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    How Remote and Hybrid Workers Can Benefit from a Return to Office

    Over the past decade, we’ve watched much of the workforce gravitate away from the office to a remote or hybrid model. This culminated in the COVID-19 pandemic, when everyone could work from home. Now, two years later, the workforce has continued its return to normalcy, though that normal looks a bit different.
    One difference that remains a point of contention is some employers’ desire for a return to the office and the inevitable pushback by employees who have worked remotely for the past several years. After all, workers have proven they can be just as productive from home while eliminating a daily commute and improving work-life balance. So why go back now?
    It’s hard to argue the conveniences of remote work, and employers that refuse to embrace it may hinder their recruiting and retention efforts. However, for employees, there are times when the office can provide something that remote work can’t, and these intangibles may incentivize incentivize workers to embrace an RTO, even if only temporarily. Here are a few instances when working from the office can prove advantageous.
    When You’re New at the Company
    Whether you’re a recent grad just starting your career or a veteran employee changing jobs, the new employee onboarding process is a time to learn as much about the company as possible. This may include interacting with coworkers and management face to face, attending in-person meetings, or immersing yourself in the company culture. Though a comprehensive onboarding program should also have a digital component to ensure new hires feel comfortable working remotely, those who live within commuting distance of the office can use this to their advantage and make a solid first impression during their first few weeks on the job.
    When You’re Applying for a Promotion
    According to LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index, in a survey of over 25,000 workers, 58% believe it’s essential to be seen by the leadership team. When applying for a promotion, this is especially true. Whether intentional or unintentional, proximity bias can cause management to show preferential treatment to those they see or interact with regularly over those who are out of sight, out of mind. While promotions should ideally be awarded based on work quality and experience, being seen regularly by leadership can sometimes carry greater weight.
    When You’re Recovering from a Mistake
    Nobody is perfect, and throughout the course of your career, mistakes are bound to happen. When they do, the best course of action is to face them head-on. Facetime in the office sends management a proactive message that you’re trying to correct your wrongdoing. While the same efforts can be made remotely, optics can speak volumes, especially when rebuilding trust with managers and coworkers.
    When You’re Planning a Career Change
    A career change can involve several different things – learning new skills, transitioning into a different role, or leaving the company. Either way, it’s a big decision and one you don’t want to regret. Interacting with employees in other roles or departments whom you wouldn’t typically encounter working remotely can help you explore possible career paths within the company while generating new ideas and creating opportunities. Though other opportunities may not exist and leaving may be the right option, the interaction the office provides can help decide this conclusively and avoid regret later.
    Of course, not all remote employees have access to an office, as employers now can expand their recruiting efforts far beyond their physical location. This, combined with advances in video conferencing software that have made it an integral part of every employee’s toolkit, ensures that remote and hybrid work remain a top workplace perk that is here to stay. However, the office still has something to offer, and employees should realize this and take advantage of it. Those who do can combine the convenience of a remote or hybrid schedule with the benefits of an occasional trip to the office in order to help achieve career success.
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    3 Tips to Support the Safety of Diverse Business Travel Groups

    In the big, wide world of global companies, it’s crucial you have the power to send out your top talent to get the job done wherever it’s needed most. Many employees also see international postings as central to their career development.
    Supporting and encouraging all staff demographics to take advantage of these opportunities increases job satisfaction and talent engagement. Employees who don’t feel supported in this way may seek opportunities elsewhere.
    However, different employee demographics – including women, LGBTQ+ groups, and those with disabilities can face additional challenges when working globally.
    In this article, I highlight some of these challenges, offering a step-by-step roadmap to protect and support diverse business travel groups while prioritizing the importance of equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) for employees.
    #1 First steps
    To embrace the concept of EDI, it’s essential to understand its meaning and the significance it holds within our workplaces.
    While there’s a wealth of literature covering this subject, let’s break it down succinctly:

    Equality in the workplace signifies providing equal opportunities and ensuring fairness for all employees and job applicants.
    Diversity encompasses the broad spectrum of individuals in a workplace, and it involves not only recognizing but also appreciating and valuing these differences.
    Inclusion entails fostering an inclusive workforce where every individual feels valued and welcomed in their professional environment.

    EDI is essential when it comes to business travel because we want to know all employees are treated fairly and have the same opportunities as everyone else. However, this comes with a responsibility to offer support and keep staff safe during assignments.
    Unfortunately, there are still more risks associated with certain demographics than others when it comes to travel.
    Considering these complexities, it’s vital to have an accessible company travel policy, which contains both the essential safety information for diverse travel groups, and which meets EDI requirements.
