Working from home has generally been something employees chose, so the outcomes and mindset around it were relatively positive. But that all changed this March. Employers appropriately moved quickly to require staff to work from home for their own safety and wellbeing. But the pace and mandatory nature of this adjustment left many feeling like it was unwanted change, forced upon us.
This is one of the reasons at the heart of employers’ newly heightened responsibilities around their teams’ mental health and wellbeing. So as leaders, what do we do? How do we ensure our teams are mentally healthy and functioning well in these uncertain times?
Here are some proactive actions you can take on board to support positive mental health in your team.
It’ll come as no surprise that this is on our list. We all know communication is important, but we can’t stress how much more important it is that during this time of uncertainty, we’re regularly informing our teams about how the business is tracking, and delivering this information in a timely, fact-based, and candid way.
Employees don’t expect leaders to have all the answers, but they do want to feel that their well-being is important. Let them know that they are being cared for, that they can discuss work/family related challenges, and that you are sensitive to the impacts of work and the uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic has on their lives. This means individual conversations with employees where you are sensitive to signs of distress such as withdrawal or reduced performance. You’ll need to demonstrate empathy, compassion and listening skills, and help employees work through solutions.
Your leadership team should also be consistent in the core messages they are delivering, and be open to questions, comments and information sharing. It’s at times like this that the emotional intelligence of leaders and managers is critical. You need to be able to accurately perceive the emotional state of your employees, understand what that means for them, and be prepared to work with them in managing and regulating their emotional responses.
Key advice here is just active, compassionate listening. It will go a lot further than you can possibly imagine.
In the first week we transitioned to having the whole business working remotely, most of the Revelian team found themselves working longer hours and taking fewer breaks than if they’d been in the office. People will cope much better with working from home, in general, if they follow a routine and schedule which allows them to keep work and life as separate as possible, with designated times for switching off and winding back. And as leaders we need to role model this. Even if you’re up working late at night or on weekends, it does not help your staff to be getting emails from you at these times.
One interesting theory to enable this, is to follow a routine that aligns with the circadian rhythm (basically the human body clock). Dr Richard Claydon posts some interesting content on LinkedIn about this. He suggests that a typical work from home day might look like this:
Morning: focused work on core tasks that require concentration. If you have a young child at home and both parents work, share the childcare over a five-hour period. This allows each of you 2.5 hours of uninterrupted, focused work, which will result in high levels of productivity.
Lunch: turn your phone off at lunch and eat with your family (if they’re at home too), or schedule a lunch catch-up with a colleague via video conferencing. But don’t talk about work.
Early Afternoon: do “shallow” work (such as emails or admin), which require less concentration and can be done reasonably well even in distracting environments.
Mid-Afternoon: once your food has digested, your alertness will peak again for an hour or so, so this is the time to return to any high-concentration work.
Late-afternoon: you will need social communication if you are to stay energetic and focused, so schedule virtual meetings for this time of day. Again, don’t just talk about work – spent some time on the social stuff too.
Evening: rest and recuperate, exercise, avoid blue screens, and make sure you get plenty of sleep.
Of course, this might be different for each person, but developing that strong routine, and keeping work and non-work as separate as possible, will work for most people.
Finally, in these social distancing times, we need to keep moving and keep connected. Connection is critical to supporting emotional wellbeing. The rules may be easing around this, but for a lot of us we’re still working from home so we don’t have the benefit of the water-cooler chats or the desk drop-by’s (and nor do we). So finding other ways to do this – without imposing on our colleague’s productivity – is really important. Video chats, virtual face-to-face sessions, enhanced use of collaboration tools, online groups or forums – there are a plethora of tools available to do this. And if your LinkedIn feed it anything like mine, it’s clear that workplaces have really embraced using these technologies to connect.
At Revelian we have a weekly virtual Beer O’Clock on a Friday afternoon to replace the in-person version we usually enjoy, it’s a great way to catch up with our colleagues. We’ve also used Microsoft Teams for some time now to make announcements, share news and success stories. A caution though – a well-used internal social or chat tool can quickly descend into noise if not monitored, so it’s important to have a few rules of engagement in place. Good conversations with and amongst your team are key.
To keep these themes front of mind download our handy poster and pop it up in whatever space is currently your office.