Engagement and Culture

How managers can support the wellbeing of their remote and distributed teams

Help teams avoid burnout, stress, and "always on" culture.
October 7, 2022
Oyster Team

At home and at work, people are increasingly having to manage levels of stress that can leave them feeling vulnerable, overwhelmed, and isolated. In one survey, 65% of U.S. workers reported experiencing “difficulties” as a result of workplace stress. 

For remote workers, this can be compounded by feelings of isolation, poor work-life balance, and a lack of support in the workplace. For working parents in a globally distributed team environment, support is especially critical to employee wellbeing. 

But employee wellbeing isn’t just about making sure everyone is in a good mood or happy with their tasks and duties. It’s also about creating an environment where employees can advocate for themselves, manage their workload and hours, ask for help, and build meaningful connections with their managers and colleagues.

Building rapport and connection with a manager is especially important. In our 2022 Employee Expectations report the remote knowledge workers we surveyed ranked “supportive management” as their second highest ideal job factor behind salary and benefits. 

This underscores the need for managers to foster team environments where employees feel safe, supported, and connected. Here are a few tips for how managers can support the wellbeing of their remote and distributed teams.

Democratize team decisions

Avoid making critical decisions that impact your team’s well-being and stability without first checking in. Checking in can look like asking how the team feels about a proposed change, new process, or upcoming policy.

Any decision that elicits negative feedback or a dip in morale can be revisited or at least explained more carefully. The key is to avoid surprising or destabilizing employees.

 “When employees feel as if they have no control, they’re more prone to feelings of helplessness, stress, and anxiety,” says Oyster Senior Manager Enablement Specialist Ayodeji Jeremiah. “So if more employees are involved in key decision-making processes, you may give them a greater sense of control and direction.”

Pay close attention to employees who are frequently burning the midnight oil

Data collected in 2020 found that remote workers had a tendency to work longer hours during the week and even check work on the weekends. This may happen for a number of reasons.

When you’re in the office, your physical location will signal that it’s time to work, time to commute, or time to grab lunch. When working remotely, those visual signals don’t exist in the same way, which is why employees may eat lunch at their desks, answer Slack messages late at night, or type out a quick email on a Sunday morning.

Blurring the boundaries between work time and personal time can impact stress levels and harm employees’ ability to switch off outside of working hours.

Ayodeji believes managers should be proactive in encouraging employees to create healthy work boundaries. An employee working long hours could signal issues managing a high workload or too many meetings in the daytime hindering their ability to complete tasks during regular working hours. 

Approach the conversation gently. “I noticed that you often work quite late and answer Slack messages in the evenings. Are you feeling okay about your workload at the moment and are there any deadlines you want to push back to give yourself some breathing room?”

Remind employees to take their PTO and vacation time

One company experimented with forcing employees to take one week off every seven weeks and found that, after 12 weeks, staff reported creativity levels increased by 33%, happiness rose by 25%, and productivity jumped by 13%.

Even if an employee doesn’t have a planned vacation or event to attend, rest is critical for mood, energy, and overall wellbeing. When employees go long stretches without taking time off, that can negatively impact their engagement, satisfaction, and stress levels.

If you notice that it’s August and your direct report hasn’t taken (or at least planned to take) their annual leave yet, a gentle reminder may encourage them to schedule time off for rest and recovery.

If they express anxiety about taking time off for fear they’ll return to a mountain of work, discuss a handoff process that will allow them to share their duties with other colleagues while they’re away.

Curb the pressure for employees to be “on” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

If your team relies on constant real-time communication, live check-ins, or back-to-back Zoom meetings every day, they may be on their way to an “always on” mentality. Feeling the need to always be “on” or available around the clock can have a negative impact on work-life balance. 

To avoid this, managers can encourage their teams to embrace asynchronous communication and set clear boundaries. To signpost times of availability, encourage teammates to put their working hours in their Slack bio and email signature. 

For managers who work in different time zones from their direct reports, one explicit way to reinforce healthy communication hygiene is by attaching a parting message to emails or Slack messages that are sent outside of the direct reports’ working hours. The message can read something like “this is not an emergency. Please be sure to answer during your normal working hours.”

Embrace social check-ins

Loneliness and isolation are real side effects of remote working. Flexibility and freedom when working from home can be incredible. However, the flip side of that is feeling like your relationships at work are not as strong or as authentic as they would be in an in-person office setting.

That’s why managers should embrace and encourage social chatter during 1:1s and team syncs. Sometimes, that time chatting about weekend plans, the new coffee spot that opened up, or a colleague's new puppy is the only opportunity that an employee will have to share about themselves and build a connection that day. Leave time for light-hearted banter and real relationship building if and when possible. 

Show support during times of disaster or instability 

Showing support during periods of disaster or instability is sadly a necessity that has proven more relevant than ever in recent times. An employee experiencing displacement due to regional instability, natural disasters, or a family emergency will need support from their workplace team and their manager. 

Try not to shy away from checking in or asking how they’re coping. In the case of a disaster, critical event, or evacuation, find out if and how they have been affected and what support you can offer. It may be as simple as granting a time off request, or they may need additional support. 

It can be isolating to experience extreme instability or uncertainty. The knowledge that your workplace and manager have your back can bring a huge amount of relief to someone experiencing ongoing difficulties outside their control. 

Set a good example

Setting a good example is probably the easiest thing a manager can do to support the wellbeing of their team. 

Think about it this way: If your team recognizes that you work late, never take time off, and can be reached at any time, day or night, this is a tacit indicator of what behaviors your company values and rewards.

Whether we realize it or not, where we work, and the people we work with, have a significant impact on our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. 

When we feel stressed or anxious at work, that can spill over into our personal lives and relationships. As a manager, the support, guidance, or advice you offer and embody can have a positive impact on how an employee experiences and interacts with their workplace and colleagues.

Want more manager resources? Visit The Reef, our open-source employee guide to communicating, collaborating, and caring for each other as a distributed team.

About Oyster

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, engage, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. Oyster lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.

Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world—with reliable, compliant payroll, and great local benefits and perks.

About the Author

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, engage, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce.

About the Author

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