What do remote teams need for their psychological well-being?

Based on the results of our study of over 7600 teleworkers, this guide will show why it's important to address the needs of your remote or hybrid team in terms of psychological well-being, the benefits of addressing it properly, and some possible solutions you can implement in your company.

Companies are increasingly aware of the importance of attending to the psychological well-being of their work teams. And in the wake of the pandemic effects, they now recognize even more the challenge of caring for well-being in the workplace since they now have 100% remote or hybrid teams.
Having information about the teams’ psychological well-being needs is key to building and maintaining optimal levels of well-being at work, which then results in healthy, motivated and highly efficient and productive teams.

Why pay attention to the mental and emotional well-being of your employees?

One of the premises that has driven Human Resources departments’ work and that project leaders, managers and CEOs take into account when managing the processes of their respective fields of expertise and action, is the recognition that people are the fundamental pillar that drives our organizations.
The Covid-19 pandemic was a milestone that led us to take interest in the mental and emotional care of our teams. We have also sought a more holistic and integrative understanding of what affects the mental health of our employees, in which two essential aspects emerge:

  • Relationships and processes specific to the work environment.
  • Other significant relationships and contexts in people's lives.

All this can influence the employee's relationship with their work and have a direct or indirect impact on the very dynamics of companies and business productivity.
The hopeful side of these challenges is that not only is it possible to address the mental and emotional discomfort of our teams, but companies that do so actually improve their performance.

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) states that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion annually in lost productivity.
  • According to Oxford University's Saïd Business School, productivity increases by 13% in happy workers.
  • The WHO states that for every $1 invested in employee mental health, there is a $4 return in improved health and productivity. 
What you should know about your team's psychological wellbeing

Our experience working with companies in the field of mental and emotional well-being helped us identify the following points:

  • Companies often invest heavily in pre-made training and wellness programs. At the end of these, both managers and employees are left with the feeling that the impact of such actions has been low.
  • There are no one-size-fits-all solutions. The particularities of each work environment, cultural contexts and the life trajectory of the employees themselves, shape the framework of the needs to be addressed in this field.
  • Problems in the field of mental and emotional well-being tend to hide or mimic in work environments. This occurs because there is usually a high level of social desirability that favors employees to assume an attitude of "keeping up their best behavior" and keeping up appearances.
  • Lack of motivation, irritability, poor performance, lack of concentration and other seemingly superficial indicators may only be the tip of the iceberg. In other words, these emotions are only the visible face of deeper problems at the individual level, but also of the relationships between members of the team.

Therefore, undertaking the task of identifying the needs of our employees in terms of mental and emotional well-being is an indispensable step to achieve the following:

  1. Implementing the most coherent and relevant solutions to address the problems of our work teams.
  2. Manage the type of changes that can lead us to recover and improve the desired productivity levels.
Mental and emotional wellbeing needs of remote teams ¹

In May 2021, we conducted a survey to identify some mental and emotional well-being needs of CEOs, Managers and Employees of companies working either remotely or combined.
One of the first aspects that caught our attention was the level of coordination between the perceptions of CEOs and HR Directors with the responses of employees. The latter coincide in pointing out the same dimensions as problematic, although they vary relatively in the frequency with which they point them out.
We will see below the results and reflections that emerged from the analysis of the evaluated axes:

Emotional Management

CEOs and HR Directors are more likely to recognize that they have manifested the emotions shown in Figure 1. Except for sadness, all of these emotions are above 20% frequency, with hopelessness, anxiety, isolation and irritability standing out with levels close to or above 30%.

¹ The survey was filled out by a total of 7681 participants during the 10 days it was available online. For the sample of our analysis, 200 responses were taken from CEOs and Management and 600 from employees, making a total of 800 responses.

Mental and emotional well-being needs

Graph 1: Mental and emotional well-being needs - Emotion management
Source: Own elaboration.

For their part, employees highlight stress and anxiety as the most prevalent emotions in the last year, with the rest of emotions being below 20% in terms of frequency, although isolation and irritability reach significant levels.
We believe that the way we manage our emotions has important effects on our daily activities and relationships. We also believe that what affects us in one context can have repercussions in other aspects of our lives.
No emotion is, in itself, positive or negative, but culturally we have learned to ignore or fight or exploit unpleasant emotions, lacking the resources to help us manage them.
For these reasons, recognizing the prevalence of these emotions in our work teams should be a warning about the quality of their mental and emotional well-being. This was the only part of the survey where there was no significant percentage of people who didn’t identify with any of the emotions evaluated.
To be specific, the combination of stress, anxiety and irritability is a set of symptoms present in the Burnout syndrome. This condition is becoming one of the most significant characteristics of the impact generated by the pandemic on the world economy, especially among CEOs and managers, who are almost forced to overperform in order to move their companies forward.

Productivity and performance

What we saw in the previous axis regarding Burnout seems to correlate with the above 20% affirmative answer that many CEOs and Executives give to the question about the "being burned out", present in the productivity and performance axis.

Productivity and performance

Graph 2: Mental and emotional well-being needs - Productivity and performance.
Source: Own elaboration.

