The two faces of remote working

Some of your employees are more likely to feel isolated than others.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 25 Jun 2020

It’s not been perfect, but the ability and speed with which organisations have been able to adapt to widespread remote working has surprised many.

The three-month enforced experiment has highlighted the benefits that remote working can have on wellbeing and engagement - largely among those who want to work from home.

However it has also shown in stark clarity that there are two faces to remote working. If it is implemented incorrectly, or feels forced upon employees who want to work in the office, then it can have negative impacts on employee mental health. 

The extent of this impact is evidenced in a recent survey conducted during the coronavirus pandemic. It also sheds light on who is more likely to struggle.

The Institute of Leadership and Management surveyed 1,200 managers working remotely throughout May 2020. Almost a third said that the greater flexibility, lack of commute and thus more time with family had improved their mental health. However, 20 per cent that said their mental health had deteriorated.

Feeling isolated was a particular problem - 42 per cent of those surveyed said they had felt increasingly isolated during the first eight weeks of lockdown. Men living along are those most likely to feel isolated (79 per cent), compared to 56 per cent of women living alone. In terms of age, 40 per cent of those aged between 18-30 experienced feelings of isolation - the highest proportion. 

However, it's not just single men and younger people who have been negatively affected by working from home. Among men living with a partner and children, 39 per cent admitted feeling isolated. This is echoed by 31 per cent of women with similar living arrangements.

There is almost certainly a causal link between the restrictions on movement and deterioriating wellbeing under the coronavirus lockdown, but those behind the survey say it highlights a possible problem if companies introduce widespread remote working without due consideration of its impact on motivation and people's personal lives. 

“The switch to home working is not as simple as finding somewhere to plug a laptop in,” says Suki K Bassi, founder and chief happiness officer of HappyMaven Wellbeing in Business. “It is critical that employers not only meet health & safety obligations but also recognise and address the wider duty of care to their people’s mental and emotional wellbeing.”

As many as 44 per cent of survey respondents said that they had been working longer hours than they would have done pre lockdown; only 67 per cent of working mothers (without a support network) said that they had been able to take adequate breaks. 

While many firms have been celebrating their ability to adapt quickly to remote working, the research shows that it leaves managers facing complex challenges, says Kate Cooper, head of research policy and standards at The Institute of Leadership and Management. 

“More than ever before, managers need empathy, to manage according to individual needs, to understand the difficulties that their teams face on a personal level and to signpost anyone who needs it to additional support.”


Image credit: Gandee Vasan via Getty Images. 


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