    ISO 31030 documentation is essential here, as it provides a framework for organizations to develop, implement, and continually improve their travel risk management processes. According to its travel risk management guidelines, employers must prepare travelers for travel through practical training and education.
    “[…] Attention needs to be given to the traveler’s profile in relation to destinations because factors such as race, competencies, nationality, cultural identity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, occupation, position, disability, or medical history can all affect the risks associated with the travel […]
    In short, your company has a duty of care to effectively communicate to all employees the necessary responsibilities, which help them to comply with relevant international laws and regulations.
    #2 Cultural intelligence & doing business
    Many companies talk about being global companies that are locally relevant. Of course, we travel for business to build better relationships and gain access to other markets; this means that to leverage international scale, we must use cultural intelligence so our strategies are locally relevant in each individual market.
    To ensure business success and the safety of different employee demographics, we must tailor our travel risk management approach to the unique needs of our company. This means profiling the traveler before they go on an international workplace assignment and the destination and checking whether the area is medium-high-risk for that individual.
    Global employers must collect information on potential legal factors for all assignment locations. The best organizations track legal developments and keep information up to date.
    For example, in more than half the world, LGBTQ+ people may not be protected from discrimination by workplace law. Very few jurisdictions legally recognize the gender identity of trans people, and sexual acts between people of the same sex are criminalized in more than 70 countries. Only a tiny minority of states recognize same-sex partnerships.
    Even incorrect workplace attire can cause significant offense to other cultures. For example, in India and China, women are expected to wear knee-length skirts and avoid low necklines. In France, it is forbidden to wear niqabs and burqas, and in Sudan, women are not allowed to wear trousers.
    Once important cultural and legal distinctions have been made, businesses must confirm that employees understand the nuances of what’s expected of them.
    Working with a travel management company here, is ideal, as they collect and remain current with legal and non-legal country information and can help your business develop risk management plans before employee travel.
    They can also provide employee training, which informs employers and employees about specific locations. It outlines the legal, socio-cultural, and workplace situation for different groups in the specified country.
    For example, companies like Maiden Voyage provide in-person training workshops to support diverse business travel groups, including women, disabled travelers, and LGBTQ+ business travelers in other companies.
    Providing training like this means all businesses have appropriate support and accurate information about assignment destinations to their employees before travel.
    We believe it’s essential to build a spirit of community across travel management companies so all individuals are kept safe when traveling. The more we do this, the less likely it is for incidents to happen abroad, and we see that as most important.
    #3 Safety on arrival
    Once employees have reached their destinations, attention to the safety of their surroundings is essential.
    Ensure your travel policy makes it clear what is expected of them in terms of increasing their safety while abroad. For example, you might want to highlight the expectation that employees should take taxis late in the evening instead of walking alone in the dark.
    One of the main benefits of using a travel management company to support your business can be particularly helpful, as they provide 24/7 emergency assistance to your employees if they run into difficulties once they arrive at their location.
    There is also safety advice needed when working abroad, to keep staff safe, while not on work premises or if they are extending their trip for ‘bleisure’.
    For example, staff could be encouraged only to use licensed taxis and to take copies of their passport, fronts and backs of their credit, debit, and prepaid ATM cards, and other travel documents. Keeping copies in their luggage and one in their jacket means if any document gets stolen, they can take the copy to your local embassy.
    Stories about poor hotel safety have been rife this year, with examples including Former X Factor contestant Lucy Spraggan revealing she was raped by a hotel porter while competing on the ITV talent show in 2012.
    Now, more than ever, hotels must be checked to ensure they meet the safety requirements of all employees. For example, hotels that prioritize guest safety know that when someone is checking in, they should be handed their room details discreetly and that the hotel reception shouldn’t say their room number out loud, so details can be overhead.
    Employees should be informed that if this does happen, they have the right to request a different room from the hotel.
    Where possible, vulnerable or solo female travelers should not be checked into rooms on the ground floor or at the end of a corridor. Double locking, hotel door entry systems, which only allow guests to enter, and available on-site parking are all other important safety features to be considered.
    Safeguarding employees during international travel is an imperative duty for any responsible organization. The potential risks and challenges associated with overseas journeys are multifaceted. It’s vital to implement a robust travel safety policy, provide comprehensive training, and maintain clear lines of communication.
    Additional nuggets of safety advice for ‘out-of-hours’ activities show employees you genuinely care about their health and wellbeing and not only about the company’s bottom line. As well as fulfilling moral and legal obligations, you’re helping to foster a more loyal, productive, and engaged workforce overall.
    By Laura Busby, Commercial Director, Good Travel Management.
