Thursday, 09 April 2020
Working from home can be challenging for business owners and their staff. We outline eight ways you can help to reduce your team’s stress levels while they work remotely.
Now more than ever, managers and business leaders need to be mindful of the mental health of their staff. The coronavirus pandemic has brought worry and disruption of a kind not experienced before by anyone in the current workforce.
From juggling childcare to difficulties structuring the day, many people are feeling the strain – but there are plenty of things team leaders and business owners can do to help. Here are eight tips from the experts.
Feeling connected to the rest of the team can be a huge morale booster.
Andy Salkeld, author of Life is a Four-Letter Word: A Mental Health Survival Guide for Professionals, says that online meet-ups should now be a priority. “We have access to loads of great tools and apps that allow us to communicate while at distance; Skype, Zoom, Discord to name a few,” he says. “These don’t have to be just for meetings. Organise lunchtime hangouts, or coffee breaks; share what you would normally share in an office together.”
Dr William Bird MBE, a GP and the founder of Intelligent Health, best known for its Beat the Street physical activity games, is taking this approach with his team. “We are having daily whole team catch-ups on Zoom – not to talk about work but to chat as humans in extraordinary times,” he says. “We have asked staff to video call into all meetings so we can see each other and connect as well as possible.”
“Working from home can be challenging for anyone, particularly if they are having to self-isolate,” says Jill Mead, co-founder and managing director at workplace mental health organisation Talk Out. “But for individuals already experiencing mental health issues in their lives, working from home for a long period of time might be very difficult. As a manager, it’s really important to pay particular attention to these people and take the time for a regular one-to-one conversation. If someone on your team has been quite quiet on the communication channels you’ve set up, make sure you reach out to check how they are and discuss if there any ways you could support them better remotely.”
“This is no time for hierarchy, and creating an environment of mutual support and caring is a great way to go”
“Try to keep people to normal office hours,” says Salkeld. “It’s easy to wake up late, not get dressed for work and just turn up on time; but this can lead to a blending of work and rest with neither being done effectively. Try introducing a daily ‘round table’, ideally over video call, so everyone can see each other and learn what each other is working on that day.”
Even if you are stuck indoors, exercise can be a powerful mood booster.
“Encourage employees to exercise and to take time away from screens,” says Alister Gray, executive coach, leadership consultant and co-founder of the Mindful Talent Coaching Academy. “When working from home remotely, it’s easy to get caught up in a world of technology; whether it be on emails, WhatsApp or Slack, the tendency is to always be ‘on’. This, coupled with a tendency to check our social channels in between work tasks, leads us to having minds overloaded with information and stimulus.
“Instead, be mindful. Take five minutes to walk around your home or flat, to stretch, to breathe or to meditate. Five minutes without screen time will enable your mind some time to replenish and refresh.”
In times of uncertainty, focusing on the future can be a source of stress. “The tendency is for everyone to jump to the future and want to have all of the answers to everything, most of which won’t be able to be answered,” says Dr Chris Shambrook, director of performance coaching business PlanetK2. “So, to minimise the stress of having your head in the future when your challenge is in the present, get into the habit of having daily feed-forward conversations first thing in the morning that simply define what success looks like ‘just for today’.”
“If you want to check in with your team and find out whether they’re struggling or not, you need to share yourself,” says Salkeld. “Tell them how you are finding it; are you struggling with routine? Are you finding it an isolating experience? Sharing your vulnerability is a sign of strength and will help encourage your team do the same.”
Shambrook agrees. “Just because you have the term ‘manager’ or ‘leader’ in your title, doesn’t mean you’re instantly more gifted at coping. This is no time for hierarchy, and creating an environment of mutual support and caring is a great way to go.”
“Make extra efforts to ensure that everyone has a 100% shared picture of what success looks like and what the expectations are for each person,” says Shambrook. “This avoids people perceiving the demand to be greater than it is and creating additional, unnecessary stress.”
Dr Bird adds that it’s important for managers to be flexible in their expectations: “Allow time to formulate and review plans. To some extent, work won’t carry on as usual, so we need to come to terms with this. Let people know you don’t expect them to deliver as they would typically do.”
For your own mental health, and that of your staff, this is not a time for micromanaging. “At a time when all of us are experiencing uncertainty and change, it might feel like you have lost hold of the reins and can’t monitor your team as easily as you could when you were in your office environment,” says Mead. “In order to navigate this challenging time, it is important to relinquish some control and acknowledge that you will have to trust your team to get on.”