Look after the health of mobile workers

As more employees become less office based, it is important that employers make adjustments to ensure continued wellbeing and productivity of mobile workers, says Nigel Crunden, business specialist at office supply firm Office Depot.

The UK already has a strong mobile workforce, but it’s still growing. Many firms requiring proactive, self-managing employees to work remotely or between locations can enjoy a clear return on investment because of the increased productivity levels that this flexibility encourages. This is according to research from Stanford University (2015) which found that mobile and remote workers are 13% more productive than office-based counterparts.

As well as those that work remotely on a permanent basis, many office-based staff regularly travel to and from different locations as part of their core role, meaning that in some cases, large proportions of company employees are spending increased time working away from the physical setting of a business.

However, despite the perceived benefits of remote working, increased working hours, isolation from peers and unproductive working conditions can all cause increased stress and reduce efficiency. For mobile workers particularly, lengthy travel time can take its toll on concentration levels, especially if this involves going overseas.

Five key tips for managing mobile workers

  • Involve the mobile workforce in regular meetings and catch ups.
  • Monitor to ensure mobile and remote workers take regular breaks.
  • Provide touchdown office space to reinforce team cohesion and involvement.
  • Motivate mobile staff through regular feedback, recognition and open, honest communication.
  • Address the risk of isolation by ensuring mobile workers get regular training and opportunities to socialise with other employees.

It is therefore important that employers make suitable adjustments to working relationships to ensure wellbeing and productivity levels are properly maintained.

Stress and anxiety

Further to this, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development recently highlighted the potential for mobile and remote workers to suffer from heightened stress and anxiety if it is not easy for them to switch off.

This represents a risk for businesses that rely heavily on the efforts of their entire workforce, meaning that it is their responsibility to put measures in place to help maintain the wellbeing of their staff.

Before putting anything in place, it is important that business owners acknowledge responsibility for the wellbeing of their mobile and remote employees and ensure it matches that of office-based workers. For example, the obligation to make sure that staff take regular breaks is one widely recognised in the physical workplace, but those working outside this setting are often left to manage the dynamics of their day independently.

This provision can be neglected if there are no clear boundaries in place to trigger much-needed downtime. This is particularly applicable where travel between locations has caused tiredness and fatigue.

Using electronic devices or systems to record the number of breaks a remote employee takes over the course of the day is one solution. However, it might be easier and more cost-effective to simply restrict the access of individuals working remotely to the work server at key times during the day, to enforce downtime.

This is just one aspect of a whole host of measures employers should be taking to ensure out-of-office staff continue to feel motivated. The core focus should be on inclusion to tackle the isolation that can come with lone working.

Making workers feel like they are part of a cohesive team therefore makes a major difference to their happiness and productivity levels. Achieving this comes down to making certain that all employees are involved in team meetings through the use  of video conferencing and that their achievements are publicly acknowledged within the company.

They may not be physically present, but their efforts are just as valid, so properly acknowledging this can make a big difference. Even where last minute ad hoc meetings are arranged, where possible it is important to include remote workers to guard against them feeling left behind and motivation levels dropping off as a result.

Many see a clear-cut difference between mobile/remote and office-based working, but this doesn’t always have to be the case. It is worthwhile providing employees with a “halfway house” or touchdown office space where they can occasionally work within branded surroundings that reinforce a cohesive, team-oriented business focus.

Working with others

As well as providing familiarity, it helps to have an occasional setting where staff can work in the presence of others to offset a sense of isolation. Where privacy is an issue – for example, if a touchdown space is shared by other firms – ensuring that privacy screens and secure networks are in place will help allay any concerns.

A flexible and fluid approach to the wellbeing of mobile and remote workers can create massive potential for the future of the business, because the freedom this allows can drive higher levels of efficiency, innovation and job satisfaction.

However, addressing the risks that lie within this drive is equally important to having such a policy in the first place. Stress, anxiety and isolation can take their toll on staff working remotely and a failure to address this will result in lower productivity, as well as retention levels.

Reference

Bloom N, Liang J, Roberts J Ying ZJ (2015) “Does working from home work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 2015 pp.165-218.

About Nigel Crunden

Nigel Crunden is a business specialist at office supply firm Office Depot.
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