When the pandemic hit in March, the shift to remote work quickly became a defining feature of 2020. According to Stats Canada, the number of Canadians working remotely across all sectors jumped from 10% (as reported in 2018) to 40% (as of May 2020)2 – a direct result of COVID-19. This number is even higher when looking only at office workers, and according to a study by the Angus Reid Institute conducted in June, the vast majority (64%) of Canadians working from home expect that their post pandemic work arrangements will include a shift to more flexible work arrangements.
Needless to say, the change in our workforce has been drastic. Employers were pushed to make quick adjustments to this new way of working. Now, six months later, we have a clearer understanding of how remote work affects employee wellbeing, particularly their mental health. As with most things, it comes with its unique set of advantages and disadvantages.
Benefits of Remote Work
It’s easy to see how remote work may be beneficial for employee mental health. No sitting in traffic or squeezing onto an overcrowded bus – and no commute can mean more sleep or more time spent with family, and less money spent on gas, parking and transit passes.
Remote work gives employees some of their time and money back. It allows people the flexibility to work when it suits them, and gives them a sense of freedom to pepper in other tasks throughout their day, like laundry, exercise and grocery shopping4. Ultimately, when someone has more autonomy and control over their schedule, they feel empowered. And a sense of empowerment goes a long way to positively impact our emotional wellbeing.
Check out this list to better understand 5 ways remote work can benefit mental health:
- Remote work improves employee satisfaction, as evidenced by these numbers:
- 60% of workers would leave current position for a full-time remote position at the same pay rate3
- 36% would choose remote work over a pay raise4
- 80% consider tele-work a job perk4
- Remote work reduces unscheduled absences and increases productivity3
- 78% of employees who call in sick are taking a day off due to stress, personal needs or family issues4, which implies that remote work allows one to deal with their mental health and other needs without having to take the day off
- It allows employees the ability to work when they’re a little under the weather without infecting others4
- 2/3 of employers report an increase in productivity4
- Remote work increases team collaboration3
- More of a structured and intentional effort to work together
- Web-based meetings are better planned and stay on task4
- Instant messaging platforms (i.e. Slack, Zoom, MS Teams) equalizes personalities—the loudest voice is no longer the only one being heard4
- Working Remotely saves us money, which positively affects employee wellbeing overall4
- No commuting costs,
- No longer buying lunch or coffees
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- Working remotely eliminates a potentially stressful commute
- 2/3 of employees would take another job if it eased their commute4
- Long commutes are linked to stress and high blood pressure6
Limitations of Remote Work
Remote work is by no means free from drawbacks. First and foremost: it isn’t for everyone. Working from home requires someone to be self-directed, comfortable with technology and have a defined home office space.4 The perks of working in pajama bottoms can be quickly offset by the frustration of needing to work on your kitchen island, as your roommate prepares a three course lunch in their pajama bottoms! As the pandemic forced the closure of daycares and schools, many employees struggled to juggle childcare, homeschooling and work.
We have complied the following list of 5 potential disadvantages of remote work on employee mental health, along with some tips for employers:
- Remote work can have a negative impact on company culture. A distributed team can make company culture harder to grasp, especially for new employees3.
- Remote work can cause a lack of communication to occur3 as sporadic brainstorming opportunities and quick walk-by chats are no longer a common feature of the workday.
- Remote work can cause feelings of isolation and loneliness5. Some of us desire more in-person interaction than others, some find it difficult to connect without feeling the “energy in the room”, and social isolation is tied to depression and sleeping problems6.
- Remote work can lead to decreased physical activity8. It’s important to note the distinction between those that chose to work remotely and the majority that had to make the change due to the pandemic: those that chose to work remotely are able to exercise more frequently which has a benefit on their mental health7, while those forced into it because of COVID-19 are finding themselves more sedentary8.
- Remote work can cause blurred boundaries between work and home9. It can be difficult to disconnect, especially when many of us are on our phones in our downtime as well—it becomes hard to resist the urge to respond to a work email when you see it come in.
Everyone differs in their social needs and ability to feel connected. And our ability to feel connection is vital for our mental health—we’re social beings, after all!
More importantly, the pandemic required the need for remote work, forcing those to make the adjustment even if their living situation (house vs. studio apartment, children at home etc.) made it difficult to navigate.
Fortunately, there are ways to counteract some of the negative effects of remote working, in order to create a healthier working environment. For more information on any of the tips and resources listed above, email HRTopics@excelHR.com.