COVID19 led us to speed up our journey towards the future of work followed by the increase in remote and hybrid work. Most of us were even forced to work remotely. COVID19 increases your stress, anxiety and remote work apathy like zoom fatigue. Working remotely has a significant impact on your work routines and especially to the social relationships. What was the impact of COVID19 to employees in Finland?
What is the impact of remote work and COVID19 on our mental well-being?
At the time of writing this blog (January 28, 2021), international and Finnish research tell a similar story around the world. The effects of remote work (i.e. telework) on employees are twofold. For some employees, mental well-being and productivity has improved. But at the same time, some employees are suffering from remote work apathy, zoom fatigue, and increased anxiety. We also know from previous pandemics that anxiety and stress will increase even more as time goes by.
According to the results of the "Miten Suomi voi"-study (unfortunately available only in Finnish) conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Health in spring 2020, the well-being of Finnish remote workers has improved during the COVID19. A few reasons for this have been e.g. saving time from commuting and improved or longer sleep at night. Also more time spent with our families has been one of the positive factors. Positive work engagement has increased and chronic exhaustion has decreased among the employees in Finland.
In January 2021, a longitudinal study was published on how Finnish employees experienced the effects of the COVID19. The study specifically focused on the experienced anxiety. Let's dive in to the study next.
Main factors that increased anxiety caused by COVID19:
Increased loneliness experienced by employees
Negative work-related stress
Excessive use of computer and mobile phones, i.e. techno-stress
Personality traits — especially neuroticism — affect how we experience anxiety
Less available social support from supervisors and team when working remotely
How to fight anxiety?
The anxiety caused by the COVID19 is stronger among women and young adults. Individuals whose negative work stress or technostress increased during the COVID19 also experienced greater anxiety. So remember to recover from screen time both during the day and especially after the workday. You should also have some micro-breaks and outdoor activities during the workday.
COVID19 is likely to have a negative impact on employees' well-being, mental health and job performance. Maintaining social relationships with our colleagues even without face-to-face meetings is critical to coping with anxiety.
Work communities that use communication tools and channels that mimic face-to-face meetings benefit the most. An inclusive caring work culture combined with technical and other work related support is extremely important in the difficult times.
People have different personality traits and needs that should be considered. For example, neurotic and goal-oriented persons need different types of support and leadership. Remember to treat and lead employees as individuals. It is also good to remind everyone in work communities that anxiety should be taking care of early and focus on the preventive care. If you don't have, or it is not enough. support from your work community then you should consider contacting occupational health care or mental health experts.
How to improve mental well-being while remote working ?
Autonomy, social relations and feedback we experience at the workplace have a significant impact on the work engagement and mental well-being at work. COVID19 forced us to work remotely, which in turn has increased the possibility for many employees to decide independently about when, what and how they organize their work. This has had a positive impact on autonomy and thus on well-being at work. This benefit should not be lost after the COVID19. Remember that autonomy does not mean leaving employees to struggle by themselves. Employees still need support such as organizing work and prioritizing tasks.
As humans we thrive from personal development and learning at work. The shift to remote work has forced us to learn new ways of working. Such challenges are often positive, as long as they are reachable and we learn along the way. When remote working and life runs smoothly, other opportunities for development and learning must also be provided for those who work remotely.
Despite the increase in the work engagement, remote working has in some cases caused apathy and increased bore-outs. This has a negative effect on coping and recovery and, of course, in the long-term also on the business results. As remote working and COVID19 is here to stay, it is important to find ways to maintain meaningfulness and enthusiasm at work. This may require changes in our social relationships. Have a virtual coffee moment (“Fika moment”) or a joint (board or virtual) game session with your team. Or design a social calendar with your team to make up for the lack of social gatherings at workplace. Choose from a variety of activities to get everyone involved. Come up creative new virtual options if face-to-face interactions are not allowed due to COVID19.
Bore-out and loss in the meaningfulness have emerged as new types of problems affecting our well-being at work. These may slowly decrease the positive effects of remote working. Lack of support from the work community can put extra pressure on individuals and increase stress, complicate decision-making, and slow professional development. If we do not get enough feedback on our work, it will negatively affect our self-esteem and self-development. All of us must be particularly aware that giving feedback and other (informal) discussions that support our teamwork must be nurtured in new virtual ways.
Remote working also changes our social relationships, which may cause loneliness or intensify the experience of anxiety. We miss the Informal discussions over a cup of coffee, by the water cooler, or lunch. We don't get to meet or see team members or colleagues on a daily basis. This has weakened our intuitive perception of their resilience or need for support.
How to get started already today?
According to the latest research we all should focus on assessing and tracking our anxiety and other relevant mental health and well-being measures. This enables us to react proactively before the issues start arising both on the individual and work community level.
At the same time we should focus on strengthening our culture to provide us with feedback and caring. Ensure that everyone in your team has efficient remote working and communication tools to mimic face-to-face meetings. Increasing autonomy and the aforementioned feedback will have a significant positive impact on the mental well-being at your workplace.
Let's take care of the whole team and have those cameras on when videoconferencing!