With remote working becoming a vital part of 2020, HRreview asks the experts how employers can help their workers to find a useful balance between different parts of their lives. 

COVID-19 has brought about many changes in the world of work and a vital one has been the rise of remote working. Although working from home has been a useful way to sustain businesses and jobs, it has also brought about challenges including a lack of separation between work and life.

HRreview has previously reported that 30 per cent of employees feel that they are unable to separate their work and home-life. Therefore, to celebrate National Work-Life Week (12th-16th October 2020), HRreview has compiled the most useful tips from experts to ensure you are supporting employees to create a healthy balance between working and life.

1) Talk to your employees 

Experts from Sodexo Engage state that:

Working from home has put an end to the daily social interactions everyone has in the office, but these are incredibly important. No longer can we chat in the kitchen, or pop by someone’s desk and without that physical presence, it’s harder for colleagues and managers to see when someone is struggling.

Employers can help by organising regular check-ins with their people on the phone. Rather than only focussing on to-do lists, these should provide an opportunity for employees, especially those with caring responsibilities, to discuss their capacity and ask for help. These communications should touch on non-work-related topics and will go a long way to strengthening social wellbeing, especially for those stuck at home alone.

2) Act as a role model 

Natalie Rogers, HR Director at Unum UK, an employee benefits provider, says:

Working remotely for long periods of time can lend itself to bad working habits. For example, late-night emails can make employees feel pressured and can be a trigger for workplace stress. Leading by example is the best way to promote healthy work/life balance. 

3) Encourage staff to take breaks 

Natalie Rogers, HR Director at Unum UK, also said:

With many UK employees working remotely, it’s easy to overlook the value in taking regular breaks. Employers should be encouraging their teams to book out slots in their diaries and step away from their desks for short periods of time throughout the day. Staying safe while observing some sort of daily exercise is important for physical and mental health. 

4) Create effective workspaces 

Linda Hausmanis, CEO at the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM), said:

A productive workspace is a crucial factor for employees’ mental health and many employees are missing the connectivity and productivity of an office environment. As we head towards what looks like a winter of home working, if you haven’t already done so, consider investing in an adequate home-working set up, such as office chairs and laptop stands to allow people to work from home more comfortably and establish their own personal workspace.

Many home-workers will be battling with looking after children and pets in the home. Consider encouraging employees to vary their workspace according to task, reproducing the different zones available in many modern workplaces. Taking calls whilst walking in the park for instance or visiting a café or similar establishment if feasible.

5) Formalise a well-being strategy 

Linda Hausmanis, CEO at IWFM, also said:

Finally, having a formal well-being strategy in place will not only help to improve wellbeing, but also contribute positively to business performance. Businesses should consider establishing a formal plan that can work both now and in the future. This should cover all aspects of workplace wellbeing, from flexible working hours to mental wellbeing and fitness and nutrition support.

Martina Ruiß, Head of HR at Personio, a software company, said:

This National Work Life Week is an opportune moment for employers and employees alike to step back and reflect on work life balance and well-being in light of this year’s transformation in ways of working. And, now as the second wave of Covid-19 causes the ‘temporary’ remote working experiment to drag on through the winter – causing potential cracks in the workforce – burnout is a particular issue that HR teams should be aware of.

Burnout, a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion, is caused by excessive and prolonged stress – which can be caused by a high workload or pressure at work. And with a lack of separation between work and personal life, and fewer opportunities to socialise and let off steam, some employees may have found existing stress of work life to be exacerbated in the remote working context.

To help prevent the root causes of burnout, employers should be proactive in their pursuit of a healthy work culture. It’s really important that business leaders should be trained in the signs and symptoms of burnout – such as irritability, reduced performance and depersonalisation – so they can act before it’s too late.

Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.