a challenging year so far, how are you finding it’s having an impact on you?
  • Is there anything you are feeling uncertain about in terms of your role or the work we do that you’d like to ask me about?

As you can see from the above questions, they are a great way to open up a conversation and allow your employees to share what’s on their minds. In the case of the last question, this can be useful if your organisation has recently gone through restructuring or if there’s been recent announcements on the news that are likely to affect your industry or organisation.

Overall, the most important thing you can do for your employees is to provide psychological safety and a social network that encourages conversation and sociability. When we feel connected to our team, our organisation and our leaders, we are much more effective in our work and can truly make the most of the 1/3 of our life that we spend at work.