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Asking the right questions to track remote team well being

By Rowena Hennigan

Asking the right questions to track remote team well being Every leader wants to do right by their employees, supporting them through high-intensity periods of work and particularly stressful moments so they don’t get burned out. Building an environment of general team wellbeing, however, starts with taking care of oneself. As a leader, you have to create mental space and have the emotional energy to make sure your whole workforce is supported, and this can be a challenge when you are feeling overly stressed yourself.

How can you take care of yourself so that you have the time and energy to support your team? What steps do you need to take to reduce your stress levels? And what actions can you take to improve your team members’ wellbeing?

Let’s deep dive into how you can proactively support remote teams' mental health.

Understanding the Problem

Burnout is emotional exhaustion. It is typically caused by chronic stress, and most of the time dismissed as a temporary low moment. However, if you leave it unchecked, it can become a systemic issue both at a personal and organizational level.

Half of all employees today struggle to set boundaries when working remotely. While the remote work and digital nomad lifestyle present considerable opportunities for a better life-work balance, many workers are experiencing the opposite. Some people end up working longer hours, struggling with a lack of downtime that is critical to the innovative thinking that propels organizations forward. Furthermore, those who work at home, feel the lack of separation between personal and professional physical space.

As Susan David - founder of the Harvard /McLean Institute of Coaching - puts it in her book “Emotional Agility”, burnout makes you feel “utterly depleted”. Although it may start to manifest in the workplace, it slowly takes ownership of all aspects of your professional and personal life. If, as a leader, you are overworked and burned out, your team will be likely to pick up on your stress. That is why the first step to avoiding burnout in your organization is to know the problem and fight it yourself.

Make your own health a priority and tackle the problem as a group

Before you can help others, you have to take care of yourself, and always remember you are not alone. In fact, even if you haven’t fully reigned in your stress, it can be beneficial to show that you take the issue seriously.

“Leaders in a team must lead by example,” said Adam Long, from Firstbase at a recent webinar event hosted by SafetyWing. So if the leadership of a company doesn't actually live that “wellbeing first” mantra, then that behavior is then replicated across the team.

 As a leader or manager, you can implement self-care routines for the whole team — learning meditation as a group or sharing tips about what practices are working to reduce stress. Basically, you can make it a team goal to keep stress under control, so that wellbeing becomes an integral part of your company’s culture: “research shows that facilitating opportunities for people to connect and to foster friendships within the workplace drastically reduces stress and burnout. It is empowering to be one of those people working on how to facilitate a culture where employees can build connections and work together on their wellbeing” said Colby Splaine from Deel.

Fostering Well Being is about asking the right questions

Have you ever wondered how workforce wellbeing relates to employee retention?

Employee turnover is costly for any company. According to Kati Reaugh from Jeeves, “you can actually calculate the cost of turnover, and rehiring takes about four months, on average to replace an employee that left”. If your organization is not proactively addressing burnout and wellbeing systematically, it will have a much harder time retaining employees: many will put in sick days and even when they are working, focus and productivity levels will be below optimal.

Although it is not an employer's place to diagnose or treat mental health issues, you can show your commitment to your employees by offering resources without judgment, showing care and compassion, and, of course, doing all you can to create a work environment that helps to reduce the causes, and not only the symptoms of stress and burnout. And since even your most loyal and engaged employees are not immune to burnout, it is critical to regularly check-in with your workforce with engagement and wellbeing surveys, and the secret is asking the right questions.

Kona, a company that developed a Slack plug-in aimed at people analytics, has released a series of tips on how to structure your engagement survey without forgetting to include wellbeing questions.

  1. Be qualitative, start with “how” - a more indirect approach to questioning people about their feelings can help you gather better insights while using yes or no questions eliminates your ability to capture nuances.
  2. Use open-ended questions, but only where it makes sense - with something like “Is there anything you would like to improve within the company?” you gather valuable information. But open-ended questions take time to respond to, so use them wisely.
  3. Avoid mix-ups - questions that tackle two separate problems at the same time are not helpful. As an example, “How satisfied are you with your compensation and working conditions?” blends together two very separate aspects of being an employee - salary and working conditions.
  4. Avoid quantitative questions starting with negative “I” statements - people tend to always present the best of themselves so asking them to give a yes or a no answer to “I feel burned out” is likely to have an unclear outcome. Try instead with “How often do you feel burned out?”

Conclusion

The rising popularity of flexible remote and hybrid workplace models has brought workers quite some benefits: flexibility in their schedules, more autonomy with their own self-directed work, the absence of commute and the possibility to travel the world while working. The positive impact of remote work has been felt by businesses too, with many reporting increased productivity and growth.

However, all that glitters is not gold. Remote work comes with its own set of challenges and the toll it takes on one’s well being and mental health can be significant. Companies and leaders must address the issue systematically, acting at the roots of the problem instead of simply looking at the symptoms.

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