Feb 20, 2022Mental health8 min read
How To Support Your Remote Team Wellness
Table of Contents
I.Best practices to support your remote team's wellness while working from home
1. 1.Workplace mental health starts close to home
1. 2.Bring the team together
1. 3.Think carefully before choosing work benefits
1. 3. 1.What about flex schedules, unlimited vacation, and mental health days?
1. 4.Create systems that support your team internally
1. 4. 1.Building support to last
1. 5.One step at a time
Best practices to support your remote team's wellness while working from home
As a remote company, you’re probably still trying to find ways to support your remote team's wellness from afar. Nearly three years into a global pandemic, mental health has been a serious concern for workers during COVID, and it’s not over yet. According to the UK’s Office of National Statistics, levels of anxiety remain well above the national average, and 1 in 6 adults experience some form of depression.
No one has all the answers when it comes to mental health. But the past few years have left us with a better understanding of what teams need in a healthy workplace and dozens of potential solutions.
Personally, I see mental health at work from a few different angles. First and foremost, I’m the founder of my own small business, where I both work alone and occasionally manage larger teams. Second, as a contractor, I often work alongside other company’s teams to complete a project. And third, I’m a self-employed person with chronic mental health issues.
This means that to me, supporting anyone’s mental health at work is a multifaceted process.
Workplace mental health starts close to home
Before diving into best remote work mental health practices for your team, it’s important to take a step back. Keep in mind where this all begins: with you. Not just what you can do, plan, iterate, or implement, but you as a person and your own mental health.
Spend some time evaluating yourself. A few questions to ask:
- How are you doing, mental health-wise?
- How does working from home affect your mental health?
- Have you found yourself struggling recently?
- What do you need right now to work and live at your best?
Be honest with where you’re at in life and the kind of support you need. A healthy team starts with leaders who prioritize effectively. Not only will self-evaluation give you the tools to lead remote mental health initiatives at work without burning out, but it will also set an example for the kind of supportive team culture you want to build.
Bring the team together
Remote teams are infamous for the number of tools used to stay in touch, from Slack to Asana, Discord to Zoom. But as great as these platforms are for day-to-day productivity, they often can’t replace more dedicated social interaction. At least, not without a plan.
One great way to promote remote team wellness is by giving them opportunities to interact, create new connections, and share their lives on safe and supportive platforms.
This could look like:
- Work partners: Make it a point to connect old and new team members with others who have similar interests or are located in the same geographic area.
- Non-work-related events: Company-wide virtual events like happy hours, trivia nights, and hackathons can help team members get to know each other outside of work hours.
- Reduced meetings: Focus on fewer, more interactive recurring group meetings to encourage engagement and productivity and prevent Zoom fatigue.
- Watercooler channels: Offer a team-only space for random memes, family photos, and non-work talk. Folks at SafetyWing have a #window-of-life Slack channel for that, and it’s a fan favorite.
Just remember, any community you create for your remote team to connect comes with its own systems, processes, and ground rules. As a leader, you’ll want to put some parameters in place, but try to avoid moderating or policing these channels. Instead, focus on building an inclusive, empathetic, and open team culture.
A few ways to go about this:
- Practice active listening in conversations with fellow leaders, managers, and employees and direct them to resources that will help them learn best practices.
- Invite honest conversations about mental health by starting an open dialogue about your own experiences.
- Ask team members to speak up with ideas for or critiques of company mental health resources and practices.
- Respect the deeply personal nature of mental health discussions by offering private or anonymous ways for team members to share their thoughts.
Think carefully before choosing work benefits
In the past few years, companies have come up with dozens of employee benefits that offer different levels of mental health support. While a big step in the right direction, many of these solutions should be approached and weighed carefully.
Here are a few examples of mental health benefits that look good and why they may not support your remote team effectively:
- Meditation subscriptions: These apps introduce guided techniques like mindfulness and natural sleep aids. However, they’re more preventative than responsive and work better for people who don’t have immediate or serious mental health issues.
- Gym memberships: A great way to improve physical and mental health, but a difficult choice for team members in remote locations or with disabilities. Find a way to make this great benefit inclusive and possible for your entire team (more advice on that later in the text!)
- Wellness stipends: Who doesn’t want to spend a little extra on their health? Though without a professional support system or programs to choose from, this benefit ends up being more of a liability-free “quick fix.”
What about flex schedules, unlimited vacation, and mental health days?
These three are easily the most popular remote work mental health benefits today. Flexible schedules make balancing work and personal needs easier. Unlimited vacation and mental health days also give workers the flexibility to own their schedules, build a healthier lifestyle, and take the time they need when they need it.
Unfortunately, even perks like these can come with fine print attached. Before you take on any of these benefits, consider the following questions:
- Do your current work parameters, like the expected number of hours and workweek length, allow for flexible scheduling?
- What sort of policies do you have around off-day or weekend work communication?
- What sort of limits do you currently or would you impose on vacation and/or mental health days?
- How will you differentiate between time off for sickness, mental health, and vacation? Do you need to?
Why are we asking these questions? Hold onto that thought.
Create systems that support your team internally
My friend Mike Veny and I co-host Bettermental, a mental health podcast for business owners. We both live with chronic mental health issues, and after 5 years of partnering on different projects, we’ve developed three unspoken rules for working together:
- Always start calls with a mental health check-in and personal catchup
- Be honest if something isn’t working, we’re having a tough time, or someone messed up
- Accommodate each other’s schedule and needs with flexibility and grace.
Instead of adding mental health support as we go, we started by establishing these guidelines in our work environment upfront. See the difference?
Building support to last
According to a 2021 survey by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), just 1 in 5 employees said their employer offered additional mental health services at work, down from 35% in 2020.
All of the mental health benefits I mentioned are valuable tools for supporting workplace well-being. But they should supplement your internal efforts, not replace them. Without a sustainable long-term plan, it’s easy to let your efforts go. How can remote work improve mental health?
Let’s take a look at how these benefits can be embedded into the foundations you’ve created for healthy work culture and scaled over time.
- Meditation subscriptions: Partner with wellness support platforms that help team members evaluate mental health and suggest resources, like Leapers and Inia MindCheck. Eventually, you could add ongoing one-on-one or group sessions, coaching, or guided remote mental health workshops. This way, instead of just purchasing someone a subscription, you help them through the process of taking care of their mental health long-term.
- Gym memberships and wellness stipends: As mentioned already, this is a great benefit, but take a few extra steps to make sure everyone in your team can use it: vet each fitness offering carefully by accommodation and range of services. Over time, you could develop a variety of accessible virtual and in-person programming for employees worldwide.
- Flexible schedules: Start by evaluating and updating your internal systems to accommodate flexible scheduling. This will allow you to test bigger changes, like a 4-day workweek long-term with a growing workforce.
- Unlimited vacation and mental health days: Take a close look at your current policies and how you can build in additional time off. Moving forward, try instituting company-wide mental health days and “no work communication” policies for workers out-of-office.
One step at a time
Ultimately, it comes down to prioritizing your team’s individual needs, wherever they are in the world.
This isn’t something you can implement right away with immediate success. It takes time, effort, trial, and error to create a supportive work environment. Finding the right mental health practices for your team while working from home will take some time. But by starting with conscious, internal changes, you can create a healthy and long-lasting foundation for the people you work with.
About the author
Leanne is a future of work and wellbeing content writer, solutions journalist, and co-host of the Bettermental podcast. She explores digital nomads and nations, small business development, and workplace mental health for companies and publications worldwide. A recent digital nomad (2022), she can currently be found between the US and Europe.