What wellbeing issues can remote working cause for a newly distributed workforce?

Millions of people are now working from home for the first time in response to the biggest health crisis for a generation, but what wellbeing issues can remote working itself cause?

By: Sinead Healy on

For many, the switch to remote working was long overdue with benefits such as increasing talent pool, reducing stress and burnout for workers and enhancing job loyalty - not to mention cutting back on office costs. Only last year a survey from Buffer found that 99% of employees would welcome the opportunity to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their careers.

But switching to a distributed model almost overnight has removed the choice for employees. Those who valued the opportunity to work from home applied for jobs which included that benefit. But many enjoy contact time with an office, seeing colleagues and even the daily structure that comes with a commute and a 9-5.

So what wellbeing issues can remote working cause? Here’s a look at three key areas:

Isolation

Humans are innately social creatures and a quick switch from bustling workspaces to an isolated bedroom office can be hard for some people to adjust to.

Clinical psychologist Nick Taylor commented in this article that: “If you think about the things that are important for somebody’s health, that sense of connection, seeing people, seeing friends, seeing loved ones, interacting with other people.

“That’s been massively impacted by the isolation that we feel, or the social anxiety we feel being near to other people. If you look at our physical health, it has a direct impact on our mental health.”

Anxiety

Anxiety brought about from working remotely can be triggered by a number of factors. First, there’s a certain amount of comfort employees can take from their colleagues. When everything is going well, everyone knows it. But when times are tough, working from home offers fewer natural support systems.

Another interesting phenomenon that remote workers can feel is the need to prove themselves more readily and more often then if they were in a work setting. It’s the need to be seen and heard, made harder by knowing your managers can’t actually see how hard you’re working.

Naturally, during the pandemic, more of us will be feeling anxious about our job and personal financial security, as well as the health and wellbeing of our families. This, on top of trying to adjust to a new way of working, can be a lot of many employees to shoulder.

Burnout

Almost paradoxically, working from home can cause burnout in itself. DigitalOcean found that 82% of remote workers at US tech companies felt burnt out, and over half said they work longer hours than they used to within a set workplace.

When work takes place within an office, the boundaries between work and home life are clear. For home workers, the working day can easily overrun, break times are less rigid and can even induce a feeling of being ‘tuned in’ to work all the time as the lines between work and personal time blur.

Research has also shown that remote workers actually do more work, and they tend to fire on all cylinders more frequently throughout the day. Working harder and for longer, for too long, can naturally lead to feelings of fatigue and burnout.

Further reading: have a look at why employee voice and employee recognition for remote workers are so important during times of change.