The hybrid workplace: how to prioritise mental wellbeing and inclusiveness

How companies can use the same technology that enables remote working to foster social interactions between colleagues that can greatly improve employee wellbeing

The past two years have been a roller coaster for industries worldwide. Covid-19 lockdowns caused most companies to transition to online work, with people working from home for most of 2020 and the start of 2021. As countries have started to open up once more, the effects of online work have remained. Many companies are now engaging in a hybrid working environment in which employees work partly remotely and partly on-site.

Hybrid models come with many benefits, and many employees prefer them for their flexibility. Therefore, it’s likely that hybrid models will stay for good. However, there are a few issues with this model. As society is now more focused on mental health, experts are asking whether a hybrid model can adequately address mental health issues and employees’ inclusiveness.

Can remote work be damaging to mental wellbeing?

At first glance, working in the comfort of your own home sounds like a brilliant idea. But after spending long periods of remote working, there are obvious drawbacks.

The most obvious issue associated with remote work is the lack of social interaction. Lack of in-person speaking can feel very lonely if you are a very social person. Before lockdowns, many people spent most of their day working with colleagues. The absence of in-person interaction also makes it more difficult to feel included or part of a work family.

More hidden problems can arise from losing the ability to separate your work life from your home life. When traveling to a physical workplace, you have a set amount of hours, and you can fully disconnect once you’re back home. When working from home, it’s harder to disconnect from work once you’ve finished your day. This can lead to higher stress levels due to worrying about looming deadlines and unfinished tasks.

Furthermore, people tend to work longer hours when working from home. This can be because there is no good end to the workday. When working on-site, you often have to finish at a specific time in order to get home on time. The incentive to get home simply isn’t there when you’re remote working. So many people end up working longer hours when finishing a lengthy task.

How can companies deal with these issues?

This issue needs to be addressed by companies that favour a remote or hybrid working model. Although changes may not solve all problems, companies can promote practices to improve inclusiveness and mental wellbeing.

Companies can do this by trying to increase social contact in remote environments. The same technology that enables remote working can be used to improve social contact. Most employees now will be familiar with online meetings and remote communication for work. Companies can set up meetings and group chats that are not for formal work. Instead, these meetings can allow employees to relax and have casual conversations.

Sarah Bennett, CIO of Mercator IT Solutions, shared how the company has managed to improve their employee wellbeing and boost their retention rates. ‘We have our formal channels but we also have a ‘Coffee Break’ thread – this is the place that less work-related chat can go on, a bit of friendly banter, suggestions for social calls (not all video calls have to be for meetings!) etc. When clear policies are in place that ensure staff know how the channels should be used and what is and is not acceptable, it can work very well. Aside from this, there are so many things that can be provided for everyone to access that can support wellbeing, such as access to virtual yoga and mindfulness sessions, and exercise classes.’

If there are policies in place to ensure staff knows what’s appropriate for these relaxed group chats, they can help reduce loneliness in remote environments effectively.

Bennett continued: ‘It’s the very technology that enables remote working that is the key to maintaining the social contact that staff would ordinarily get in the office. All the platforms have chat functions, file sharing and video conferencing technologies and while companies need to ensure the channels are not misused there is clearly an opportunity for these platforms to be used to connect staff. Regular meetups to discuss work and hurdles that are being met are vital – the onus is on employees’ line managers to be more proactive in maintaining communication.’

Another great practice is encouraging social breaks throughout the day to replicate breaks in the workplace. Breaks in remote working might, for example, result in staff spending a few minutes on their phone or watching something on Netflix. Having breaks where staff can relax and talk among each other on group chats or meeting rooms allows for healthy social interaction throughout the day. It also helps staff disconnect when they’re not in working hours. Talking with friends can reduce stress or worry about ongoing tasks in the office.

Ebo Aneju is a Content Writer at SEO agency, Pearl Lemon.

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