How to Support Mental Wellness in Distributed Teams

 

A constant state of availability online, coupled with an unstructured and isolated working environment, can be tough for the mental health of remote workers.

Not learning how to effectively separate work from life, along with an “always online” culture, can make it significantly hard to disconnect for distributed teams. Stress-induced syndromes and burnout can be the result of the remote worker’s lifestyle if not detected and addressed on time.

Tracking Mental Health and Being Proactive

Keeping your mental health on check can be difficult. But you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Luckily, several successful companies have been built remotely and have developed the frameworks and playbooks to help their employees cope with some of the challenges experienced as a distributed team.

GitLab, for example, published a great list of symptoms to be on the lookout for to recognize mental health struggles that is worth checking out:

  1. You’re constantly tired
  2. You no longer enjoy things
  3. Your job performance suffers
  4. Your physical health suffers (headaches, irregular breathing patterns, etc.)
  5. Your relationships are strained
  6. You feel socially zapped
  7. You disable video for team calls to prevent others from seeing your pain
  8. You are perpetually concerned with whether you are doing enough
  9. You worry that your contributions are too few or too insignificant
  10. You feel unable to choose family first

 

It is important to maintain these signs present in the mind of managers and remote workers to recognize them on time and take corrective actions when needed.

To this end, GitLab has also developed a well thought out list of action items to prevent burnout, isolation, and anxiety worth sharing:

  1. Set clear boundaries between work and home (Must have a clearly defined and adequate workspace at home)
  2. Take vacation
  3. Know when to take a break
  4. Switch off when you’re away from work
  5. Don’t suffer in silence
  6. Don’t go straight to work after you wake up — take time to booth your system up
  7. Remove Slack from your smartphone or at the very least, turn off notifications for it
  8. Keep each other accountable. When you notice someone in a different time zone should be asleep, tell them
  9. Use your Slack status to share a message with the team that you are unavailable
  10. Schedule random coffee breaks

 

What experienced remote teams have concluded is that prevention is a team sport. Leadership must work to establish a workplace culture that empowers people and managers to be trained and be proactive to recognize the signs of mental strain in their remote workers.

At the same time, remote team members need to feel comfortable bringing up any issues they are experiencing while still manageable.

Feedback in a non-judgemental environment

In remote companies, leadership must implement processes around internal feedback. These processes should be focused on having managers ask frequent questions that can shed light on whether or not a team member is thriving or struggling, and keeping track of these issues over time, paying attention to any adjustable workplace factor that is impacting the remote worker either positively or negatively.

A great way to keep track of your remote team’s mental health is to schedule 1-on-1 meetings between a manager and a remote worker periodically and over the item lists provided above in a conversational way. By doing this regularly, you can get honest answers to the points above and can track any decline or improvement you might detect and take corrective action if required.

 

Above all, what is vital for everyone to remember on a distributed team is that they must develop a non-judgemental culture. Managers should be responsible for creating a safe atmosphere, where team members can openly discuss issues related to mental health, and work with the team member to a resolution.

Ultimately, creating a healthy remote workplace is essential to business success.