A Gallup report found that 43 percent of United States employees spent some time working from home in 2016, a four percent jump from 2012. The growing trend reflects a way for companies to attract and retain talent without being limited by geography.
But one result of working from home is it creates a diffused work population, and that can run up against another company perk, the employee wellness program. Wellness programs also attract and retain talent, but they work best when people are in one place. It’s not just about being able to use the fitness center or cafeteria, but success hinges on the camaraderie, support, and accountability that’s built from proximity.
“We try to create high-touch experiences. Remote workers don’t fully benefit from the group feeling. It can be done, but it’s a challenge,” says Kristine Holbrook, senior vice president of account management at EXOS.
It’s easy to not pay full attention to remote workers, but they are employees, and, “each individual has an impact on the performance of the organization,” Holbrook says. Successful companies know that keeping people healthy not only makes them more productive but also is financially prudent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2016 that absenteeism cost companies, depending on size, between $16 and $286 per employee annually.
The ongoing challenge is how to engage off-site workers. Technology is an easy answer, and it’s useful for communicating and delivering content, but it’s not all-purpose. “If the communication becomes too much, it just becomes another email to ignore,” says Colin Young, director of field operations at EXOS.
Holbrook and Young have ideas on how to export the employee wellness environment.
1. Start with a question.
If you want to find out what remote employees want, the most direct approach is to ask. This is one instance where technology is beneficial. Successful companies send out wellness surveys and assessments and follow up with a smaller group of representative employees. The process lets managers know two things: the relevant issues and the most effective ways to communicate, both of which are necessary since no company has an unlimited budget. “The data will help prioritize where you spend,” Holbrook says.
2. Allow them to move.
Many employees have a hard time getting up from their desks during the day and leaving work behind at the end of it. For people working from home, it can be compounded. They don’t want to look like they’re abusing the freedom, and, with no door to walk out of, it can be a struggle to fully shut off. Successful managers explicitly tell remote employees, starting with the onboarding process, that it’s all right to not always be at their workspaces. “It’s a powerful message,” Young says. “They’ll take care of themselves.” It means that they’ll go the gym, get sleep, and better handle stress.
3. Pay for their gym memberships.
Or at least provide a discount. It’s not the most innovative perk, but it’s effective and it reduces a low-hanging barrier of cost. And while in-office workers can use an on-site fitness facility, this is a way to support remote employees. Along with memberships, successful companies can also provide specific items like yoga mats and foam rollers, access to an online tool like EXOS Journey, and professional help such as access to wellness and nutrition coaches.
4. Get them in different positions.
Employees can become static anywhere, but, “it’s easier to be sedentary at home,” Young says. And without new stimuli, the body can have a hard time handling unexpected movements, even something as small as taking groceries out of a car. Company wellness professionals can encourage remote workers to do two different things during the day: reach up and touch the ceiling and sit on the floor for a minute with their legs straight out front. They’re both real-world positions. The former pushes the end range of motion; the latter is the same as being bent over at the waist but with lower risk. The benefit is that they don’t require much time, and they aren’t dependent on how or where a person’s workspace is located.
5. Give them a water bottle.
Swag is pretty universally loved. T-shirts and hats are good. A gym bag might have use, but a quality water bottle is multipurpose. Staying hydrated helps productivity, and the water bottle represents the intention of successful wellness programs. “Behavior change is hard,” Young says. “If you pitch too much, it can be overwhelming.” For some, walking into a gym is a big move, and once they’re comfortable, new habits can form. It’s the same principle with the bottle. For some employees, it’s just about having it on their desks. “Eventually, they’ll fill it up,” he says.
6. Look for in-person moments.
It doesn’t work for every remote employee but some might come in for annual or team meetings. Successful programs have open communication between departments. When the visits happen, wellness professionals can talk with managers and schedule time with select employees. Along with offering specific guidance, it gives the opportunity for companies to gauge how well the outreach has been working and what needs refinement. “You can better understand face-to-face,” Holbrook says.
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