More needs to be done to improve employee well-being during remote working

EXCLUSIVE: While employers look to ensure the productivity of their employees while they work remotely, they should not neglect their well-being.
By: | April 27, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has sent the global workforce packing up its offices and setting up their workplaces at home. Nobody saw this coming at such a short notice. And not everyone is prepared for it.

It’s a reality and scenario that many businesses are facing for the very first time. Therefore, it’s understandable that their primary focus is to ensure the sustainability and productivity of their businesses.

While remote working has started to make its way into organisations over the last few years, the scale in which the workforce is being thrown into remote working is unprecedented. With a lack of experience and knowledge in remote working, employees face the risk of not being able to adapt, which will in turn affects not only their productivity and performance, but their mental well-being as well.

Working from the comfort of your own home may not seem like a stressful thing, but many who do, report higher levels of stress, according to a 2017 study conducted by the United Nations. 41% of “highly mobile” employees (those who worked from home) considered themselves highly stressed, compared to only 25% of those who worked only on-site.

Sarah Lane, EY Asia-Pacific People Advisory Services Mobility Leader believes leadership is key to supporting employees emotionally as they work remotely and away from the team.

She said in an exclusive interview with HRM Asia, “It is the responsibility of leadership at every level in the organisation to share information around how to conduct effective meetings, how to stay in touch with team members and how to ensure that deadlines are still being met, etc. What I’m witnessing so far actually, is the opposite problem.

“We observe many people overcompensating and probably putting in more hours than they otherwise would if they were physically present in the office. People perhaps are thinking, “oh, I’m not in the office, so maybe I should do more hours than I would ordinarily do.” I think that’s equally a risk that must be managed – people working too hard, rather than not being sufficiently productive.

“An area where organisations could be doing more is around employee well-being. And that’s going to be really important because the fact is nobody knows how long these circumstances will last. For some, there is a sense of isolation, so I do think that there is more to be done around employee well-being, as well as people working long hours,” she added.

One of the biggest challenges for employees is having to be physically apart from the team and not being able to communicate and collaborate with co-workers on a face-to-face basis.

But as the workforce continues to embark on this unchartered journey of remote working, Lane urged the workforce to be open minded to new innovations and technology to help them adapt.

“Within teams, we’re seeing people approach working from home in innovative ways, by increasing the amount of team member interactions – having shorter but more frequent online meetings with each other. In this manner, team members still feel connected in a way that keeps projects moving,” she noted.

“The key is being open minded to new ways of working. In the context of Southeast Asia, where working from home can still feel relatively new and different, we’re seeing these as encouraging developments that give people the confidence that they can be agile, and that they can still be part of a high-performing team when working remotely.

“If you’re in a customer service or client facing industry, you might then encounter clients who aren’t quite sure how to work from home and to make it successful. It’s then about collaborating with clients to show them how it can be effective, by finding ways to connect and making a conscious effort to have meaningful interactions.

“Under normal circumstances, we’d of course like to spend face time with our clients and customers, but where this is not possible, it’s important to keep that human interaction piece going using technology platforms,” she added.

While we are still at a relatively early stage of this transition, it’s important for the workforce to build up its capabilities and confidence in performing at the highest level, even when working remotely.

Moreover, it’s likely that the virus will be around for a lengthy period of time. And that means employees have to be prepared that remote working might become a permanent part of their working life – even if they don’t like it.

“It will have an impact in terms of whether people are more open minded to remote working and whether organisations will seek to encourage it going forward. Remote working doesn’t suit every individual within the organisation and time will tell depending on productivity levels during this more uncertain time,” Lane added.

“There are, particularly in Southeast Asia, some practical issues and considerations. For example, even if your organisation has a great IT setup that supports you working from home, many of us tend to live in smaller apartments, perhaps with more family members, as compared to other parts of the world like Australia. We also live in close proximity to our neighbours. There may therefore be very practical constraints in terms of the ability to focus on work.

“Time will tell in terms of whether it’s a longer-term scenario but as I mentioned at the onset, I think it is giving people confidence that they can still be a high performing team member in a virtual sense,” she concluded.