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    The Unspoken Privilege of Wellbeing During the Cost-of-Living Crisis

    The surge in the cost of living is deeply impacting both workers and businesses, as the escalating prices of vital commodities and services add to financial strain and psychological stress.
    A substantial 47 percent of UK employees revealed they have minimal to zero savings remaining by the close of each month. Furthermore, an additional 15 percent indicated their households encountered difficulties covering monthly expenses.
    Numerous employers are taking proactive measures to assist employees amidst escalating costs. After a demanding two years contending with the Covid-19 pandemic, a silver lining emerged: an enhanced emphasis on employee benefits and their significance to the workforce during that difficult period.
    With the cost-of-living crisis causing further issues for employees, there has never been a better time for companies to recommunicate their benefits offerings to assist staff through another increasingly uncertain and stressful time.
    However, according to research, today’s benefits appeal mostly to the highly paid, but further research shows there is a strong business case to provide employee benefits that demonstrate diversity and inclusion.
    I address some of the assumptions workplaces might make about employee wellbeing, why they are problematic, and how to provide support during the cost-of-living crisis.
    Why does the cost-of-living crisis impact the workplace?
    Nuffield Health’s 2023 Healthier Nation Index revealed 59 percent of individuals believed the cost of living or a change in personal finances had negatively impacted their mental health over the past year.
    Mental health can be significantly impacted by financial worries, and without effective support, mental health conditions can affect a person’s confidence and identity at work. The ability to concentrate and work productively can decline, and businesses may report an increase in absenteeism and presenteeism among those struggling.
    Another issue employers might face is staff taking up second jobs to meet their increased outgoings. Research shows 5.2 million workers have taken on an additional position to help pay for the increased cost of living, and another 10 million plan to, in response to rising costs.
    Employees working all hours to try and meet basic needs could easily result in fatigue and burnout. And as we all know, tired, anxious, and exhausted employees do not equate to healthy, productive teams.
    Workplace burnout may impair short-term memory, attention, and other cognitive processes essential for daily work activities, making employees significantly less productive. Burnt-out employees are also 63 percent more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times as likely to be actively seeking a different job.
    Keen for self-care
    More businesses are encouraging employees to prioritise self-care during these challenging times. While well-intentioned, financial instability is making it difficult for employees to afford basic necessities, let alone invest in self-care activities or wellness-related expenses.
    Those working irregular or unpredictable schedules, find it near impossible to plan and commit to self-care activities. The reality for many, especially those in lower-paid or high pressure roles, is that they can’t simply take breaks, when they feel like it or need it from stressful jobs.
    Those in marginalised groups face much more than just work stress too. Compared to other economic classes, they are more likely to face exposure to crime, drug-saturated neighbourhoods, and overcrowded residences.
    Lower-income employees may not have access to the same resources that higher-income employees do, like fitness facilities, healthy food options, and mental health services.
    Nutrient-dense foods are also now too expensive for many households to afford. A recent study estimated that lower-income families would need to dedicate a whopping 43-70 percent of their food budget to fruits and vegetables to meet dietary guidelines.
    Where do we go from here?
    It’s clear the ongoing stress associated with living with less than one needs can create constant wear and tear on the body. This, in turn, disrupts and harms the body’s physiological stress response mechanism while also diminishing cognitive and psychological responses essential for confronting challenges and daily stressors.
    Many businesses pride themselves on offering a suite of perks for employees, which they claim will help those during particularly difficult times, like the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. However, our 2022 data actually suggests that 1 in 3 employees are offered no physical or mental wellbeing services by their employer.
    We believe responsible businesses should offer these services to their staff. Those who don’t already should invest in the health of their employees by speaking to expert health third-party providers who can guide them on the best offerings to introduce.
    For the two-thirds of businesses that do offer employee benefits, it’s worth noting some of these might not be accessible or suitable to all employees. For example, is offering a subsidised gym membership a benefit if employees are not located near a gym or are able to afford the reduced membership?
    Managers need to fundamentally rethink their benefits offerings to promote fairness and equal opportunity and prevent burnout. When deciding which to offer – specifically during a cost-of-living crisis- it’s essential to gather feedback from employees to understand their unique needs and challenges. Tailoring benefits to address their immediate concerns can have a significant positive impact on their well-being and loyalty to an organisation.
    Providing employees with fair and competitive wages is one of the most direct ways to address financial challenges related to the cost of living. A living wage can help employees cover their basic needs without having to struggle as much financially.
    Investing in employees’ professional development through tuition reimbursement or training opportunities can help them start to build the skills needed for potential higher-paying roles, which they may be able to apply for more quickly in the future.
    Making sure you provide access to relevant benefits is also key. For example, offering flexible work options, like remote work, flexible hours, or compressed workweeks, can help employees better manage their schedules and save on commuting costs.
