Working remotely has become increasingly common with employers and employees alike, as it offers a range of benefits like flexible hours, reduced commute times, and the potential for employers to save money on office space. However, while it has its advantages, remote working can also lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
This can have a negative effect on people’s productivity and morale. It is important for employers and employees to take steps to promote good mental health. This article highlights why positive mental health is so important, how isolation can impact our mental health and the steps that can be taken to overcome these feelings.
Why is positive mental health so important at work?
Mental health is one of the most important parts of our overall well-being and the key to feeling happy, healthy, and fulfilled. Furthermore, when it comes to remote working, promoting good mental health can lead to a number of benefits for both employees and employers.
Studies have found that there is a correlation between bad mental health and a lack of productivity, it can have an impact on our concentration and ability to do day-to-day tasks. One study found that ‘Globally, an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety’. This is because generally, people who struggle with mental health take more days off work. By promoting positive mental health, people will feel more productive and improve their flow of work.
We now live in a generation where mental health is highly valued. ‘Almost half of the employees (45.6%) would look to move jobs if their employer didn’t provide enough support in relation to their mental health.’ With this in mind it’s important for companies to improve their well-being strategies, and in turn, promote good mental health.
Working to improve it not only benefits the individual, but will also help any business grow. Helping to manage mental health both inside and outside of work. It is crucial to employees' well-being and happiness that if not properly looked after, can start to impact their work life.
How Does feeling isolated impact our mental health?
Human beings are inherently social beings, one study noted that ‘it is hard to think of any animal for whom the regulation of social behaviour is not important, humans included’. Employees may find that working remotely can be an isolating experience, which can have an impact on their mental health. This is especially true if you consider those who have predominantly worked within an office environment, may find it hard to adapt to remote work which results in isolation.
With remote working, some of the day-to-day activities that occur in an office such as working face-to-face, or eating lunch with colleagues, is no longer something that takes place.
This can then affect the mental health of those working remotely, as shown in a recent study, which found that ‘81% of younger workers expressed genuine concerns about loneliness’. These feelings of loneliness can cause changes in different areas of the brain, such as the hippocampus, as an example, this area of the brain has a major role in regulating how we respond to stress.
If these feelings of isolation and loneliness are not managed, people may eventually struggle to manage their mental health, which can then lead to mental illnesses - ‘A mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function’. This is why it’s so important to put steps into place in order to manage and overcome feelings of isolation.
What can be done to overcome these feelings of isolation?
If you’re working remotely now, there are things you can do to help maintain your mental wellbeing and reduce feelings of stress or loneliness.
Create a Designated Workspace
While it can be tempting to sit on a sofa or a bed to do your work, creating a designated workspace is key for both productivity and wellbeing. It's important to find the right balance of structure and freedom when working remotely – this could mean having a dedicated desk or corner that is solely used for work, or just finding a comfortable spot in your home where you feel most productive.
While not everyone has access to a desk, we recommend you use a table as an alternative. You should also make sure that your workspace is equipped with ergonomic chairs, good lighting and technology that supports efficient remote working.
This will help you feel as though you are in the office rather than at home, and means that when you leave your area of work (wherever that may be) you can mentally leave your work behind until you next come back to it. Being able to separate home life and office life is important for routine and structure.
When you're spending more time at home than normal, it’s easy to fall out of routines and start feeling less connected to yourself and your goals. It helps to keep some kind of structure when working remotely – establish regular daily check-ins with yourself and avoid the temptation to overwork by setting regular boundaries between work hours and personal life. It helps if you can stick to the same schedule every day, such as waking up at the same time each morning, taking short breaks throughout the day, exercising before or after work etc.
It's important not to forget contact with colleagues during periods of remote working. Seeing others during work calls can help build relationships that foster collaborative thinking which can lead to more meaningful conversations about projects/tasks. Additionally, connecting with people who are experiencing similar situations may remind us that we are not alone and provide support through difficult times.
Additionally, you can make use of different social media channels. Utilising different instant messaging groups like ‘slack’ and ‘Google chat’ are great ways of connecting with your colleagues; being able to instantly chat about work or non work related topics is a great way to feel a little less isolated from remote working.
Being able to see your team is one of the best ways to stay connected, this is why so many people prefer working in an office. PukkaTeam helps remote workers stay connected by imitating a video call, but instead of a continually updating feed, it updates the image once every minute or so. This gives your team a visual presence to make you feel like you’re sitting at the office and improves communication with your team. It also has inbuilt video calling, so you can start a video call at the click of a button, with the added benefit of being able to see if someone is at their desk and available before you call!
Manage Stress & Anxiety
Stress & anxiety can creep into our lives when it feels like everything is against us – creating deadlines for tasks but then find distractions continually take away from our focus; having too much information; facing obstacles & setbacks etc. Working remotely requires extra effort in managing these stressors by being honest with ourselves about how long tasks will realistically take, setting realistic goals, planning ahead & seeking guidance/help from mentors where needed etc. Take regular breaks throughout your day & give yourself permission to step away from screens & reconnect back with activities that energise you–like reading books/listening to music etc…
Listening to music or a podcast during remote working is also a great way of promoting good mental health. Listening to music at work can put people in better moods, make them produce work with fewer mistakes and therefore work efficiently.
Lunch Dates and virtual meetings
This one may seem self-explanatory, and while it is, this is a brilliant way of staying connected with people from work and should not be overlooked. You can connect with your work friends during lunch and break times, whether this is over a call, virtual meeting or if you go out to get food together.
By having these regular catch-ups you may find that you feel less isolated and lonely from remote working. This can also be a great time to discuss your current projects and brainstorm ideas in person. Face-to-face meetings are generally a great way to boost engagement and create a sense of community. One study found that ‘virtual meetings were the glue that held employees together during the height of the pandemic’. With this in mind, it’s important to understand just how effective virtual meetings and lunch dates with colleagues can be.
It is clear that isolation and loneliness can have a major impact on workers. It can lead to decreased productivity, higher levels of stress and anxiety, and even cause employees to leave their job. To combat these feelings of isolation, it is important for employers to put steps in place that will help retain their employees. This could include providing support networks, flexible working hours, and encouraging communication between colleagues. By doing this, employers can ensure that their staff are happier and more productive in the long run.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, visit here for professional help and advice.