The growing virtual workforce has many human resource departments wondering how this may impact the health and well-being of workers. World at Work’s latest Global Workplace Analytics estimates that 3.7 million employees representing 2.8 percent of the adult workforce works from home at least part time. By the year 2020, half of the U.S. workforce will have a remote-compatible job. Despite the myths about working in pajamas and leading a lifestyle of leisure, many remote employees work longer hours than their brick-and-mortar peers and often neglect their physical well-being in the process.
Struggle to Stay Healthy
There are a number of factors that contribute to the health status of remote workers. Home-based employees do not have the same access to on-site wellness benefits like corporate fitness centers. They also fall into poor health habits, such as sitting at a desk too long instead of getting up to move around to interact with peers—an experience that local employees may take for granted. Lunch breaks are often nothing more than a quick snack at their desk as they try to get work done around other responsibilities like raising children and laundry. Lack of social interaction can lead to stress and even depression in some remote employees.
Another factor to consider is that while remote employees tend to be productive, they also struggle with disconnecting from work when needed. The Remote Collaborative Worker Survey, conducted by ConnectSolutions (now AASKI), found that 77 percent of workers reported greater productivity when they were allowed to work offsite. However, 23 percent of the employees said they were willing to work longer hours from home than they would on-site to get more done. Another study published in U.S. News & World Report, found that those who work remotely log five to seven more work hours weekly than non-telecommuting employees and tend to work even when they are sick or taking vacations.
Foster Good Health in Remote Workers
Fortunately, companies can do a lot to help remote employees lead healthier lifestyles. All employees can be given access to affordable and useful medical, vision and dental benefits. Human resources can encourage employees to participate in their own well-being by scheduling regular physicals, eye exams and dental care. Management can be reminded of ways to keep remote employees feeling connected to their peers using collaborative technology and virtual communication solutions.
Corporate wellness benefits can be offered through a network of fitness centers, such as local YMCAs or private health clubs. Employee assistance programs can be there for employees experiencing work-life stress. Healthy eating habits can be encouraged by giving employees corporate discounts for restaurants and grocery chains that offer more organic choices.
Productivity and work hours must be carefully monitored to ensure remote workers don’t overdo it. So too, benefit administrators can review biometric data for employees to identify those who are struggling with smoking, alcoholism, obesity or other chronic health conditions.
Education and Incentives
When management and human resource teams come together to support better health for all employees, one of the first steps they can take is to create a company-wide educational platform for communicating wellness topics. Often this can be integrated with a benefits website, where employees can obtain health and dental insurance information 24/7.
Employee self-managed wellness tools are also a great way to get remote workers interested in bettering their health and lifestyles. These tools enable employees to track their health stats to reach important health goals over time. A reward system provided by employers can be a good incentive to participate.
Regular and timely wellness information can be sent out monthly to employees using email and postcards. Include information about the unique benefits the company offers, and reminders about regular physical and dental care. This helps keep virtual workers connected to a strong and supportive corporate culture of wellness.