A few years ago I worked for a company that took the health and well-being of its employees very seriously.
They provided a company cafeteria that cooked fresh food. In the mid-afternoon there would be lines of people holding apples and bananas, many of them coming from the company gym or miles of bike trails surrounding the main building. The health insurance offered a number of direct discounts to encourage healthy habits. Because this was such an ingrained part of the culture, it felt odd not to exercise or eat healthily.
But I couldn’t enjoy any of those perks because I worked from home. My daily situation was different—my pantry was stocked with pop tarts, Oreos, and Cheetos and my onsite gym consisted of stairs that I used to walk downstairs to my office.
Healthy employees are good for companies and workers
It’s in companies’ best interests to have healthy workers that are full of energy. The standard formula for employers is to provide incentives and in-person options to encourage proper nutrition and physical activity.
But the massive growth of remote work is disrupting this dynamic. It doesn’t help that the remote worker is usually painted as unhealthy, lazy, and unhygienic. Working from home can make it tempting to wake up late, forget to shower, and not leave the house for several days.
Companies and remote workers can still prioritize physical and mental health away from the office, but it will require a rethink of the typical incentive structure.
How to stay physically healthy when you work remote
Remote work gives employees new opportunities for physical activity because they have fewer restrictions in terms of physical presence or appearance.
To stay active, remote workers could consider going for a walk or run at lunchtime or pacing around the house while on the phone. Not only does this get the blood flowing, but it gives your brain a good break from thinking about work and lets you come back with more focus.
On the nutritional side, remote workers can leverage the fact that they have a kitchen throughout the day. Throw lunch or dinner in the crockpot or start a marinade in the morning for dinner, and make sure you have healthy, quick lunch options in your fridge. Because you aren’t limited to food that needs to be transportable, you can more easily plan what you eat and add more variety.
It’s more difficult for companies to incentivize healthy eating and activity, but remote teams can push for creative perks like Basecamp’s fitness and community supported agriculture allowances. Providing a Results Only Work Environment (R.O.W.E) can also add the needed flexibility for workers to take a two-hour lunch to cook, exercise, or meditate before returning from work.
Also, as discussed in Solving Communication Problems on Your Remote Team, opting for written communication can help your remote team stay productive while also allowing your employees the freedom they need to stay healthy.
Simply put, employees are more in control of physical health when they work from home. But this freedom comes with the responsibility of planning and willpower. No one but you knows if you’re exercising and eating salad or playing video games and eating cookies.
Don’t forget about mental health
A lot of fun has been poked at how unhinged an at-home worker can get after staying inside for too long. It’s true that remote workers have to work towards social interactions that come naturally to someone in an office environment. Coworker relationships, serendipitous relationships, and new friendships require maintenance that isn’t automatic when you eat lunch or work in the same space as others.
Isolation is a problem for remote workers, and it’s a frequent reason why people quit working from home. Employers might not be able to detect social isolation or mild depression, but they can encourage their employees to build rapport with their team members by using video chat tools for a closer connection. Simple techniques like the Question of the Day (QOTD) can also help build the sort of connections that naturally happen in an office.
The other side of mental health for remote workers is that they have the chance for much greater freedom and autonomy in their daily work lives. They don’t have to wear certain clothes, get to work at an exact time in an exact location, or be stuck at a desk away from sunlight.
These might seem like small things, but they can lead to powerful changes in the mentality of those who enjoy these benefits. Working in a cubicle with bad lighting an hour from your home can make you feel helpless, but getting to dance to music at your standing desk, wearing your favorite shorts during meetings, and getting outside for a walk offers the ultimate version of health: being in charge of your life.
Staying Healthy Long Term
Companies want their workers to be healthy, and workers want to be healthy. Remote work offers flexibility for this to happen as long as employees take responsibility for their personal time and prioritize healthy habits. Employers can help out by offering location and schedule flexibility to distributed team members.
Remote work lets people design their lives around priorities, and physical and mental health should always be at the top of the list.
If you’re looking for remote opportunities, look no further than Authentic Jobs.