Technology has a key role to play in supporting employee wellbeing, inclusion and accessibility in a remote-working world.

Across the globe, more people than ever before are now working from home. In 2020, Microsoft Teams saw a new daily record of 2.7 billion meeting minutes in one day. This experience has revealed some positive benefits of remote working: a flexible working day, no commute and a chance to spend more time at home with family.

However, concerns around extended periods of remote working have come to the surface, with people experiencing pandemic burn-out, loneliness and working longer hours.

The challenges of remote working: physical and mental health

When organisations work remotely, there is a risk of people feeling lonely and cut-off from their team and the wider organisation. With face-to-face interaction removed, it can be hard for people to maintain working relationships and feel connected to the community of the organisation. Loneliness can negatively impact mental health and employee wellbeing.

Without the physical meeting rooms and breakout areas of an office, many people are now spending their entire working day in front of a screen. With busy workloads and back-to-back meetings, it can be hard for people to carve-out time in their day to step away from their screen. Being stationary for long periods of time is physically damaging and continuous computer use can lead to onscreen and cognitive overload. Research shows overwork and stress are significantly higher in video meetings than non-meeting work.

Is it working from home or living at work? With the division between work and home life blurred, many people are working longer hours. Work-related stress and fatigue are a real concern for remote working teams. Amid the pandemic, workers have reported increased burnout and rise in work chats between 5pm and midnight.

There are many reasons why a home environment may not be conducive to productive working. Having home-schooling or childcare commitments, a disability or impairment, or simply lacking the space and equipment due to flat-sharing and living situations, can make working outside of an office challenging.

How to support wellbeing and accessibility remotely

What are some of the ways you can tackle the challenges of remote working?

Isolation – create time for social interaction

To help prevent people feeling isolated or lonely, organisations should create time for social interaction. This can be as simple as creating meetings which are solely for conversation, rather than work. Setting aside time to interact on a personal level, provides a safe space for human communication which is not tied to work.

Linda McAulay, People Director at Incremental: ‘With wellbeing and engagement at the heart of our culture, we have formed various working groups within the organisation focused on engagement, health and wellbeing, and social. The overriding objective of these groups is to ensure that no Incrementalist feels alone, worried or disengaged while working remotely.’

Microsoft’s new video call feature Teams Together, uses AI to place participants together on a shared background (such as an auditorium or coffee shop), which helps people to focus on non-verbal cues such as face and body movements. The innovative format is based on research across virtual reality, AI and productivity, and is designed to reduce cognitive load when engaging onscreen for long periods. Together mode aims to mirror real-life interaction as much as possible, to make the virtual world of work and education more human and less lonely.

Screen time – take a break

Organisations should encourage people to get away from their desk and be active when possible. Running initiatives which promote movement such as step challenges and lunch-time yoga, promote not only physical health but mental health as well.

Microsoft have announced an upcoming feature on Teams that allows people to schedule a ‘virtual commute’. The concept is to set aside mental space for a productive start in the morning and a disconnect in the evening. Research shows 70% of people feel that meditation could help them reduce stress levels. Microsoft have partnered with Headspace to provide science-backed meditations and mindfulness experiences that people can schedule into their day, for breaks away from their screen.

Working longer hours – lead from the top

Separating work and home life can be challenging, particularly when remote working. To prevent employee burnout, organisations must instil a healthy approach to work-life balance and this culture should come from the top-down.

It is important to provide clear, unified messaging which encourages people to switch off, take down-time and use holidays to re-charge. Microsoft MyAnalytics allows people to work smarter rather than longer, by realising their personal productivity insights in Microsoft 365. Through a dashboard and daily email digest, users can allocate focus time into their diary, track quiet days and analyse time spent on collaboration. Users can view their work patterns and manage their time in a way which improves focus and wellbeing.

Working from home environment – flexibility and support

Not everyone’s home environment is the same. There are many reasons why working different hours and having flexibility can improve people’s ability to perform at work. Ultimately, allowing personal commitments to be balanced alongside work will help to alleviate stress.

Organisations who are empathetic and adaptable to different working patterns can maintain productivity. In 2020, there were 15%-23% more Teams chats outside of the typical working hours, suggesting that a 9-5 workday is becoming less common.

Microsoft Teams enables meetings and events to be recorded, so the session can be shared with those who couldn’t attend live or would benefit from re-watching. Recordings support inclusion and accessibility for all meeting attendees.

Work is a thing you do, not a place you go

In a remote-working world with no face-to-face interaction, technology can help to unite people and tackle loneliness. It can strengthen relationships, mental health and improve productivity in your organisation. At Incremental we have long believed work is a thing you do, not a place you go. Our experts can help you find the right solutions for the remote working challenges you are facing, allowing you to cultivate wellbeing, inclusion and accessibility in your organisation. Get in touch today.

Was this article useful?

You may be interested in the wider article series. Please visit the new ways of working series to learn more about adapting to modern working practices.