Taking care of the wellbeing of employees is important for all companies. For remote-first companies, it is even more important while also more challenging.
There is a lot of proof to show that employee wellbeing is a critical part of maintaining productivity for the entire company. A highly comprehensive 2019 study by professors at the London School of Economics, MIT, and Oxford showed that over a broad range of case studies an employee wellbeing initiative boosted corporate performance as much as 12%.
Most companies do not need to be convinced, however. It’s also been shown that an active wellness program can help companies recruit and retain top talent. People want to know that their employer cares about them, and remote workers are no different in that sense.
The Society for Human Resources Management has a practical guide to a holistic, comprehensive wellbeing program that will suit just about any company.
Remote Employee Wellbeing
One way in which a remote-first company has unique challenges for promoting employee wellbeing is in the area of ergonomics. This is a significant area of concern, especially given that remote employees wellbeing depends heavily on the work setting which they choose. It is vitally important that the details of the work setting are discussed with employees to avoid ergonomic problems in the future.
Proper equipment is also a concern. There are many ways to work through this, including providing all employees with appropriately ergonomic equipment as outlined in a separate section. It can also be useful to provide space at a coworking center, where issues related to ergonomics are taken care of.
The lack of a centralized office makes these issues harder to keep track of, given that they are not seen every day. Remote workers benefit from regular and thorough check-ins on their wellbeing to be sure that everything is being taken care of. This is something that should be done in any company, but remote worker wellbeing makes it even more important.
Provide Health Insurance
Setting up employees is rarely enough, however. A study conducted by the Institute for Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2011 found that the biggest challenge for remote workers who were suffering from repetitive stress injuries was a lack of access, or perceived lack of access to health care information and treatment.
Of course, these are not the only considerations for health and wellbeing of remote workers and their families, but it illustrates the important perceptions and sense of disconnection that remote workers can face.
Health insurance will cover much of this problem. Providing health insurance on a global scale can be very difficult, given the range of systems in the various nations. There are three main systems that you have to be aware of:
- Health care from taxes, such as in Canada or the UK.
- Basic health systems from taxes, with premium care available, as in many nations.
- Health insurance costs entirely on the employer, as in the United States.
These will have to be reviewed on a case by case basis. There are guides to offering health insurance as part of your remote worker wellbeing program, but in the end it is entirely going to involve application of local laws and standards.
You may wish to consider subsidizing health insurance for those employees who live in nations where it is not taken care of by taxes and other direct spending as part of a comprehensive remote worker wellbeing program.
Very often, life insurance can offer peace of mind to employees for very little cost. It assures that their families will be taken care of, and it is also the foundation of most financial planning. Consider life insurance as a benefit which will benefit your remote worker wellbeing program for all your employees.
Another issue for remote workers can be access to credit. If they are technically contract employees, they may not be perceived as “real” employees by banks and other institutions in their area. You can offer to find them access to credit through your company, or you might be able to contract with a bank in their area. In all cases, it’s important to be aware of this issue and be ready to help as needed.
General Wellbeing with Remote Workers
Another issue which can be a significant problem for remote workers is loneliness. Extroverts need to be around people in order to energize, and working from home may leave them frustrated and depressed.
While you can screen for this by preferring workers with remote experience, it can still be an issue. This is one of the main reasons why there is never a substitute for periodic check-ins with employees on wellbeing issues generally.
Stress, detachment, and loneliness should be discussed in an open and personal way regularly. This has been found to improve remote worker wellbeing more than anything else which can be done. Simply calling attention to the issue and making it a priority will help the workers to know that they are valued and are being taken care of. It will also give them a chance to bring up ergonomic issues that might be showing over time.
In all cases, the key is to make remote worker wellbeing a priority and to take a holistic approach to it. A study by the Harvard Business Review concluded that it was nearly impossible to accurately measure wellbeing without this strategy in mind.
Their study focused on groups of employees with health issues, but given that startup stress is very real and depression can result from isolation, mental health issues are a key component of remote worker wellbeing in particular. They should not be overlooked when developing the more effective holistic approach to the health of your employees.
Making it Work
There are a few general rules which can be followed as useful tips for creating a wellbeing program that you and your employees can be proud of. These include:
Be aware of different benefits in the nations and regions your employees live.
Actively include all employees in everything – stop office based events.
Go remote yourself, so that you experience just what your remote employees do.
Generally speaking, wellbeing is about awareness more than anything else. Actively engaging your remote workforce and asking about their wellbeing, then taking action to improve it, will return great benefits to your company. Some will be immediate in the form of improved productivity, and others will be longer term such as easier recruitment of remote talent.
In all cases, however, remote worker wellbeing is worth the effort.