Moving people to remote working can be stressful at the best of times. COVID-19 adds an extra dimension. For this reason, it is very important that business owners consider the impact on the mental wellbeing of their team as they adjust to the necessary changes.
Here are a number of things to consider, as a business, to help look after the mental wellbeing of your staff and alleviate their natural worries and concerns, as told by Craig Bulow from Corporate Away Days.
Help manage and reduce stress
Staff will inevitably be stressed, about the virus, about loved ones, about whether they are doing a good job from home and, generally, about job security.
One of the proven acts to alleviating stress is to have clear, honest and regular conversations with your team. Call them and have a chat. Put a time in your diary to speak to them – don’t just leave it to chance.
Let them know what the business is doing, tell them the truth – don’t sugar coat it. Help people understand what the company is doing and what plans it has. The truth may not be pleasant, but it is always better than a lie. If your employee loses trust when working remotely, it can be very toxic.
As well as updating them about the business, give honest, accurate and timely feedback to alleviate concerns about whether they are able to do what they need to from a home-working environment.
As well as individual conversations, bring your group together virtually and acknowledge the stresses everyone is feeling. Encourage honest, open discussion.
Keep up camaraderie
Working from home means we lose the human connection we normally get with our colleagues in the office. This human connection is an incredibly important part of going to work and boosts engagement and morale.
Organising regular group conference calls using Zoom or Skype is a great step. Wherever possible, ensure calls are video calls where you can all see each other. You can smile and wave to one another. You can include time to talk about work, the latest developments of COVID-19 and any worries and concerns you have. And allow time for a chat about non-work-related issues too. Ask your team how their families are, where they are exercising, what recipes they are trying to stretch provisions, etc.
Make connecting with colleagues and getting to know them socially, as well as professionally, part of the new culture within the business, and actively encourage it while working remotely. Why not try a game where, for example, you pretend your pets or family members are your co-workers and speak about them (“one of my co-workers slept all day under my feet today but the other kept barking at passers-by”).
This way you can keep the connection your team enjoys in the office and even build upon it.
Consider providing counselling
As an employer, it would be beneficial to offer staff some form of counselling, which could either be with an internal wellbeing/trained HR Officer or an external professional. You could offer this on a group basis as well; arrange a group conference call to share concerns with a number of employees at the same time.
The calls could be used to talk through various tools that can be used to reduce stress and anxiety; covering mindfulness techniques, sleep, rest, nutrition and diet and how to keep calm and focused.
Be clear how you will communicate
When working in the office, there are established lines of communication in place and there needs to be clarity as to how this is replicated when working remotely. Employees will benefit from having a clear line of communication; knowing who to call, when to call, and how to reach the right people if they have a query.
However, you also need to avoid being overwhelmed by phone calls! When people aren’t used to working from home, they will often call to ask the simplest questions. This is normal – so set up a system to mitigate this; one which ensures you get some work done too, but it also gives employees some structure and clarity.
An organised approach to managing call times, blocking out hour slots to receive or make calls to individuals or, as discussed, a conference call for more general group discussions – are all great ways to limit a deluge of phone calls.
You might think emails are the answer. However, in the self-isolation environment, we are experiencing, emails and texts won’t cut it. Human connection is important, so pick up the phone!
Mitigating the feeling of isolation
Humans tend to be naturally gregarious, so being told to self-isolate is a challenge. Help your employees understand ways they can be social – and stay safe.
Why not provide them with a list of the ways they can have contact with colleagues, friends and family at different times of the day; from Facetime and video chats to phone calls and WhatsApp. Within reason, be flexible about where they fit these communications into their working day. If they belong to clubs or groups outside work can they use apps such as Houseparty or Zoom to replicate their usual meeting; whether that’s a book club, choir or wine tasting?
You can also set up a virtual team building or perhaps a social event, such as a quiz or watch party.
Keeping motivated while working remotely
Encouraging your team to exercise is also a great way to keep them motivated and keep their mental health strong. Suggest they lay a mat inside/outside and do stretches, push-ups, sit-ups, planks, some form of body strengthening as well as cardio.
Then ask your team to share their routines and findings with colleagues, creating another topic for self-maintenance and the pandemic survival at home.
More importantly, trusting and empowering staff to work from home will be a great motivator in itself. If your team feels they can achieve what they need and be recognised and praised for it, while cutting out the commute and the downsides that come with working in an office, they can look forward to a time when the virus has beaten a retreat and they can work this way to really achieve some work-life balance.
Make your goals short-term. None of us know how long this will last so you may as well plan on a month-by-month basis. If goals can be achieved in a short time-frame, it is a great way to encourage your team to stay focussed and also gives you as an employer a good excuse to sing the praises of your team on a regular basis.
And do make sure – as far as you can – that they are equipped for working at home.
Have something to look forward to
Some of the best stress relievers are fun and laughter. Whilst there doesn’t seem much to look forward to right now, as time passes we will be able to see the end of the pandemic.
Giving your team something to look forward to, something exciting, would be a perfect way to keep them motivated, inspired and create a conversation/discussion on that group chat that has been set up.
For example, an away day out of the office with a wellbeing theme, an activity that is inspiring and engaging that allows individuals to reconnect and rebuild connections after a long period of isolation.
Reminding people of the great work they are doing by thanking them for specific things they have done is always a good idea. Perhaps you can also think ahead to creative ways of showing your appreciation when this is over.
For now, remember that as a business owner you can make a big difference to how employees feel about working remotely and you can positively impact their mental wellbeing. Keep it at the top of your agenda.
More on mental health and productivity and working from home.
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