How to engage remote employees with an organisation’s health and wellbeing strategy

Remote health

Need to know:

  • An employee-led health and wellbeing committee can help feed back the wants and needs of remote workers to senior leaders, as well as offer ideas on how their wellbeing requirements can be supported.
  • Digital products and programmes, such as activity trackers, can be utilised to ensure remote employees have access to corporate health and wellbeing initiatives regardless of their location.
  • Social media-style communication methods that mimic an informal team environment can help to connect remote employees with colleagues.

As well as being a necessity for many job functions, some employees see a benefit to working away from the traditional office-based environment. Indeed, 43% of employees intend to work remotely over the coming year to improve their morale, according to a Regus survey published in May 2017.

Remote employees, including home workers or those who are based on the road, can make up a substantial proportion of an employer’s workforce. Analysis by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), published in May 2016, found that 241,000 more people worked from home in 2015 compared to 2005.

These employees may be unable to regularly take advantage of certain wellbeing benefits, such as on-site fitness classes, talks from health experts or the provision of healthy breakfasts. So how can organisations ensure remote workers are just as engaged with a corporate health and wellbeing strategy as staff who are based at a central location?

Providing access for all
Initiatives that are introduced as part of a health and wellbeing strategy should focus on generic activity, nutrition, or wellbeing to make them as inclusive as possible, says Chris Bailey, partner at Mercer. “Good programmes tend not to be too linear or too specifically focused,” he adds.

This inclusivity could allow employees who take part in activity-based hobbies in their spare time to have this measured and taken into account as part of a workplace health and wellbeing programme. “No matter how people are participating, they’d still be recognised in the workplace for that,” says Bailey. “If [the organisation has] a monthly activity challenge, the fact that [an employee chooses] to cycle 50km a day on both days of the weekend, [then] that’s brought into the work environment and celebrated even though it’s something someone did in their own time.”

This could encourage more employees, who may have a range of physical backgrounds and abilities, to take part in health and wellbeing initiatives.

A competitive element can also encourage participation; an employer can introduce leader boards in health and wellbeing challenges to enable remote employees and their office-based colleagues to measure and track their progress against each other. Team challenges can also strengthen team building and boost team morale, says Andy Magill, corporate wellness coach at Vitality.

An organisation’s culture can play a pivotal role in engaging remote staff with corporate health and wellbeing. For example, if an organisation has a wellbeing-centric culture, employees are more likely to have the freedom and tools available to proactively improve and maintain their health. Zoe Tansey, managing partner at wellbeing programmes provider, Well Aware, says: “It really comes down to how well [an organisation] creates its culture and its values, and how well [it] uses internal communications to let employees know and feel a part of these values.”

Employers should consult employees when considering health and wellbeing initiatives; remote staff will know best what is feasible for their working situation, says Tansey. This could be achieved through staff surveys or via a values or health and wellbeing committee that has remote workers on the panel.

Technology as an enabler
Technology enables employers to reach out to their remote workers and facilitate access to health and wellbeing initiatives, whether that be via websites, apps or wearable technology such as activity trackers. For example, workout apps can be specifically designed to tailor to staff who travel, providing short workouts that can be completed in hotel rooms or car parks, says Mercer’s Bailey.

Michelle Rae, head of product and insight at Cigna, adds: “If [an employer delivers] a fitness challenge digitally, whether it’s through a mobile or through a website, then [the employer] can make [the employee] feel part of the [organisation]. They can link up and be part of a team even though they’re not geographically beside those people.”

A digital communications focus
Particular attention should be paid to communicating health and wellbeing initiatives to remote employees. Social media-type communications, for example Slack or Yammer, mimic team-based environments and can help combat the isolation remote staff may feel. Stuart Haydock, organisational psychologist at Bupa, says: “Not only do [employees] get the more informal communication, which is often a better way to get the message through, but [they’ve] got a certain amount of that team environment being mimicked, so [they’ve] got that social engagement factor covered as well.”

Online resources, such as podcasts, webinars, blog posts, videos and Skype video conferencing, are also good methods of communicating with remote staff, adds Rebecca Fairbrother, founder of Well Aware.

Assessing specific wellbeing needs
However, remote employees may face different health and wellbeing challenges than staff based on site.

For example, mental ill health, such as workplace stress, can be more difficult to spot; less face-to-face interaction can mean the warning signs of mental ill health are missed. One-to-one meetings via video conferencing and benefits such as an employee assistance programme (EAP) can help to counteract this, however, line manager training in how to manage remote staff is essential.

Anna Gudmundson, chief executive officer at wellbeing provider Kin Wellness, says: “Each [organisation] will have different remote [employees], and they might have completely different functions. It’s very important for the management to know and understand their needs so that’s the responsibility of any manager to know what [the] needs are for the people in their team and to feed that upwards. That should include what are their needs around wellbeing, so it’s not just making sure [remote staff] have what they need to work, but that they have what they need to be well, and to continue to be well.”

For example, road-based employees may find it difficult to eat healthily, especially at motorway service stations, adds Mercer’s Bailey. Employers can support remote staff with this by providing access to healthy food, perhaps through meal planning advice via a programme or app, or home or workplace delivery of fresh pre-portioned food with cooking instructions.

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Ultimately, the cornerstones for engaging remote employees in a health and wellbeing strategy focus around facilitating access and staff communication. As Tansey says: “It’s all well and good an HR department saying it has X, Y and Z in place for health and wellbeing, but if it hasn’t built that sense of community with its remote [employees], then it’s not going to work. It’s about [an organisation] using technology to make sure that all employees, even if they’re dotted across the country, feel as if they are still part of this one organisation.”