On this same axis, we find that the disposition/attitude to customer service and work-life balance are also pointed out by CEOs, Managers and Employees as recurring difficulties in the last year. 
Clearly, work-life balance has emerged as one of the "hot" topics within the mental and emotional wellness service offering, particularly work-life balance. There was an urgent need to address the fact that both aspects were taking place within the same physical space of the home in order to ensure responsible parenting, the achievement of work goals and the mental wellbeing of the employee.
In contrast, it is particularly worrying that low performance and demotivation are so prevalent among employees, as these are two aspects that are often closely linked to productivity in companies.
In our experience, we have recognized that these feelings and attitudes tend to linger for a long time, even after a crisis has passed. In this context, we designed Mapping Optimism, a short strategy about working with remote teams that seeks to reactivate optimism, increase motivation and improve performance.  
But it's not all bad news. On the productivity axis, we found that, contrary to what seems to be a trend in terms of process management concerns, combined modalities or shifts alternation do not seem to pose a challenge to mental and emotional well-being.  
On the other hand, the feeling of being always connected, which so many employees expressed at the beginning of the pandemic, seems to be a thing of the past, and the introduction of hybrid or alternating modalities for remote work and the gradual opening up of leisure and entertainment spaces have played a considerable role in reactivating social life.

Interpersonal relations

The dimensions that were best evaluated by the respondents were those corresponding to this axis, where both employees (17%) and CEOs and Managers (18.8%) agree that the problems are found especially in peer relations, with the other dimensions at levels below 1%.
A little tension and healthy competition between peers is not usually a bad thing for companies, but these levels could be indicative of the need to propose actions in this area. On the other hand, it would be worthwhile to take advantage of the good assessment that everyone makes of the relationships between managers, and between managers and their subordinates, as they could be a resource within companies.

Soft skills

Something similar to what happens in the previous axis could be said about soft skills, where leadership, adaptation to change and teamwork stand out as competencies in which there are no perceived problems, and can be interpreted as the strongest organizations’ resources for the respondents.
However, time management is seen as problematic by at least 25% of the organization's stakeholders and, among employees, communication occupies a similar frequency.
We understand soft skills as the ABC of work environments. They constitute those types of competencies which are the pillars in how we approach work tasks and processes. If these skills are deficient, processes that are the most complex and that primarily depend on professional knowledge may also be affected and should therefore be addressed.

soft skills

Graph 3: Mental and emotional well-being needs - soft skills
Source: Own elaboration.

Corporate identity

In this last axis, we find that job uncertainty is one of the dimensions that mostly put at risk this central aspect for companies during the last year. This is not a surprise given the context we’re living in the current situation.
Job stagnation was not a particular concern for respondents in the last year, and we’re almost sure of the possible reason: in the midst of a context of high job uncertainty, job stability tends to matter more than the very possibilities of growth and promotion.
It is clear that the feeling of commitment, belonging, team spirit and even employee productivity decreases in contexts charged with this type of uncertainty, which is not a very good combination in terms of corporate identity.

Corporate Identity

Graph 4: Mental and emotional well-being needs - Corporate identity.
Source: Own elaboration.

What can I do to take care of my team's psychological well-being?
  • According to the therapist Gianfranco Cecchin, recognizing the part of responsibility that each one of us has to take if we want to change is a first step. In this sense, companies should take care of the mental and emotional well-being of the teleworker as part of their responsibility and commitment to their teams.
  • Take an interest in the mood of your employees, especially in 1-on-1 conversations and, above all... try to keep it casual, yet serious. The idea is to convey security and confidence, in an environment free of retaliation. 
  • Take these conversations as an opportunity to ask about the solutions tried by your team members. Also, it doesn't hurt if you exchange comments and experiences, your own or others', that may be useful in addressing the situation. 
  • Encourage group meeting spaces, both to work as a team and to have a relaxed moment of exchange. Teleworkers often miss the healing power of informal contact with their co-workers.
  • These kinds of daily actions can give you clues about the need for more global actions. It may be necessary to seek professional support to intervene on the mental and emotional well-being of your team.
  • It is essential that companies undertake rigorous exercises frequently to assess the needs associated with the psychological well-being of their teams.
  • Intervention alternatives should make sense to team members. Try to involve them in decisions about what to do, how and when to do it, who will participate, and other things that can be agreed upon.  
  • Keep in mind that the commitment of team members to their own mental and emotional well-being increases when they see the importance of working on this aspect and how meaningful it is. You can try using short messages, a couple of times a month, to raise awareness on the subject.
  • Rigorous, efficient and comprehensive processes, such as the ones we carry out at MVT with In the Mirror, contemplate the recognition of needs, the commitment and empowerment of the team,as well as the joint design of solutions and their implementation. 
  • Do not underestimate the importance of problems in other contexts or vital spheres in the teleworker’s life and the impact these can have on the processes of the company. In that sense, targeting both individual and group solutions may be the best course of action.  
  • We recommend looking at this set of guidelines or tips as a daily, constant process, rather than punctual. The idea is being able to feel that there’s always a follow-up, since people's psychological well-being changes a lot. 

To us, it is clear that there are many paths to explore together and that the use of creativity in how to take care of the psychological well-being of our teams is an inexhaustible resource. 

From Managing Virtual Teams, we will continue to generate knowledge and proposals that add value to your company's processes. Our network of expert psychologists remains committed to the mental and emotional well-being of your team.