How to cope with remote working

March 5, 2020
Stress and Work

As the coronavirus epidemic is gaining ground in many countries, it is also influencing the way we work. Some concerned managers have stopped traveling for meetings. Others are encouraging their people to stay at home and work remotely. Events and large gatherings are cancelled or turned into virtual gatherings or webinars. Remote work is likely to become ever more common. It comes with numerous advantages but it also presents some difficulties: in particular there are specific mental health issues linked to remote work and virtual communication. 


As a manager you need to understand these issues and learn to manage scattered teams with the mental health of your remote employees in mind. The ubiquity of work may be convenient, but the exponential rise of emailing and messaging comes at a price. Like freelancers, remote workers suffer from specific sources of stress.


They may have a harder time keeping a separation between work and leisure. “If your home is your office, you can never escape the freelance desk. Sure, put it in another room and shut the door, swallow the keys... but your phone will still bleep and your upcoming bills will still niggle at you in the night. Many freelancers are fighting a constant battle against burnout and in such consistent solitude that turning to social media for inspiration often seems a good idea,” wrote a blogger in this article


They are at higher risk of burnout because they feel the need to constantly offer their managers or clients evidence that they are hard at work. “People using flex or remote policies often do feel more grateful to their employers. That feeling of indebtedness can lead some remote employees to keep their foot on the gas until they run out of fuel”, says this HBR article titled “Helping Remote Workers Avoid Loneliness and Burnout”. 


They are at higher risk of feeling lonely. The brick-and-mortar office provides workers with common rituals, physical connections and opportunities for creating new bonds that remote workers don’t have. Also the physical distance between workers and their colleagues comes with emotional difficulties: isolation can generate paranoia. Communicating without body language is like communicating with limited vocabulary: it can generate frustration and misunderstanding.


Here what you can do about it:


=> Demonstrate extra empathy when managing your remote teams: 


Remote workers miss out on all the opportunities to get regular “belonging cues” from their office team. Often they must work without the psychological safety that makes team work so effective. Therefore you need to:

  • Leverage the power of positive feedback. In real life many things can go without saying, but not so with scattered teams. Seize every opportunity to congratulate a remote worker on a job well done.
  • Check regularly how their team members are doing, ask them if they are alright.
  • Make sure they don’t work too much. 
  • Imagine new virtual rituals to replace the lost physical rituals (a random Slack channel to replace the coffee breaks, a weekly remote meeting to share news, etc.)


=> Put extra care into your communication


Words are actually just a small part of communication. Tone and body language are more important than we know. Therefore good communication will always be easier face to face. A lot of miscommunications will occur when you only have words: without context (or literary talent), a lot of information is missing. Therefore you need to:


  • Use text-only communication only for check-ins and neutral information, not for feedback or bad news. 
  • Have your most important exchanges in video chats (or on the phone). 
  • Provide more details and context to your remote workers in all communications. 
  • Choose asynchronous communication over more stress-inducing instantaneous communication methods for all strategic subjects.
  • Make sure the team will share some moments together on a regular basis: even a monthly meeting can help improve communication the rest of the time.