Creating an Engaging Wellness Program With a Remote Workforce
July 18, 2021
The World of Remote Work
The idea of a remote workforce has become more popular since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many organizations have opted to move their employees to a fully remote schedule.
While the flexibility to work remotely has proven to have many positive benefits, leaders are struggling to ensure company culture is not altered and employees remain engaged within their organizations. And it poses the question: how do we ensure that our workforce is remaining physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy while not meeting in person every day?
To date, approximately 28% of remote companies are working in the technology industry, followed by insurance at 16% and health and wellness services at 12%. Many people had to learn how to work remotely due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Roughly 70% of remote companies began working from home in March of 2020, with 8% reporting they have no plans to return to a physical office. This innovative approach also requires the ability to transform current benefits, offerings, and wellness programming. Roughly 38% of remote Healthiest Employers applicants have had a well-being program in place for less than 5 years, speaking to the increased emphasis on workplace wellness. The need to expand and improve programming has been a challenging experience for Health and Well-being professionals across the nation.
AssetMark transitioned to a remote workforce after the COVID-19 pandemic onset. After two years, they made the decision to return to the office in March on a hybrid model.
Remote work was not an easy option for their wellness program, which began in 2015. As an organization that has always included spouses and dependents in programming, AssetMark had to work hard to create programs that addressed all areas of wellness for the entire family.
When asked what the most difficult challenge was during the pandemic, Shelly Monroe, Wellness Program Manager, stated, “Initially, it was just trying to find the right pace for support and resources. We didn’t want to overwhelm employees, but also didn’t want them to feel as though we weren’t providing them with enough information on COVID-19 and medical information.”
To combat this, they began trying to prevent disconnectedness, loneliness, and burnout through social events and campaigns. They also accepted suggestions from employees who desired more support on resiliency, social connections, and the importance of work-life balance. Even with AssetMark returning part-time to the office, several of these options will remain virtual due to ease of access at home. “I think post-COVID, we are even more thoughtful about content, speaker choice, and time management,” Monroe said. “We started offering power webinars that are only 20 minutes to provide employees with tips and takeaways for their day. These have been very popular and have kept things fun and simple while working.”
Monroe also shared advice for remote organizations looking to start a wellness program. “Start simple and build the trust of your employees. It takes time to build rapport and learn about population wants and needs. Then, secure commitment from leadership for financial and resource support and begin by offering small events to get started and increase interest. Also, create SMART goals in order to establish a way to measure progress as the program evolves and grows!”
City of Tucson
“Our two biggest challenges have been keeping up with demand and sifting through the array of options to distill them down to the ones that we’ve ultimately hosted,” said Anita Hart, Benefits Manager at the City of Tucson. “We’ve also found that because of the pandemic, wellness has moved into our cultural mainstream – people are more conscious of the need for self-care and have a greater acceptance that wellness is multi-dimensional and highly personalized. In response, we’ve focused on offering a holistic program that addresses social, physical, mental, emotional, financial, and environmental needs. We examine existing and potential offerings within the context of our own team’s wellness strategy and our broader organizational strategy.”
27% of total companies in the United States that indicated a remote workforce are based in the Greater Phoenix area. The City of Tucson is a government agency in Arizona committed to delivering excellent service to the community. They are responsible for police and fire, parks and recreation, street maintenance, transportation, solid waste management, water supply and delivery, and a broad range of administration, paraprofessional and professional municipal governmental activities and services in their area. For the 2022 year, they placed 4th in the Healthiest Employers of Phoenix’s 5,000+ Employees Category.
Anita has been instrumental in the evolution of the City’s wellness program over the past few years, working closely with their Cigna Well-being Coordinator, Devan Ortega. “Devan has been instrumental in seeking out and introducing potential programming to us and delivering our wellness programs the last few years,” Hart said. “While we have had a wellness program in place for over 15 years, it has evolved dramatically in the last five years. Similar to many other organizations, we transitioned from a fully in-person workforce to a remote one during the pandemic, which opened new delivery methods and demand for programs.”
The City of Tucson added several programs throughout the pandemic and the majority of them were so successful that they intend to keep them as part of their regularly scheduled programs. For example, employees have always had access to mental health counseling, but during the pandemic, the City made the decision to add a licensed behavioral health counselor to the staff, helping to reduce wait times for mental health support.
When asked for advice, Anita said, “Think holistically in terms of the programs you offer and how you gather innovative ideas. Read, research, listen, and hear what your employees are saying. Try offering programs that address all pillars of health. The best programs come together organically, often just from conversations among teammates.”