3 tips on how to effectively support the mental health of remote and hybrid teams
February 23, 2023
March 2, 2023
by Kimberly Breuer
Kimberly Breuer is Co-Founder and Managing Director of Likeminded. As a psychologist and former consultant, she founded Likeminded to provide easy access to psychological support to as many people as possible and thereby transforming the status quo around mental health at work. Likeminded enables employers and employees to take responsibility for their mental well-being and create a sustainable company culture.
Today, 8 in 10 people are working in a hybrid or remote setup . By now, many employees and employers have adapted their work setup and ways of working to this reality. However, most of our minds are not quite there yet.
Typical mental health challenges of remote and hybrid teams
Mental health challenges certainly vary greatly depending on each employee’s personality, individual needs, and particular circumstances of each employee. Nonetheless, a few issues seem quite familiar among hybrid and remote workers:
- Setting boundaries: Lacking the physical boundary between work and private places can make it harder for employees to truly switch off after work or on weekends. Additionally, , less tangible boundaries must be set to ensure stress can be effectively managed and let go of in phases of recharge and relaxation.
- Loneliness: During the pandemic, many of us noticed how significant the social nature of our being is and that a Zoom call does not always replace physical interaction with others. Especially for remote-only workers, a lack of real-life interactions can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
- Connection with the team: A heated brainstorming session, the weekly all-hands, coffee chats, joint lunches, and after-work drinks on Fridays - all those bigger and smaller interactions are strengthening the connection we are feeling with our team. If not actively taken care of, hybrid and remote teams might be less likely to enhance the bond with their colleagues, resulting in a decline in team spirit. Hybrid teams, in particular, have to take care of employees who aren't onsite (as often), because they are more likely to feel “left out”.
- Lack of appreciation: Being “less visible” might come with several challenges for remote and hybrid employees. Amongst others, they might feel like they need to go the extra mile to receive the praise and appreciation they deserve. Studies have shown that while remote workers are usually working even harder than their non-remote counterparts, they are less likely to be promoted or receive bonuses .
- Getting support: Also, it usually is more difficult for leaders and colleagues to recognize mental health warning signs in remote and hybrid setups. They have to make a more conscious effort to reach out to their colleagues. The same applies to remote workers who must speak up more openly.
How to support remote and hybrid employees
While the mental health challenges of remote and hybrid setups are significant, they can be successfully overcome with the right measures.
Here is what employers and leaders in particular can do:
1. Give employees guidance
As an organization, you can give remote employees guidance by openly speaking about important challenges. Encourage them to take breaks, to speak up if they are not feeling well, and to voice their concerns if they feel like their outcomes are not seen. Share tips on creating “tangible” boundaries between work and personal life by changing clothes, using different lighting or scents, or introducing rituals like an “end-of-business” walk.
Giving guidance also means, letting employees know where and by whom they can get help if they are feeling challenged. Integrating such information in respective onboarding materials and sharing them in a sensible rhythm, e.g. , during an all-hands or lunch & learn session ensures that everybody will be aware of them.
2. Lead by example
As a leader, you can help overcome typical remote mental health challenges by acting as a role model and encouraging good behaviour in your team. Start to talk openly about mental health in your team. If possible you can also share personal insights like a difficult time you had or how certain dynamics in the team are perceived by you.
Walking the talk also means being aware of mental health challenges and acting accordingly. For example, knowing that setting boundaries is a significant challenge for many remote workers late calls and messages should be scheduled for the next day if possible. Otherwise, they can have a negative impact on employees’ well-being and productivity.
An important aspect in this regard is also to be available and receptive to feedback from employees. So, if they approach you with concerns or struggles, take the time to truly listen instead of dismissing them and show your support by working on solutions together.
Checking in with your team members regularly can help employees to feel more seen, reduce feelings of loneliness, and will encourage important conversations about their mental well-being. Next to conducting check-ins with your directs you can also facilitate check-ins among team members. Maybe even beyond functions.
3. Create awareness as a company
Creating awareness as a company means being aware of the status quo. Employee surveys and qualitative check-ins with the team can help you to identify and flag issues and act before it’s too late.
Next to creating awareness, you can also help to educate your workforce about mental health by providing resources for self-help so that employees can recognize symptoms in themselves and others. This can be done e.g. through expert webinars, guides, video resources from experts, or access to a mental health partner like Likeminded. Many companies also benefit from upskilling leaders and HR responsibles on the topic of mental health at work.
Lastly, as an employer, you can provide the right, location-independent, infrastructure for a mentally healthy workforce. This can mean creating values, guidelines, and training on open communication and feedback. Moreover, you should offer people flexibility where possible. Some people might wish for an easy opportunity to see their colleagues - even if it is on an infrequent occasion. So think about flexible desk booking options, so teams can meet, when they feel the need.
Even if it feels like the omnipresent reality, remote and hybrid work are still quite new concepts for most of us. Finding ways of working regarding mental health takes time and certainly conscious effort on everyone's part.
Employees and employers must pull in one direction and share their needs and expectations openly to make remote and hybrid work. In doing so, we can not only create a setup that's productive but also sustainable and good for our well-being.