remote workers wellness programs

How to Include Remote Workers in Wellness Programs

With the gig economy hot and salaried employees craving more flexibility, much of the workforce is settling into a telecommuting lifestyle. And companies are using this perk to stay competitive when recruiting top talent. As of 2017, according to SHRM, 62 percent of companies allow employees to work remotely at least some of the time, and 23 percent allow it full time. It’s all part of a growing trend to create a more flexible workplace. Also helping the case for more remote jobs opportunities, Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report found no difference in overall employee engagement between those who work full time from home and those who work full time from an office.

That engagement is good news, but remote employees are just as susceptible to health risks like sitting too much. Even if an employee isn’t onsite to take advantage of a corporate fitness center, it’s still important to include them in wellness initiatives. “Whether they’re sitting at an actual office with colleagues surrounding them or they’re an at-home worker, their performance is vital to the organization,” says Kristine Holbrook, who oversees wellness programs for corporate clients at EXOS. So, how can organizations better reach remote employees?

Try Different Communication Methods

Email, Slack, phone calls, video conferencing — these are all great ways to communicate, but don’t assume that what works for some employees works for all of them. “It’s important for wellness committees to use different tools and figure out what works best for remote workers,” says Holbrook.

That could mean trying instant messaging, direct mailers and even calendar reminders. “We have one client who uses screensavers,” adds Casey Blakewood, EXOS’ director of account management. When an employee’s computer times out, there’s a rotation of screensavers that display wellness tips, reminding them to hydrate or providing advice to help reduce back pain.

Offer Remote Coaching

Technology is great, but it’s not a stand-alone solution. “When you add a human touch, wellness programs are always going to be more successful,” says Blakewood. Remote consultations with coaches and dietitians combine the best of both worlds. Coaches can use video conferencing to conduct one-on-one consultations as well as recurring webinars. They can host digital movement sessions, stretch breaks and meditation classes that allow remote employees to participate from home.

“If we connect employees with a coach remotely, someone they can form a relationship with and feel comfortable going back to with additional questions, it gives employees a higher level of support,” says Blakewood.

Use the First Few Minutes of Every Meeting Wisely

While employees might overlook an email with wellness advice or disregard it because they’re too busy, managers have employees’ built-in attention once a meeting or conference call starts. So, instead of getting right to down to business, encourage managers to take the first few minutes to talk about accomplishments outside of work, stress a specific wellness tip or promote a challenge that’s going on.

“The energy that comes from being with others and from having informal conversations doesn’t happen as much when you get on the phone and dive right into business,” explains Holbrook.

One study even found that employees working from home would prefer more quality time with colleagues over hearing words of affirmation. Create those social opportunities in meetings, not only to keep wellness top of mind but also to help remote employees build connections, which plays a part in their general well-being.

Make Employees Feel Comfortable Disconnecting

People often assume that working from home improves work-life balance, but that’s not the full picture. While it does allow for more flexibility to do laundry between meetings or cater to sick kids without eating away at vacation days, researchers at Northeastern University found that the blurred line between home and work can result in more family conflict and intrude on personal time.

To combat this, managers have to be clear about what they expect and what they don’t expect. Blakewood, who is a remote worker herself, says “one of the biggest things is leadership. When I shifted to a remote position, seeing and hearing my manager talk about disconnecting and not having the expectation that I’m going to respond to an email she sends late at night was huge.”

Personalize Programs

Wellness isn’t all exercise and nutrition tips. While there are plenty of employees who may consume that information, you’ll find that mental health support and stress management is just as important. According to the American Institute of Stress, 80 percent of workers feel stress on the job, and half of them feel they need help coping with it.

This is another area where remote coaching can be beneficial. Coaches can get to know employees’ individual struggles and point them to resources that will help them most, whether it’s a stretch routine to reduce neck pain or a breathing technique for stress relief.

When it comes to wellness, individual workers have individual needs, and you’ll see more engagement with your wellness efforts when you consider how employees’ working conditions call for different tips and communication mediums. Just keep asking yourself: How can you help remote employees build their skills so they’re making the best decisions that support their wellness?