While remote working has proven beneficial to many companies and individuals alike, poor management may lead to such arrangements causing more harm than good as isolation and other factors impact upon the mental health of workers, a mental health organisation has warned.

With UK organisations already losing an estimated £100m each year as a direct result of work-related stress, depression and anxiety, a figure which could soar in the coming decade if poorly managed nomadic working practices continue, this alarming fact is one that we cannot afford to ignore.

“Nomadic, remote and flexible working practices are the norm today,” said Paul Finch, CEO of A People Business. “Unfortunately, if poorly managed, it can accentuate mental and physical health problems for a number of reasons. Infrequent or impersonal contact with your team and managers can make it harder to talk about issues and also weakens the informal support network that working environments frequently provide. Despite videoconferencing and similar technology, sometimes there’s no substitute for a good chat over a cup of tea.”

Further adding to the issue is the fact that, according to research from the NHS confederation, almost half (48%) of the UK would not feel comfortable talking to their bosses about mental health issues. This is despite 65% of the population reporting that they are close to someone who has experienced mental illness. Mental health clearly and sadly remains a subject to which people have a kind of conversational aversion, causing many to bottle up such issues which in turn only makes them worse.

“Coughs and colds account for 25% of sick days in the UK. Stress, anxiety and depression account for 11%,” continued Finch. “Few people are shy about calling their boss to report a cold, so it’s time we talked more about mental health issues. But at the same time, organisation leaders need to make sure that they foster a company culture that encourages open discussion and support, whatever the issue.”

Finch’s recommendations for leadership staff in terms of the management of remote workers include:
  • Office Time - Ensuring remote and nomadic workers have at least one day in the office each month and helping them to make the most of this, establishing a support network including mentors or buddies
  • Online Support - Looking at digital support mechanisms, such as micro-mentoring apps like Rungway or Yammer
  • Context - Speaking to colleagues without a frame of reference can be extremely challenging, so remote workers must be included in company communications, staff parties, off-site meetings and events to help them communicate

“Working remotely can be isolating and challenging at the best of times,” concluded Finch. “But when staff are ill or have personal issues, the impact of not having a support network can be devastating. When I suffered from bowel cancer two years ago, I was already working flexibly, and found the lack of support network terribly isolating. It’s one of the reasons why the charity I created – Red Trouser Day – has a bar to entry as low as simply wearing red trousers or participating in events around the office. While it can be a relatively big job for employers to provide a sense of common experience and connection, it always pays dividends in the long run – personally and professionally.” 

The key when it comes to arrangements such as remote working is the careful management of staff, procedures, and support networks. Remote workers may go about their daily tasks from a separate location, but they are still part of the team and should be made to feel as such. If you cannot achieve this outside of the office, then perhaps remote working is not the right fit for your company.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.
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