    However, if employees’ roles do require them to be physically in the workplace, perhaps your business might consider providing transportation benefits instead, like subsidised public transportation passes, which can help alleviate commuting costs. Offering childcare benefits or access to discounted childcare services can also help employees manage the high costs associated with childcare during a cost-of-living crisis.
    Where signs of burnout, financial stress, or anxiety are recognised, employers should signpost employees towards the emotional wellbeing support available to them. This may include Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) or cognitive behavioural therapy sessions (CBT), which give individuals direct access to a specialist who can help them explore and understand the factors which are impacting their health and wellbeing.
    Communicate helpful resources like where to apply for monetary support, how to access debt management helplines or find financial literacy programmes. Regardless of whether this support comes from an external resource or from your own company’s offerings, this advice can empower employees to make informed decisions about budgeting, saving, and managing their finances.
    Additionally, highlighting community resources, government programmes, and nonprofit organisations can help employees find accessible self-care resources if they have limited financial means.
    During these challenging times, employees want to know their employer has their best interests at heart. Wellbeing is tied to feeling valued and appreciated, and it’s essential our colleagues are met with understanding and assistance every step of the way.
    By Marc Holl, Head of Primary Care, Nuffield Health.
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    New Flexible Working Bill is Neither Flexible, Workable, Or Even New

    Proponents of flexible working were exhilarated in July by news that the Flexible Working Bill had received Royal Assent, paving the way for it to become part of the law of the land. Certainly, the UK government was keen to advertise the benefits of the bill, promising that it meant workers across the country would enjoy more freedom and control over the way they work.
    Unfortunately, the truth is the new bill leaves much to be desired and is unlikely to contribute much positive momentum to the flexible work revolution.
    The contents of the bill
    The first thing to mention is that this is not technically a new law at all, but an amendment to the existing Employment Rights Act 1996. And rather than granting workers a new right to flexible work, the main purpose of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 – to give it its full title – is to make changes to the existing statutory right of employees to request flexible work. The Act is unlikely to come into force until mid-2024, but what exactly are these changes and how will they benefit workers?
    The first change is to increase the number of times an employee can request switching to a flexible working arrangement. Currently, employees can only make one request in any 12-month period. This will increase to two.
    Second, employees can expect faster outcomes, as employers will now only have two months to consider and respond to a request, instead of three under the current law.
    Third, employees will no longer be required to explain what impact their request will have or need to offer suggestions for how to mitigate any impact when making a flexible work request.
    It is also expected that employees will be able to make a flexible work request on day one of their job, instead of having to wait 26 weeks before asking. However, this is not contained in the Act itself, but will be set out in secondary legislation that is expected to come into force at the same time as the Act.
    But why has the UK government made these amendments to this process? Is there that much demand for flexible work?
    The flexible work revolution
    The term “flexible work” is broad. It doesn’t just refer to working from home or working remotely, but also to having flexible start and stop times that suit an employee’s need. Offering flexibility is intended to reduce stress and offer a better work-life balance, and employers may consider offering it to attract new talent or retain existing staff.
    Most research points to a huge, untapped demand for more flexible working arrangements. For instance, LinkedIn data indicated that the demand for remote work (just one form of flexible work, but also a common one) vastly outstrips the supply of remote work roles.
    Remote work is particularly popular as it offers workers the choice to live wherever they choose, without limiting their career prospects. Remote workers use it to spend more time with their family instead of commuting, live closer to relatives, or travelling to different countries while remaining employed.
    But the benefits of remote work also extend to employers. Businesses that adopt distributed workforce models have a much larger pool of talent available to them, including skilled workers living overseas. Companies can build international work teams as a first step to entering new markets or offer round-the-clock services to customers in different time zones.
    Our own research on the topic, the 2023 Remote Workforce Report, highlighted several advantages offered by remote work. Based on a survey of 1,000 decision-makers around the world, the report found that 69% of employers who have adopted remote work experienced increased staff retention, while 57% stated it was easier to hire and retain talent with a remote workforce. Furthermore, 72% of employers with an international remote workforce said that productivity had increased – this challenges the common assumption that remote work is less productive.
    Boosting productivity and generating cost-savings through increased retention are win-win for businesses that embrace remote work. But it can also be a competitive advantage: with more and more workers seeking flexible work arrangements, offering workers this flexibility can help attract talent away from competitors.
    Given this context, should we view the flexible working bill as a major step forward? Not necessarily.
