Remote Reassurance: Caring for your Employees’ Mental Wellbeing During Self-isolation and Remote Working
In this uncertain time, relentless changes to guidance and advice is becoming the new norm and adjusting to new information and change is essential for everyone in any professional or personal context. To reduce risks and the spread of corona virus, remote working, reduced contact and social isolating are all being encouraged: more and more organisations are providing opportunities for their employees to access work from home. Yet, in times of change and uncertainty, this can be a catalyst for worry, anxiety and mental ill health. How can organisations support the transition to home working and provide effective mental health support for their staff at the same time?
Recommendations for Employers
It is essential that an organisation-wide policy is put in place and that it is understood by employers that supporting mental health is an important element of this. A consistent approach is required, with some flexibility and personalisation in such a fluid situation. Remote working can be highly daunting if there is a lack of structure and reduced contact with others so giving advice about how to manage time, productivity and connections with their time is really important.
First of all, practical considerations should include the physical space that someone will be working from. The physical environment should be suitable in terms of a workstation that gives them a comfortable position and area to work in. Ideally, this would be in a room that can be shut away outside of work hours to aid a clear distinction between work and non-work time. It should be well-ventilated and ideally with access to natural light. Access to work systems will need to be provided remotely and access to the internet will also need to be considered.
Often, remote workers can find there is a difficulty in being able to separate work and home when both happen in the same place. This is in both a physical sense, such as in a room where the door can be shut when work is not taking place, but also in the sense that they need to clearly distinguish between work hours and down-time so they are not contactable outside of that time. Encouraging a clear routine can help to solve this problem – suggesting appropriate times for work activities to take place, including breaks and lunch, can help remote workers to detach from work when needed.
Similarly, there needs to be an understanding by both the employee and employer about how work rate is going to examined – what will be monitored and measured – hours, output or both? Although a space with no distractions is important, during a work day where the employee would have been in an office setting, they would not work solidly for eight hours. There may be breaks, communications with work colleagues, time to think and consider activities: these will still need to take place and should be factored into the expectations of the manager for work output/hours so that they do not become merely task-focused.
It is important to remember that a home worker is a lone worker and this can bring with it a sense of isolation that can increase the risk of mental ill health. Managers should aim to communicate regularly with their employees, in both team and individual contexts. In times like this, providing information and keeping people in the loop can help to quell anxiety and fear. Even if there is nothing to say, don’t say nothing at all because this can heighten worry and increase the use of rumours and speculation to fill in the gaps.
The opportunity to communicate with others should be encouraged. Where possible, different modes to achieve this should be considered, such as programmes to allow group video meetings or chats should be utilised to encourage employees to foster social and professional connections to communicate with each other, just as in a work setting to maintain a sense of belonging. These ‘Virtual Water Coolers’ give colleagues the chance to share difficulties and achievements, continuing the opportunity to bond, support and work as a team.
Similarly, individual phone calls and video calls between managers and employees are vital to give the opportunity to check how the individual is coping and given the manager a greater sense of any additional supports that might need to be put in place. Being able to share their anxieties or struggles can help to alleviate worries, which can help people to feel better able to cope with their situations.
Inspiring good mental health practices is essential for every person within the organisation. As well as communication with others from the business, links with family and friends will be vital for individuals as well as having time to complete activities to bring some normality to their lives. Encouraging activities such as reading, listening to podcasts and exercising (either safely at a distance outside or within the house) can all contribute to better mental health.
Overall, the most important factor to consider is for channels of communication to be maintained and encouraged, especially during such as uncertain time. Although these circumstances are unprecedented, your health and wellbeing is still, as always, a priority.
As a company, our vision is to simply see people flourishing in the workplace (whether home or office-based) and our mission is to help clients to support and develop good psychological health in their teams. That is because we believe flourishing people create thriving organisations.
We do this by providing specialist training and services to support mental health, resilience and wellbeing in the workplace and online.
Whether you are looking for face-to-face training, online learning or a blend of the two, we can tailor training on topics such as resilience, mental health and other developmental areas, perfectly suited to your organisation and team.