More than ever before, employees are working remotely as work-from-home culture becomes the norm due to global conditions. Though things will eventually shift back to in-person work, remote work has gained a firm and likely permanent foothold moving forward.
Managing a remote team has a number of stark differences from managing in-person work, and one of the hardest things to address among your employees is stress. Anxiety and stress cause health issues for employees while compacting business problems.
What can you do to better manage stress seen on your remote team?
Help Your Team Set The Right Schedules
A big part of handling stress as a remote team is to make sure that schedules are going to help everyone to work more effectively, not limit them or add stress to their lives.
Setting Working Hours
Establish what the expected working hours are for your team, and make it clear if those are required hours or if there is some built-in flexibility. Most companies will keep to specific hours so that everyone knows when their coworkers are available, but some business allows for more flexibility than others.
Whether you settle on a strict schedule or a flexible one, ensuring that the hours are balanced to work with both company and individual expectations is key for success.
Declaring Individual Schedules
Setting up schedules that clearly show when people are expected to be working can help to reduce stress for your team. By knowing when other people are working, you will know when to expect responses, and your team will encounter less stress over timing and responses. This is especially important if some team members are in different time zones.
Self-declared work hours are a great way to relieve stress for employees while still creating team responsibility. Having the freedom to set their own schedules gives people more autonomy, helping to increase their productivity and overall work satisfaction.
Clear Overtime Rules
Make it clear that you don’t want your team to be overworking and burning themselves out by working beyond the normal working hours. If you want them to turn in their best work, you’d want them to be well-rested whenever possible. Clarify exactly when overtime is expected, how it should be recorded, and what, if any, limits there are on overtime.
Working from home makes it easy for employees to overwork themselves. While this might show some immediate returns for your business, the long-term negative effect on your team’s mental health will not be worth it.
Breaks and Lunches
Help your team to take regular breaks, including lunches, rather than working through these periods. Working from home makes it easier to work continuously without taking any breaks, but that approach can lead to overwhelming amounts of stress for your team. Encourage breaks, and make sure that you are following through with allowing those breaks.
Invest In The Right Tools
The chances are high that you’ve added a number of tools to your team’s toolbox while working remotely. Remote work often leads to a higher need for communication, editing, and project management tools. Some tools, however, can lead to additional stress rather than reducing the overall amount of stress faced by team members.
Remote teams need the right tools to be able to work successfully. There a few specific tool categories that you should analyze to ensure you have not introduced unnecessary stress:
- Collaboration tools (i.e., Google Suit, Notion)
- Project management tools (i.e., Trello, Basecamp)
- Meeting tools (i.e., Zoom, Skype)
- Messaging tools (i.e., Slack)
Depending on your industry and how your team works, you may not need tools in all of these categories. Think about the tools and whether or not they add to or relieve stress.
Messaging tools like Slack are great for instant answers during working hours, but they can add to stress when team members feel that they have to be available all the time because of the instant communication aspect.
Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Communication
Analyze which team tools are asynchronous and which are not. Asynchronous communication methods do not rely on timing or instant responses. Things like emails, comments on a shared document, and bulletin boards are asynchronous tools.
Synchronous tools, on the other hand, function best with instant responses. These tools include instant messaging tools, virtual meetings, and other immediate tools.
Make sure that your team is balanced between these two communication categories for tools. While having instant communication that replicates an in-person environment is good during set working hours, having these tools active will increase stress and lead to burnout.
If your team uses exclusively synchronous tools, your team members will feel that they can never step away from their work, and this will lead to decreased productivity.
Talk To Your Team
While there is a lot that you can do to improve the remote work environment for your employees by estimating what they need, getting their direct feedback can be a powerful tool. Acknowledging this and discussing work from home stress with your team can help you to better address their problems, concerns, and stressors.
Send Out Weekly Employee Surveys
Try setting up a simple weekly survey for your team to fill out. The questions should be simple and quick to answer so that you can get a gauge on team stress without adding to that stress. Make it clear to employees that the survey is not meant to track their work but is instead a way for you to balance expectations according to their needs.
Consider questions like these ones:
- Do you need any additional tools to make working remotely easier?
- Are your stress levels manageable this week?
- Have any requests from management been too difficult to implement?
Curb your questions to match with what you have been assigning and working on as a team so that people can give direct and proportional feedback. This feedback is a great research tool for improving the overall circumstances for your team.
Initiate One-on-One Conversations
Based on the results of weekly surveys and behavior you see from your team, you may notice that some one-on-one conversations will be necessary. Taking time to listen to what is causing your team’s excessive stress helps a lot when it comes to stress.
Hear the concerns that your employees have, document what is stressing them out most, and take action to address those concerns immediately. Not all stressors will be something that you can personally resolve, but having clear information on what is causing stress will help you to create a better overall work environment for those team members.
Invite Remote Work Education
Show your employees a great deal of empathy and compassion as they adjust to working remotely. Just as you have not dealt with a remote team to this degree, some of your employees may be facing a completely new work experience.
Your team needs a chance to learn more about remote work, how it affects people, and what they can do to create their own management systems. While we’ve covered a lot of tips that you can do as a team leader to reduce stress, the simple fact is that some things have to be handled at the personal level.
However, if your employees are not aware of those issues, they may continue to face excessive stress even if you are doing a great job of implementing stress-relieving procedures.
Invest In Remote Training Courses
Are there certain aspects of your business that may be difficult for remote workers to adapt to independently?
Invest in specific and specialized training courses for remote work. Ensure it covers everything from how to log onto the company’s VPN to how to submit work for review without being at work in person.
Taking time to educate your team with paid training to show them the recommended way to submit and handle remote work will make their lives less stressful. Many at-home employees are stressed by not knowing the right way to handle submissions, meetings, and other facets of remote work. Teaching them removes this stressor.
Educate Employees On WFH Health
As mentioned, remote employees that are not accustomed to working from home may struggle with stress, anxiety, and other health issues as they transition. This stress can come from not setting clear working hours, having too many distractions, or a number of other sources.
Remote work has been getting more popular for a number of years, and many great resources can help employees become better at handling the stress of working from home. For example, many employees might not know that there are specific hours they are most productive each day. Identifying and working around these hours can reduce stress.
Just as you hold training sessions for job-related tasks, hold a few training sessions devoted to educating your team on working from home. Sessions that teach employees proven ways to create a less stressful environment at home will make a huge difference.
Your Team Can Handle This
While it’s true that not everyone thrives in a remote work environment, there are ways that you can handle stress in your remote team. Taking time to focus on improving working conditions is a great investment as your team will work more productively when stress is under control.