By Guest Contributor Craig Bulow
We may be getting used to having people work from home but with COVID-19 looking as if it isn’t going away any time soon it is important to weigh up not only how this will impact your business but how it will affect your staff.
I’m not talking about the medical aspect of avoiding or dealing with contracting COVID-19, but rather the mental health impact of the worry, the uncertainty and the isolation that it is inevitably causing.
Let’s look at thing that businesses can do to help look after the mental wellbeing of their employees in these difficult times:
Helping manage stress
Your team is going to be stressed. They are 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, 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.
Keeping as sense of connection
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. For many people, the social aspect of work is more important than the work itself or even the money – so this connection needs to be maintained.
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.
Making counselling available
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. At Corporate Away Days, we are partnered with a number of Wellbeing and Mental Health professionals who can organise virtual workshops to assist your team whilst they are working from home.
Managing clear lines of communication
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. Set up a system to mitigate a potential flood of calls from employees; 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. They don’t offer any human interaction; a spoken word, a laugh or good news. This human connection is important, so pick up the phone!
Also, the written word can be misinterpreted, particularly if you have no-one at the next desk to bounce off your take on things. It is much easier when you are talking directly to understand what your colleague is saying, ask questions and clarify meanings as you go along. Video calling is even better, where possible.
Alleviating the sense 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?
Link your team with community sites that can hook them up with an isolated person who needs to chat and encourage them to make the most of their daily exercise, without breaking the distancing rules. For example, you can still smile at, speak to and wave at people on your walk, as long as you are a sensible distance away.
You can also set up virtual team building or perhaps a social event, such as a quiz or watch party.
Keeping people motivated while everyone is apart
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.
And do make sure – as far as you can – that they are equipped for working at home. Your employee does not want to be cramped into a small space with an out-of-date laptop that takes forever to get anything done. If they need extra lighting to brighten their working area, provide it! If they are driven mad by the neighbour’s kids or the train at the bottom of the garden, send them some noise-excluding earphones!
Providing 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. www.corporate-away-days.co.uk offer 27 live wellbeing events that aim to connected individuals from all corners of the workplace, at all levels.
With some thought and considerations businesses can make a significant difference to the way that employees experience working remotely. Finding opportunities to say a genuine, heartfelt “Thank You” for work that has been done well and goals that have been achieved will be appreciated and be motivational.
By doing what you can as a business to support their mental wellbeing, using some or all of the suggestions above, you’ll help to keep your team motivated and resilient.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Craig Bulow is the founder of Corporate Away Days, a corporate wellbeing events company delivering engaging, inspiring and exciting events focussed on Wellbeing and Reward activities. Corporate Away Days also creates, designs and builds corporate wellbeing policies and provides leading experts for interactive workshops, seminars and talks on improving mental health and overall wellbeing.
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