    A missed opportunity
    The truth is the legislative changes in the Act are not enough to have a real impact on workers. The Act is merely tweaking an existing process for requesting flexible work – a process that is needlessly bureaucratic and painstakingly slow (it should not take an employer more than two weeks to consult with relevant stakeholders regarding flexible arrangements, let alone two months).
    A key problem is that the Act still ultimately gives employers the right to reject an employee’s request. The fact a worker can now make multiple requests a year is unlikely to sway an employer who is sceptical about the benefits of flexible work.
    Businesses could also face a bureaucratic headache if multiple employees all make flexible working requests, as each request will need to be processed individually. Adopting simple company-wide policies for flexible work could help organisations avoid this time-consuming paperwork.
    The UK government should have looked to European peers who have established more flexible rights for workers. It is particularly difficult in the Netherlands for employers to reject a flexible work request, while workers in Finland have the right to start or finish their work three hours earlier or later than their core working hours and most employees can choose where and when they work for at least 50% of their working hours.
    So while the Flexible Working Bill is something of a missed opportunity, all is not lost. The flexible working revolution is marching on; more and more companies are recognising this trend and offering greater flexibility options to their workers in order to attract talent and retain skilled workers. It is these forward-looking companies that are going to race ahead of the competition.
    By Sam Ross, VP General Counsel at Remote.
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    9 Do’s and Don’ts of Asking Questions in Job Interviews

    The path from unemployment to employment has several steps, and for most, the first step after application is the job interview. The primary function of the interview is to allow the hiring manager to interact with candidates in order to determine if their qualifications and experience are a fit for the job’s requirements, as well as how they might fit into or add to the company’s culture and values.
    However, the job interview has a secondary function, but equally important for job seekers – the chance to interview the interviewer. The questions job seekers choose to ask in the interview are of paramount importance for two reasons:

    They demonstrate candidates’ preparation for the interview and interest in the job and company.
    They balance the scales in candidates’ favor, allowing them to determine if the job and company are truly a good fit for them.

    As a job seeker, choosing the right interview questions should be part of your interview preparation. Though there are many articles and blogs listing questions that candidates should ask in interviews, choosing the right ones and tailoring them to the role, the employer and your individual needs will help set you apart from the competition. Let’s look at nine best practices for asking questions in job interviews.
    1. Ask About Job Duties and Expectations
    Hiring managers love inquisitive minds. They want to know you’re interested in the role beyond what you’ve been told and that you’re anxious to learn more. Prepare questions on what the role will involve and what will be expected of you.
    2. Ask About Learning and Growth Opportunities
    Employers don’t want to hire people who are satisfied working the same job for the rest of their careers. They want to hire employees who are interested in constantly learning, growing, and evolving. Show the interviewer that this is a priority by asking about training, continuing education, and mentoring opportunities.
    3. Ask About Company Culture and Values
    Asking a generic question about a company’s culture is predictable, but tailoring the question based on elements of the culture that the company is known for or that interest you shows you’re familiar with the employer brand. Every company has values that are ingrained in their culture and essential to their employees. By showing interest in them and how they align with your values, you show that you’re interested in more than just a paycheck.
    4. Ask About Success
    Finding out how the interviewer defines success, what makes others successful at the company, and what will define success in the role for which you’re interviewing demonstrates your interest in achieving the same.
    5. Ask Follow-Up Questions
    While preparing questions in advance is essential to a successful job interview, it’s also a good idea to ask questions based on topics that you just discussed with the hiring manager. By following up on these topics later in the interview, it shows you were astute enough to take note of specific details in the conversation, and inquisitive enough to want to know more.
    6. Don’t Ask Anything That’s Easy to Research
    By asking overly simplistic questions about the company that can be answered with a quick Google search, it shows you weren’t willing to do any advance research or put any thought into preparing your questions. The same goes for questions about the role that can be answered by reading the job description.
    7. Don’t Ask About Salary or Time Off
    It’s never a good idea to convey a “what can YOU do for ME” attitude in a job interview, and calling attention to salary, benefits, or time off does just that. Though you will make the ultimate decision as to whether or not to accept an offer, keep the focus on the job, the company, and how you can contribute to both until the interviewer broaches these subjects or after an offer is made.
    8. Don’t Ask Anything Predictable
    If a question is general enough to be asked by any candidate at any job interview for any company, it’s probably not a good question. Spend time preparing your questions to ensure they are unique to your situation; they make the interviewer think and show you did your homework.
    9. Don’t Ask Anything Controversial or Negative
    If the company or one of its leaders has been in the news recently for the wrong reasons, don’t call attention to it in the job interview. Though this may be a valid reason for rejecting a job offer, posing questions to the interviewer about scandalous news or controversial topics won’t work in your favor.
