Healthcare & Safety

Four Proven Tactics for Managing Wellness in a Remote and Mobile Workforce

With more workers than ever telecommuting, working on the go, or shifting hours, Canada’s employers need to use these best practices to support the well-being of the new modern, mobile workforce.
— By Malibu Kothari

Increasingly, Canada’s workers are “out of office” as a regular work practice. According to Human Resource Director, half of Canadian employees now spend at least 2.5 days out of the office each week. The gains in productivity, engagement and profitability for the business mean the trend is likely to continue, but a permanently distributed workforce makes it a challenge for wellness coordinators to effectively support their populations using traditional face-to-face health programming.

One solution to the challenge is to lean on the same technological innovations that are allowing workers so much geographical freedom. Here, the best practices for wellness for remote and mobile teams will be examined, with an emphasis on four top strategies and the successes they can bring.

Tactic #1: Find the Communication Channel That Works
Keeping workers feeling connected to their teams is a huge challenge with a remote and mobile workforce. Beyond the logistical hurdles disconnection can bring to performance, wellness factors like isolation, loneliness, and increased anxiety are issues. To combat this, wellness coordinators need to make finding the communication channel that suits the team and organization a top priority.

In some organizations, this may be a video conferencing system like Zoom or WebEx. In others, chat apps supplemented with phone calls may be the most effective. There’s no right or wrong channel, and the bright shiny system that works in one industry may not fit well with another. However, after a period of experimentation, firms should pick one or two main channels and hold fast to them to avoid unnecessary confusion and dilution of resources.

When everyone knows where key company messaging is happening, it decreases remote workers’ anxiety and fear of missing out. Wellness coordinators can also design their messaging for the medium, building appropriate video, text messages, or infographics to explain available programs, track employee participation/acknowledgement of wellness initiatives, and check in on targeted populations.

Tactic #2: Give Employees Flexible Options
With workers able to customize their schedules and preferred work sites, it makes little sense to restrict their wellness program options. According to Canadian benefits firm Honeybee, one of the features that separates top employers from other firms is flexibility on their wellness program options.

For example, Pace Technical Services offers employees a flexible spending account with funds to use for approved wellness programming. Employees can choose whether they would like a gym membership, nutritional counseling, smoking cessation classes, or other personal health training.

With tech tools allowing simplified administration of such programs and employees feeling empowered by their ability to choose what they want most, this kind of innovative approach to wellness program delivery is becoming a retention tool for many Canadian firms. It is particularly popular with coastal firms and in the start–up space.

Tactic #3: Make the Most of Wearable Fitness Trackers
When employees are remote or mobile, it can be difficult to visually verify participation in company-wide fitness initiatives. Rewards programs based on biking to work, going to the gym, or doing daily walks would have been impossible for distributed teams to do fully in the past. Now, however, firms have the option of using wearable fitness trackers to level the playing field and boost participation levels in corporate wellness programs for telecommuting and remote teams.

The results quickly show in the bottom line. Sprout, which developed a platform to allow Canadian employers to link fitness tracker data to their corporate wellness systems, noted that some firms have saved as much as $2.5 million in health premiums over the last five years. By encouraging employees to be a little more active – wherever they were located – firms created these savings and helped decrease injury levels, too.

Even in “work hard, play hard” start-up environments, companies that mandate “downtime” hours see higher retention rates and better productivity from their employees.
It is not simply about walking trackers, either. Sprout noted that sleep trackers are another area of great potential. Firms that encourage workers to get sufficient sleep can reap huge productivity and injury avoidance savings, as under-rested workers are 3.3 times more costly to firms than well-rested employees.

However, firms that do more advanced health tracker programs should take care to study Canada’s data privacy laws and data management systems, to ensure compliance requirements are met even as the company benefits from cost savings.

Tactic #4: Encourage and Enforce 'Unplugged' Time
A final tactic to consider offers huge wellness benefits, but it can be challenging to implement in the face of all the technological tools for wellness tracking and remote connection. That tactic? True “unplugged” and disconnected times for employees, both in-house and telecommuting.

Researchers from Northeastern University have found that the “always on” culture of the modern workplace is diminishing downtime. This can contribute to burnout, overtired workers and overstressed workers. These workers, in turn, may be practicing “presenteeism;” fall into poor health; suffer mental health stresses; and even experience higher rates of back pain, carpel tunnel syndrome, and other injuries caused by overwork.

The cure for all of this is a break – one of the hardest things, it seems, for modern workers to do, especially if those workers are remote. When the lines between work hours and off hours are fuzzy, and when messaging apps and emails can ping for attention at all hours, employees eager to show they are productive working remotely may never tear themselves away from their work.

It is up to company wellness leaders to define and enforce appropriate times for downtime and unplugged time. Even in “work hard, play hard” start-up environments, companies that mandate “downtime” hours see higher retention rates and better productivity from their employees. Plus, by reminding workers to pull back and enjoy their lives outside of the office, everyone gets more of the benefits of today’s modern and mobile work-life balance systems.