Distributed companies are often small and even one person being out for a sick day can have an impact. Keep your employees healthy with a wellness program - even though you can’t be together in person, you can motivate and empower each other virtually, and it will have a real impact on their productivity, health, and state of mind.
Remote employees also suffer from some unique effects that don't affect in-office workers quite as much. It can be isolating for people who are natural introverts and may not leave the house on their own, and they might not notice the negative effects on their mental health (hi, that's me!) I would also argue that remote workers are more likely to suffer from burnout, as your work is always right there in your house.
Shockingly, there are not a lot of companies dedicated to creating a wellness program for a fully distributed company - and by "not a lot," I mean in weeks of researching, I've found zero that specialize in it.
That means it comes down to the companies to set up wellness programs on their own - which can be a positive, as it allows each company to tailor their policies and programs to their own organization and employees.
Since distributed companies can have different structures and support than "traditional" businesses, I've included ideas for both CEOs, HR managers, and even employees to implement. Wellness programs can be built on large, small or non-existent budgets - you just need the initiative to get started!
Keeping your employees healthy is the best way to ensure their best work. By providing a proactive wellness program, you're helping to not only empower them to feel good, do good work, prevent burnout, and feel good - but also to show up and benefit the company as well.
Every day for the last two years, I've shared three good things with a co-worker every day. The co-workers I've done this exercise with have changed over time, but it's a really great way to put your mind in a positive space for the day. Sometimes it can be hard to think of any specifics, but that's the point - when you're having a particularly low day and the only things you can think of are coffee, dogs, and taking a nap, thinking about a few happy things can help to recenter your mindset.
You could encourage this company-wide by setting up a Slack channel or message board in your project management software for anyone to share, or even just create a reminder bot for people to take a moment to think about it.
Being fully distributed means saving on traditional company expenses, even on such basic things like office space. Give some of that back by offering a home office stipend - desks, office chairs, and gear like keyboards or microphones are great perks for your employees. For an extra boost of wellness, encourage ergonomically-friendly buys: standing desks, wobble stools, treadmill desks, or vertical mouses (mice?) are awesome.
Some employees thrive in a more social space, so consider offering a co-working office or coffee shop budget as well.
Fully remote and distributed companies are surely familiar with utilizing online resources like Slack or Google Drive, so it should be second nature to incorporate remote services into a wellness plan too.
Maven Clinic is an online healthcare provider for women and families - they offer appointments with nurse practitioners, OB-GYNs, therapists and psychiatrists, and even therapists to make getting health care easy and convenient for women. Insurance companies are starting to offer "video visits" as well - partnering with one of these medical providers can go a long way in keeping your employees healthy and intervening before getting too sick.
Another way to offer health services to employees is with an online therapy provider like Betterhelp, Joyable or Talkspace. Offering mental health services and therapy shows that you really care and are invested in your worker's wellness and happiness, which can go miles toward productivity.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are also a way to offer support to your employees. An EAP was the reason I was first able to go to therapy a few years ago and I will never stop espousing their usefulness and benefits. Uprise is an EAP built specifically for remote companies, so they know exactly what to offer your company and your employees.
... and while we're on the subject, make mental wellness a priority for your team.
Paid sick days should be a non-negotiable in any organization for any full-time staffer, but that's a bit of a different conversation.
Preventing burnout should be one of the flagship principles behind your wellness program, and a no-questions-asked sick day policy figures heavily into that. If an employee feels that they need a day off for anxiety, depression, or other similar symptoms, trust that your hires won't take advantage of that, and offer them space to take the time they need to be happy, high-functioning employees.
There are plenty of studies that show physical activity has many benefits, including positive effects on immunity and health. Offering to subsidize ways for your employees to put focus on their physical health contributes to not only their personal wellness, but can also reduce number of sick days taken at an organization.
Providing a reimbursement, in full or in part, for employees fitness activities of choice can help them feel motivated and supported in their endeavors. Whether it's dance classes, gym memberships, races, Classpass memberships, intramural leagues, or any of the hundreds of other ways to get fit, subsidizing these costs for your employees can go a long way. Not only does the physical aspect bring many benefits, but it also demonstrates that you as a company care about their passions and successes.
If it's not possible to offer a monetary kickback, even allowing for longer lunch breaks is a way to show you prioritize the interests of employees. Most fitness classes are nearly 60 minutes, and if you have a strict one-hour lunch policy, that cuts out the ability to take a brain break and sweat it out during the day. Offering a flexible lunch break even once a week could be a nice benefit.
Covering the cost of an ergonomics consultation for their home office setup, or monthly massage therapy or chiropractic visits can help in this area as well.
Some employees might even choose to combine their workspace allowance with a fitness budget - a former co-worker of mine would often work from his local climbing gym, since they had a great co-working space in addition to their bouldering courses.
On my team, we are super lucky to have someone who is very active and knowledgeable on meditation. For the last six months or so, he's led a weekly meditation session, and anyone in the company is welcome and encouraged to join in. I look forward to it weekly and can feel a marked difference in my emotions and focus on the weeks I'm not able to attend.
If you don't have anyone who feels comfortable leading it, set aside a 20 minute break every week and use an app like StopBreatheThink (which has a free Slack app), Headspace or Calm to guide your team through some exercises.
One of the "work from home" stereotypes I think every remote employee combats at some point is that we're just lazily hanging out all day with all the free time in the world to do things like laundry or house cleaning. That's never been the case for me - I've always had to intentionally set aside time to keep things clean and tidy, often picking up "the second shift" work.
Offering a stipend or reimbursement for things like a house cleaning service or laundry pickup and delivery shows that you recognize the hard work they're putting in, and that they shouldn't have to take on the second shift work of cleaning up on top of a day of giving you their best. (And it's really hard not to feel the work-from-home guilt of taking care of those second shift chores.)
If keeping your people healthy is important, consider a food delivery option. Supplement something like an Instacart membership or a meal box subscription can take away an annoying after-work task like grocery shopping. For a more fun, hands-on activity, see if there are cooking classes near their home.
Some more remote employees might not have those kinds of options, so send special food deliveries occasionally (like pizza!) might be up their alley.
Or offer a monthly lunch out budget - reimburse a lunch or two each month to encourage employees to fully disconnect and get out of their house even for an hour. This incentive to take a mid-day work break can do a lot to combat burnout. Receipts must be time stamped during the time they took their lunch break!
Finally, one of the best ways to both show interest in your employees lives and promote wellness is by offering a stipend to fund a personal project of their own. It's separate from any other reimbursement for things like education or tools - think of it as a "happiness budget." Some companies might choose to fund an employee's own dream vacation, pay for their membership at a neighborhood photography darkroom, or cover the expenses for their knitting hobby. Not only can these things help create a network outside of their office (read: human interaction!) but it also demonstrates that you want them to be whole, happy people, not just hyper-productive employees.
Even small stipends can really show that you're invested in their happiness.
(Except don't cover their knitting hobby. Knitting is expensive. Choose something cheap, like drone flying.)
Showing your employees that you care about their mental and physical wellness will go a long way toward both empowering them and also keeping them healthy. As much as sick days cost employers, that cost is nothing to what burnout could cost both of you.