    How you respond to a hiring manager’s inevitable closing interview question, “Do you have any questions for me?” can make or break your chances of landing a job offer. In addition, it’s an often-underutilized opportunity to demonstrate knowledge of and interest in the job and company, gain an advantage over your competition, and determine whether or not it’s where you want to spend the next several years of your career. By preparing questions in advance tailored around subjects that employers use as determining hiring factors, you can control the direction of the interview and, as a result, the direction of your career.
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    Leveraging AI for Employee Mental Wellbeing

    As organizations strive to attract and retain top talent, it’s crucial to recognize the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) in supporting employee mental wellbeing.
    Going beyond its role as a productivity tool, there’s untapped potential in AI to support employee mental health in the workplace. But how safe is it to hand over such responsibility to AI? And when should human intervention take place?
    In the modern workplace, mental health has gained significant recognition for its importance. Employers now understand that the wellbeing of their employees extends beyond physical health. Mental health plays a crucial role in overall productivity, engagement, and success. For the newest generation entering the workforce today, mental health support is a must, not a nice to have.
    Prioritizing mental health in the workplace is essential because it directly impacts employee wellbeing and happiness. A positive and supportive work environment that promotes mental wellbeing fosters a sense of belonging, reduces stress levels, and improves job satisfaction.
    The role of AI in workplace mental wellbeing
    AI-powered solutions, such as virtual assistants, have the potential to revolutionize mental wellbeing support in the workplace. However, there are currently no tools dedicated to mental health support. While there are anecdotal instances of people using the likes of ChatGPT for support, the tool isn’t designed for such use cases. As such, there is a need for generative AI capabilities to be utilized in a considered way to ensure appropriate measures are in place to enhance the user experience.
    The challenge in creating an AI-enabled assistant for mental health support lies in ensuring that it is designed by individuals who possess a deep understanding of the intricacies of therapy and coaching practices. Developing an AI-powered assistant that can effectively provide support, guidance, and empathy requires a comprehensive knowledge of psychological principles and therapeutic techniques.
    To create an AI-enabled assistant that can engage in meaningful and effective conversations, developers must work closely with clinicians who have a profound understanding of various therapeutic techniques. This includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is widely recognized as an effective treatment for a range of mental health concerns.
    This understanding enables the AI-powered assistant to follow evidence-based practices and techniques that promote positive change and empower users to overcome challenges.
    Building an AI assistant dedicated to mental wellbeing
    With these challenges in mind, I could see an opportunity to develop an AI-assisted tool specifically designed for mental wellbeing. Not only this, but a mental health support tool that could be deployed in the workplace, bringing the benefits of AI that leverages therapeutic best practices to employees and employers alike.
    As part of this process, I set the following requirements for such an AI-enabled assistant:

    Ethical guidelines: Align AI systems with internationally recognised ethical guidelines for psychological practice to ensure user privacy, data protection, and confidentiality.
    Compliance: Follow relevant data protection and privacy laws to safeguard user data and maintain transparency in data collection and usage.
    Robust algorithm design: Develop AI algorithms that prioritise user wellbeing and avoid biases that could perpetuate harm or discrimination.
    Human oversight: Establish clear protocols for when AI should hand over to human professionals, such as during critical or complex mental health situations.

    Following months of work, the result was EMMA, an artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistant for mental health and personal growth support.
    Harnessing the power of Azure Cognitive Services and generative AI, combined with our own advanced sentiment analysis, EMMA provides immediate always-on support, encouragement, and guidance for a range of mental health concerns and personal development goals, through text-based conversations.
    Attracting and retaining talent with AI-powered mental wellbeing
    This development is great news for employees, but how can it help with the recruitment process? Well, I believe organisations that prioritise employee wellbeing and leverage innovative solutions like AI can differentiate themselves in the talent market.
    Prospective employees are increasingly seeking employers that genuinely care about their mental health. So, highlighting the availability of AI-powered mental wellbeing support during the recruitment process can showcase an organisation’s commitment to employee wellness, attracting top talent who value a supportive work environment.
    AI-enabled tools can also play a pivotal role in fostering a positive work culture that promotes employee wellbeing. By offering constant support, guidance, and resources, AI-powered assistants create an environment where employees feel valued, supported, and understood. This can contribute to increased job satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty, ultimately reducing turnover and enhancing the overall work experience.
    Of course, addressing mental wellbeing concerns through AI-enabled support can significantly impact employee performance and productivity. When employees feel supported and access resources that enhance their mental wellbeing, they are better equipped to manage stress, maintain focus, and bring their best selves to work. This, in turn, helps to improve individual and team productivity, leading to better overall organizational performance.
