You may not have anticipated utilizing remote work operations this year, but the pandemic has forced many companies to change up their office infrastructure to support telecommuting. Assisting them by providing tech upgrades and collaboration tools is just one way to show they’re valuable, and this list of tips can help you manage remote team members with their social and emotional wellness in mind.
What your employees may experience during COVID-19
The pandemic has brought on a perfect storm of career, social, and personal crises for many employees. Those who were already struggling may find themselves unable to manage the additional burdens. Others who have shown themselves historically to be strong performers may be secretly dealing with new problems they weren’t prepared to handle.
The experiences that may be affecting your workers include:
When asked how they feel during the pandemic, many people simply respond, “anxious.” The CDC even acknowledges anxiety as a significant factor in a decreasing quality of life during COVID-19. Anxiety can cause a range of effects. Some employees may feel only slight anxiety, which can be acknowledged as everyday worry. Others may see anxiety show up as physical symptoms like difficulty breathing, trembling, or rapid heart rate that can impact their work and lead to physical ailments.
Acute and chronic stress
Today’s employee is already stressed out, with one quarter of surveyed employees saying work is the number-one stressor in their lives. Add in the uncertainty and chaos of a pandemic, and it can be too much for even focused individuals to manage. Stress has a place in a healthy individual, activating necessary hormones and helping our body respond to dangerous situations. But those with acute or chronic stress will feel too much of these responses for too long, and often when it’s not helpful.
What happens when you’ve worked too much and need a break? Usually, a vacation or time off may be in order, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult (if not impossible) for people to get away. Between travel restrictions and new caregiving responsibilities, necessary self-care may always take a backseat. If work is more stressful as well, burnout is inevitable.
Why do we put things off? One reason may be prolonged stress. Between the anxiety, overwhelming feelings, and burnout that can happen, work still needs to fit into the equation. A natural response is to set work aside for another time when we anticipate it may be easier to do, even if the pandemic has made that procrastination unreasonably drawn out.
Work can be a much-needed reprieve from a dangerous situation at home. However, when it’s no longer possible to go to an office, those at risk for domestic violence may be in harm’s way more often than usual. When you add in the stresses of economic turmoil, extra caregiving duties, and the inconveniences of social distancing, a potentially abusive situation can turn bad. Know the signs of abuse, so that when you do see your employees, even in a video call, you can get them the help they need.
How can you support your remote employees?
Being aware of your employees’ struggles is the first step to offering support, and that will require you to stay in constant connection when managing virtual teams. What can you do to encourage them emotionally and socially during this challenging time? In addition to paying additional attention to the signs and symptoms of trouble, these best practices are a good start.
Identify meaningful work and set impactful goals
Now is not the time for busywork. Even if employees are finding it hard to fill their day while working from home, giving work for the sake of work is inappropriate during the pandemic. Instead, work to identify those tasks from their job description that help them manage up and bring value to team members. Look for ways to set goals in their career, and pursue growth opportunities such as training or cross-collaboration when you can.
Organize company-wide online health events
When was the last time you held a health fair? While COVID-19 has made it difficult to gather in person, a virtual health event is still an excellent way to communicate best practices and gauge how well your teams are really doing. Invite wellness speakers to present, and offer discounts to health services and products. Consider giving a virtual “goodie bag” for your employees to learn about and sample new offerings to boost their health status.
Offer subscriptions or allowances for digital therapy
The pandemic has created more opportunities for virtual or telehealth consults. Consider a blend of free subscriptions to mindfulness or meditation apps as well as credits for counseling sessions with a certified therapist. Even if they don’t use these services, just knowing they are available can help.
Your health insurance provider may already offer these benefits as part of your corporate contract, so check out any new offerings they may have added in light of the pandemic. Make access to these programs easy for your workers, and keep them updated to new offerings as soon as they become available.
Establish regular team check-ins
There’s a delicate balance between being too overbearing and leaving your employees on their own too often. By setting up a daily check-in routine, you are creating clear expectations on how often you’ll talk to them, and what method you’ll use. Whether you do a daily phone check-ins, video conferencing calls, or a forum post, this lets them know that they can share their concerns and aren’t going it alone. It may take some extra effort, but it’s worth it when a face-to-face team meeting isn’t possible.
There are a variety of tools available for you to utilize for better communication and collaboration, such as Slack, Zoom, Skype, Google Hangout, DropBox, and more.
Foster a sense of community and humanity
These are trying times for everyone, not just due to the pandemic. With political tensions at an all-time high, it’s difficult for people to feel they are genuinely part of something useful and essential. Focus on how employees have more in common than they may realize, and look for virtual community-building activities. Consider a volunteer opportunity, such as tutoring or mentoring, that keeps people at home while helping them reach out to others.
Be flexible about their work hours
If you haven’t entertained schedule changes or job-sharing requests before, now may be the time to start. Practice necessary work boundaries that keep workplace productivity in check and ensure that your flexibility doesn’t negatively affect other workers. If it can be done without adverse consequences to the company or other teams, see how you might accommodate it.
Ensure they have local support
Many companies have employees spread across the country, but even those who operate from a centralized location may find it tough to support team bonding in their homes. Not everyone will be forthcoming about their home or personal challenges, and connecting them with resources in their immediate area can encourage them to reach out if they need it. See what social services, health resources, and family support networks exist where they live, and keep a company dashboard with links or phone numbers to these programs for easy access.
Keep them informed of any company changes
How did you inform employees about important updates in the past? Those ways may not work in the pandemic. Let everyone know of the one place they can look for updates, in addition to actively communicating significant changes through email, a company message board, or text. Not everyone uses every tool regularly, so try to find a way that’s best accepted, and keep that centralized location updated with a static message everyone can come back to.
Don’t forget about your international teams
If you work with distributed teams across different time zones, they may be going through something completely different than your U.S.-based workers. Not only do they have different emergency orders and health measures, but they may have limited access to the systems and supports they need to do their job.
Don’t assume that even modernized countries are running smoothly. Do frequent check-ins with these remote workers, and make them one-on-one meetings, if possible. Ask how you can help, and remember to practice flexibility while they get through these trying times.
Supporting stressed-out workers this year
Every one of these tips for helping your employees aims to do one thing: reduce stress. Some stressors aren’t within our sphere of influence. Employees may be reluctant to share how parental duties, divorce, or health issues are accumulating and causing them to feel more anxiety than usual.
The American Institute of Stress (AIS) has focused many of their resources on workplace stressors and acknowledged the need to support workers before coronavirus added more to employees’ plates. While some jobs certainly have a reputation for being more “stressful,” their research shows that even low-stress jobs have the potential to become too much during difficult times.
According to the AIS, half of all workers surveyed admitted to needing help when it comes to managing stress, and 42 percent said they knew of a co-worker who could use this help. This is a huge area where human resource teams and management could step up and lead by example. It’s important to model proper self-care, healthy communication methods, and project management skills so your employees know that it’s not only possible, but expected, to take the time to do things that matter.
These expectations can be set from day one, even before a candidate is hired. By establishing an open, remote-friendly, and stress-reducing approach to work, you can attract better talent and keep those who already contribute to the company from burning out. It’s a wise investment for the health of your people and also the future of your business.
If you are looking for new workers to join your team, consider using Comeet as part of your hiring process. Learn more about how we can improve the way you bring on new talent through automation and collaboration.