There is a whole new challenge for companies in the age of working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Because every employee is isolated and may even be home alone, the mental health ramifications are quite profound. There are adjustments to be made when it comes to being at home each and every day, doing that over a long-term basis, but then also adjusting to normal life once we are all free to go back to the corporate office.
They might see medical personnel right outside of their apartment window; they might be reading reports of hospitals reaching maximum occupancy. This creates a whole new level of anxiety, even for those who might wonder what to do if they need to go to the doctor to fix a sprained arm or check a rash. The low-level stress from the pandemic they feel is escalated when there is a work conflict, they miss the mark on a project, or they feel isolated.
Fortunately, there are some best practices companies can encourage and implement that will help employees stay connected. Some of these tips might seem over-the-top or unusual, or even unnecessary during normal times, but this is a difficult situation. Employees at a company may be experiencing serious dread and fear depending on where they live. By offering a more intentional approach to helping with mental help, you’ll find there is at least some relief.
These tips are designed to assist employees right away and include an extra note about how to implement the idea effectively in a way that will actually help with mental health.
1. Daily check-in meetings
This might seem obvious, but meeting daily as a check-in was not a common occurrence before the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of us are too busy to do a meeting every day at 8am or for lunch. In the current climate, it is 100% necessary for mental health. Doing a daily meeting can help employees from feeling so isolated. Depending on the company size, you can meet with everyone or hold check-ins by department or team in smaller groups.
How to implement effectively: It’s important to pick a standard video chat app such as Zoom and to set some guidelines for these check-ins, such as asking every employee to leave their microphone on at all times and to show their video feed. The reason is that you can then see and hear the employee and know how they are feeling and note their body language. It’s too easy to sneak into a Zoom chat with the video disabled and mi muted, but then your team won’t know who is struggling or having mental health issues that day.
2. Flexible time before and after meetings
Technology has become a major enabler during this crisis, especially since many home-bound workers have fast broadband. It means employees can check-in by video chat with a click on their smartphone or laptop. However, one of the practices that has lingered from before the crisis is to get right down to business. We schedule a meeting, expect people to arrive on time, and then dive right in. During the pandemic, it’s important to allow more flexibility. Just because every employee is a click away from a meeting doesn’t mean they are mentally ready. Allow for casual conversation before a meeting starts and after to encourage more connection time.
How to implement effectively: for this to work, managers need to be understanding and patient about the challenges during the pandemic and also much more intentional. The old habit of jumping into the details needs to be adjusted. Instead, schedule in the casual chat time for every meeting and let the conversation flow freely. Make sure every employee has a voice and has the time to “shoot the breeze” over Zoom as a way to alleviate stress.
3. Encourage work time exercise
Again, this might seem like an odd step to take. Normally, an employer is not responsible for the physical health of employees, although that has changed in recent years as some companies have encouraged daily walks or yoga in the office. It’s even more important now. Exercise is one of the more important methods of relieving stress and helping employees feel less isolated. You could even create an exercise program for all employees and create a reward system for completing objectives such as miles walked outside or reps for an indoor workout.
How to implement effectively: One suggestion here is to “mandate” (in a casual way) that everyone participates in a daily walk or workout routine. You can even hold this on Zoom or Skype with everyone using a smartphone and chatting as they do the workout. To make this more effective, you could hold the exercise meet-up at the same time every day.
4. Focused mental health chats
All of the tips so far are related to normal meetings, flexible time, and exercise. These tips help employees who are dealing with the crisis the best way they can. However, it might not be enough as the pandemic lingers and we stay in lockdown at home. Other mental health issues might arise including feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression, which may affect productivity. You could argue that daily check-ins and exercise are more preventative steps and help employees do their work. A more focused discussion about mental health -- one where you hire a counselor to help your employees -- may also be necessary. You can arrange weekly chats between the counselor and the employee, or hold group chat sessions with a counselor who joins over video chat.
How to implement effectively: This step may require digging into your budget and finding the funds to cover the cost associated with hiring a mental health professional. It might not be optional as time goes by. In normal times, you’d encourage employees to seek help on their own. However, the counselor can address workplace issues, conflicts, loss of productivity, and help that employee find actual solutions related to their remote work situation.
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John Brandon has covered gadgets and cars for the past 12 years having published over 12,000 articles and tested nearly 8,000 products. He's nothing if not prolific. Before starting his writing career, he led an Information Design practice at a large consumer electronics retailer in the US. His hobbies include deep sea exploration, complaining about the weather, and engineering a vast multiverse conspiracy.