How to Remote First Work

How to Hybrid/Remote Work Well

Managing the mental health and wellbeing of people within a hybrid/remote working model by Sarah Mayo

In June, I was delighted to talk to Adam Jones, CEO of Venn Media, the company behind Remote First – an online community for business leaders of remote first organisations.

Our conversation was centred around remote first working and how it can support better productivity and balance for employees. What became clear throughout our conversation is that the tenets of good leadership are fundamental for an effective remote first working model, so this conversation is worth listening to whether you’re a remote first business or not.

So, what is Remote First working? 

A Remote First workplace is one that is set-up to meet the needs of the organisation and its people – wherever they might be working – be that at home, in a coffee shop, hotel room or in the office. On top of that, it’s about being intentional about how the organisation is run and how the office is used – bringing people together purposefully to collaborate, innovate and learn from each other.

Adam quickly highlighted that lockdown working from home is not the same as remote working, where you have the choice to work in the best place for the type of productivity or work that you need to do. E.g. a coffee shop, if a buzzy environment suits you; or the office, if you want to bounce ideas around with the team; or the home office, if you need to get your head down to write a report or presentation.

What the past year has shown is that many businesses can operate with their workforce working remotely. That said, as businesses start to consider the best working practices for their organisation and people moving forward, they would be wise to consider the difference between the forced nature of having to work from home during a lockdown versus truly effective remote working practices.

Balance to avoid burnout

One aspect that we’ve heard many employees have struggled with over the past 18 months is finding balance and avoiding burnout while working from home. Without the commute to provide a mental transition between home and work life and without the office to provide physical context for the working day, it takes discipline and conscious effort to maintain balance and boundaries. Reports over the past year indicate that many people are working longer hours, replacing the commute with work and taking shorter lunch breaks throughout the day. But what’s the cost of working longer hours? Reduced productivity, reduced engagement, and increased burnout?

In a remote first workplace, the organisation and its leaders need to set a precedence as to what is expected of employees, to lead by example and provide tools (through policies, practices, systems and training) to help people to take personal responsibility for their remote working day, so that burnout is avoided.

Collaboration, innovation and learning

In a remote first working environment, the office is used with intention and purpose – to bring people together to collaborate, innovate and learn from each other. Not to mention the importance of socialising. 

The first word to pick out here is intention. Now is the time to rethink ways we’ve always done things and to be open to finding better ways of doing things. This in itself is an opportunity for employees to collaborate and input, to innovate and reimagine. So, if you’re a business leader looking to optimise this moment in time to rethink how things are done, then involve your people, and be prepared to experiment and get things wrong before getting things right.

The second word to highlight is socialising. There used to be a time when we were encouraged to leave our personal lives at the door. Nowadays, it’s essential to realise that it’s impossible not to be impacted at work by our personal lives, just as it’s not possible to be impacted at home by our work lives. And the more we can encourage people to get to know each other beyond the “work” conversation, the better for collaboration, innovation and learning, not to mention the mental health and wellbeing of people. So, if you are a remote first organisation, think about how and when you are bringing your people together.

Systems and set-up

It’s important to touch a little on this, as many have experienced zoom/virtual fatigue over the past year and there are reports of more physical ailments, such as lower back pain, as a result of poor at home set-ups. So, if you’re a remote first organisation, then it’s important to think about what resources you are providing to your teams to set themselves up for success physically and mentally. So, just as some organisations give their people car allowances, you might also consider remote working allowances and perks, if that feels right for your business.

And technology can play a role to help manage health and prevent burnout. Adam talked of software that organisations can incorporate that highlights the length of time employees are working and when. The key here is being clear as to how and why this technology is being used – to identify those that might appear to be working longer hours than they should, rather than being used to spy on people to ensure that they are working. The key here is trust.

And trust goes both ways

Trust is at the heart of a remote first working model. But how often do we as employees consider that trust goes both ways? Employees need to trust their organisation and its intentions just as much as an organisation needs to trust its employees. And to foster good trust requires open channels of communication, honesty, psychological safety and empathy.

All these tenets are at the heart of good leadership (remote working or not) which in turn drives an organisation’s culture. So, if you’re a business leader or HR professional, consider how these channels and your culture is being nurtured within your organisation. 

That said, everyone has a role to play when it comes to leading by example, whatever your role in an organisation. We can so easily think that the onus is on the senior leadership only, but sub-cultures exist within an organisation, and therefore the ripple effects of good leadership can start from anywhere. The more that these principles are practiced across an organisation at all levels, the more it will begin to impact on the overall culture.

Mental health and wellbeing

When it comes to mental health and wellbeing of people in a remote workplace, it’s important to understand that this is not a standalone issue. It is interdependent of every aspect of the workplace, from its culture, to its decision making and governance. 

And another aspect that can weigh heavily on people’s mental health at work is the perceived advantage or disadvantage that one group might have over another. 

So, I will leave you with a final thought, to consider and be curious as to how and who decides to work where and why. And to try and find ways to ensure that one group doesn’t feel at a disadvantage over others. 

This article scratches the surface of this topic, so to learn more, listen to my conversation with Adam Jones here.

If you need support with leadership training and, or mental health awareness training, we’d be delighted to support you to build emotional intelligence and skills in the following areas:

  • psychological safety
  • empathy
  • active listening
  • resilience
  • growth mindset