    AI-enabled tools truly offer significant potential for supporting employee mental wellbeing in the workplace, making it valuable for talent attraction and retention. By embracing the role of AI as a tool for human enhancement, organizations can create workplaces where individuals thrive and reach their full potential.
    By Asim Amin, Founder and CEO of Plumm.
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    Cybersecurity is an HR Responsibility, Too

    Cybercrime is a constant source of fear and frustration in the modern world of business. The number of attacks are increasing as the tactics used by cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated. And the potential damage to companies is also rising, with the global average cost of a data breach rising to $4.35m in 2022, according to IBM.  
    There are various factors driving the surge in cybercrime, but one recent study linked the increasing risk of cyberattacks to the shift toward remote work in recent years, as the typical remote workspace is insufficiently protected, creating cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Furthermore, because remote workers rely on digital communication tools to do their work, they are more susceptible to phishing and social engineering attacks. The study also claims that because remote workers are not physically in the office together, they may find it more challenging to communicate with colleagues and verify the information or requests made in phishing emails.
    Given this potentially increased risk, should companies cease remote work? Doing so would come with its own costs, as remote work has been shown to lead to increased productivity and staff retention. Our survey of 1,004 HR and business decision-makers and workers across the world found that 69% of employers with a distributed remote workforce said that employee retention had increased since their business adopted the practice. Meanwhile, 72% of companies with an international remote workforce stated that productivity has risen since adopting a distributed model.
    So, what should companies do to improve their cyber defenses without sacrificing the benefits of remote work? Organizations might assume that their cybersecurity is solely a concern for the IT department, but this is not the case. In fact, focusing too heavily on technology will ignore the most important element of cybersecurity: your people. 
    According to another IBM study, 95% of cybersecurity breaches are the result of human error. So, if the people in an organization are the weakest link, then it is also the responsibility of HR to improve cybersecurity and help implement the practices needed to safeguard valuable data. HR has an invaluable role to play in preventing data breaches, and HR leaders must step up and help protect their organizations from cyber risks. 
    But what steps should HR take to address this issue? The first thing needed is to develop a culture of corporate cybersecurity safety through partnerships between HR leaders, internal IT teams, and data protection specialists. Cooperation across departments is essential.  
    One way in which HR can actively contribute is by partnering with IT to establish more refined access levels based on the organizational structure, including the employee’s level and department. By doing so, HR can assist in controlling and regulating access to specific types of information and actions. This collaborative effort between HR and IT aims to safeguard sensitive data by granting access privileges only to those individuals who genuinely require it to fulfill their job responsibilities. The principle of least privilege serves as a guiding principle, emphasizing that the intent is not to exclude individuals or withhold knowledge from employees, but rather to acknowledge that employees in different departments, such as marketing and finance or accounting, do not require unrestricted access to each other’s data. This principle should help to limit the potential damage of a data breach caused by any single employee.
    Next, HR can use recruitment, onboarding, and ongoing training as opportunities to ensure staff are aware of their responsibilities towards cybersecurity across the organization.
    For instance, recruitment is an opportunity to probe candidates for any potential red flags, given that employee misconduct is a common cause of data breaches. Running background checks on applicants to verify the accuracy of their employment and education history and screening for any history of criminal activity or policy violations is essential.
    HR departments themselves must also be careful during the recruitment period not to fall for a ransomware or phishing attack disguised as a resume or cover letter. And if they are to conduct virtual interviews with candidates, then HR teams must ensure they have appropriate network security measures in place, and confirm any recruitment software being used is installed with the latest security updates. 
    Similarly, the onboarding phase is a crucial moment for HR to help protect sensitive information. HR must keep a record of all the equipment a new employee receives and ensure it is returned if and when the employee leaves the company, so they do not take away any sensitive data. New recruits must also be made aware of important safety precautions, such as how to spot phishing emails and how to build strong, unique passwords. 
    Again, HR must also be careful during the onboarding phase, as they will receive a large amount of personally identifiable information from the new employee, usually via email or fax. HR departments must ensure such communications are encrypted before personal data is collected and stored.  
    Finally, training is a significant opportunity to invest in ongoing cybersecurity education so your team can establish and maintain best practices. Employees need regular reminders about the dangers posed by weak passwords and phishing emails. This training is also an opportunity to teach staff about the latest hacking methods used by cybercriminals and how to stay safe while working remotely. For instance, public Wi-Fi can represent a major risk, and although remote workers may enjoy the flexibility to work from a cafe or public space, they are safer using their smartphone as a hotspot rather than connecting to an unknown network.
