Face to face communication, one of the keys to helping reduce stress at work

4th April 2022

April is stress awareness month so this week we thought we’d talk about remote working and mental health and one of the things you can do to help reduce stress when working from home.

Remote working is here to stay. With 91% of employees in the US saying they want to work at least partially from home, no company will be able to attract the best talent if they insist their employees have to come into the office. So, in a world where the employee is king, companies are going to have to adapt. However, whilst we all know the many benefits of working from home many people are not aware of the potential negative effects. And mental health experts are warning that if we don’t take steps now, going fully remote forever could exacerbate one of the worst happiness disasters of the pandemic. So, with many employees now choosing to work from home, let’s look at what can be done to make sure the short term benefits of remote working doesn’t cause long term more serious issues.

I started remote working in 2008, way before it was “normal”. I worked for a year from my home office in Spain working with clients in the UK and a development team in Asia. Most of my communication was via Skype chats. Zoom didn’t even exist and if I was lucky I’d “see” someone for 30 minutes a day. It was great, I had no commute, I worked in shorts, t-shirt and flip flops. I was one of the lucky ones.

However, one evening, a year after I’d started my remote journey, my wife returned from work and asked to have “a chat”. She gave me an ultimatum. Get out the house and meet people or she was going to flush my laptop down the toilet. I’d become moody, occasionally depressed and worst of all … boring. As I had no-one to speak to during the day I offloaded everything on her when she got home. There’s a theory that humans need to speak between 7000 and 20,000 words a day so I was basically just catching up when she got home. Yet, as my wife was a teacher she’d already used up her 20,000 words by the time she’d left school, so talking was the last thing she wanted to do. I moved into a coworking space for three days a week and my marriage was saved.

Being boring though is the least of the problems that can occur from remote working. If not monitored, working from home can lead to serious loneliness that can cause depression. 

So what can we do to help?

Face to face communication has always been necessary for good mental health. Humans are social creatures and we’ve evolved to work in teams, tell stories and collaborate together. Yet with the increase in use of social networks, phones and email, face to face communication has plummeted and  evidence now seems to suggest that in this world where we are encouraged not to speak to each other (Tinder, Whatsapp, Facebook, Slack, email) ironically, face to face communication is now more important than ever, with research finding that having limited face-to-face social contact nearly doubles someone’s risk of having depression. 

Yet, in a 100% remote job, what can we do to increase our face to face communication?

The first thing you need is to understand that spending your whole time online without human contact could cause issues without you knowing. I know it affected me, but only after somebody told me. 

At work, if you can go into the office or join a coworking space then that is a good start, if not, then aim to use more video conferencing tools, and when using Zoom or Teams or Meet always turn on your camera and don’t check your emails while on the call!

This may sound blatantly obvious but if your whole work life is online it is really important that you try to take some of your social life offline, whether it’s with your friends or family, it doesn’t matter. The key is that you get quality real face to face time with other humans.

Still not convinced? Face to face communication has many other benefits too. 

  • With 90% of conflict caused by misunderstandings, it will reduce conflict! 
  • It helps build interpersonal connections that consequently build trust 
  • It saves time! Think of all those long Slack or email conversations which could have been solved with a quick call or trip over to someone’s desk!

So, this month, if you’re feeling a little down or stressed at work schedule in some real quality time with some friends or family or just have an informal video chat with someone at work about nothing in particular.