    At Remote, all staff are required to undergo training within their first 30 days of employment and annually thereafter, to ensure they understand security policies, procedures, and best practices. Investing in your workforce through training helps to create trust among your employees, who are your first line of defence against a cybersecurity breach. 
    Companies do not have to grapple with this task alone; they can work with trusted partners who can help to protect their data while continuing to employ an internationally dispersed workforce. Employer of record (EOR) service providers can help organizations grow secure global teams, while also ensuring employers are compliant with local and international data protection laws in the markets where they operate. This frees companies to focus on managing and growing their business.
    There are further advantages of collaborating with companies like Remote, who have complete ownership over their end-to-end operations, as opposed to relying on third-party entities. This approach is particularly beneficial because it allows them to have complete control over the data and mitigates the risk of uncertain data handling practices. Remote sought out ISO27001 certification as well as the SOC2 Type II, the world’s best-known, internationally recognized standard for information security management systems, to demonstrate our commitment to information security and providing a secure platform for our customers. As EORs handle sensitive employee data, including personal information, financial records, and legal documents, these certifications provide a standardized and independent confirmation, so employers can be confident that rigorous security measures protect their employee information.
    Integrating cybersecurity into company culture must be an endeavour tackled by the whole organisation, not just the IT team. The HR department has a key role to play in building a solid and safe foundation for a business to grow its globally distributed workforce.
    By Marcelo Lebre, COO and co-founder of Remote.
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    How to Stress Better at Work (…Yes, There is a Balance)

    It is undeniable: stress is widespread across today’s workplaces.
    A Mental Health Foundation survey found that 74 percent of adults experiencing chronic stress felt ‘unable to cope’ as a result, impacting their daily lives and careers. And since the pandemic, there has been an explosive 25 percent increase in the incidence of anxiety and depression worldwide.
    According to research, in the workplace, this translates to 17 million days of absenteeism, citing that on average, each person needed to take 16.5 days off from work.
    However, according to the concept of eustress (“good stress”), there is a positive form of psychological stress, which could help individuals feel more motivated, productive, and happier in the workplace.
    Why eustress is best
    Negative workplace stress is a costly oversight for businesses, but when moderate levels of stress result in short, productive bursts of energy in your daily life – that is eustress.
    Eustress has positive workplace outcomes for those able to identify how it manifests; it lowers procrastination when completing a specific task at work.
    Eustress enhances well-being as the person gains career satisfaction through productivity. There is a vital balance at play that makes for a healthy work environment if organizations support and encourage it.
    Exploiting the power of eustress in the workplace
    As explained, a hallmark of eustress is that it presents in short bursts of productivity. Biologically, our brains have a better-developed response to tasks when we know that we have a break on the horizon.
    The best way to harness eustress is to manage the day and its tasks by setting 25-minute timers throughout and rewarding yourself with a short break.
    During these breaks, it is recommended to move the body and have a change of scenery. This enables one to move from that eustress psychological state to one with a sense of achievement, allowing them to switch off.
    For example, a quick walk around the block and returning to make a cup of tea before beginning work again helps to eliminate stress build-up making it easier to start the next task on our list.
    Why chronic stress is bad
    Two hormones are in circulation when we are stressed: cortisol and adrenaline.
    They host an essential function in the body and trigger us to enter ‘fight or flight’ mode which is intended to be temporary. Long-term exposure to cortisol, in particular, will eventually begin to have negative effects on mental and physical health.
    In a workplace context, continual chronic stress will impact one’s ability to work effectively and productively. Oftentimes, colleagues who are experiencing long-term chronic stress will present with the following: brain fog, irritability, oversensitivity, and the inability to concentrate and retain information.
    Moreover, physical and mental health-related manifestations are well-recorded. These include high blood pressure, inflammation within the body, and aches and pains like tight chest pains, anxiety, and depression.
    Train for triggers
    Managers and executives are responsible for identifying these signals among their colleagues and being responsive. Keeping employees educated on the mental health support resources available is critical.
    Emotional literacy training is an effective tool to boost employee resilience by ensuring staff have a common language to discuss distress. It can improve managers’ abilities to support their employees, equipping them with knowledge, self-awareness, and empathy, making them better listeners.
    Bespoke employee benefits
    Responsible employers should offer an array of options tailored to the workforce and based on employee feedback.
    Where signs of burnout are recognized, employers should signpost employees towards the emotional wellbeing support available to them. This may include Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) or cognitive behavioral therapy sessions (CBT), which give individuals direct access to a specialist who can help them explore and understand the factors which are impacting their health and wellbeing.
    These offerings show conversations about stress and mental health are both welcomed and expected which in turn ensures early intervention and uptake among staff.
    By Lisa Gunn, Mental Health Prevention Lead, Nuffield Health.
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