One of the many things that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought us is home working on an unprecedented scale. It has opened many businesses’ eyes to the possibilities and highlighted what remote workforces can achieve, individually and collectively, wherever they happen to be based.
However working in isolation, away from a communal workspace, has had an impact on many people’s wellbeing. In some cases, this has been exacerbated by the speed at which people have had to move from office to home working environments with very little time to make the transition, adjust to changes to their roles and the ways in which they interact with their colleagues and customers.
Three practical steps to improve wellbeing
Many businesses have successfully helped their workforces to adapt to their changing circumstances while others are still trying to deal with the many different stresses and pressures brought on by remote working.
Employee benefits provider, Perkbox, advises employers to:
- Conduct daily ‘check-ins’ with staff to try and replicate the traditional workplace experience
- Develop a wellbeing programme (if they haven’t already done so) and talk about it regularly
- Actively encourage staff feedback and act on it
Let’s explore what this means in practice.
The importance of daily contact
It is much easier to ‘read’ people when you can interact with them in person. A chat at someone’s desk or while waiting for the kettle to boil will often reveal how they are feeling. Are they upbeat and positive or uncommunicative and low? Informal interactions enable us to spot issues as they arise, respond quickly and act appropriately.
It’s much harder to keep tabs on people’s wellbeing when working remotely – so what can we do about it?
Make daily conversations part of your culture. Encourage managers to have short video calls with their team members every day if at all possible – individually or in groups – so that they are in a better position to gauge people’s moods and pick up on any signs of unhappiness or stress. Look out for differences in their usual behaviour. For example, has someone started turning their camera off during video calls? By paying attention to people’s behaviour and what they don’t say as much as what they do say, managers are more likely to spot issues which they can then pick up with the individual in private afterwards.
Sometimes it’s as simple as demonstrating that you care and are there to help. It could just be that the person needs fresh eyes on their work, help in sorting through their priorities, reassurance or “permission” to take a break. Occasionally, it turns out to be something bigger in which case managers need to know what support is available – and this is something which should be covered as part of their wellbeing training.
Talk openly about the importance of wellbeing
Having a wellbeing strategy is a great starting point. It reassures people that their employer cares. Communicating your organisation’s commitment and making people aware of the support available to them is key.
Embrace every communications channel you’ve got. Don’t be afraid to communicate multiple times through multiple channels as it’s unlikely all of your employees will be checking every one – no matter how engaged they are! Remember people consume information in different ways so while one person might enjoy reading the latest missive on the intranet or in an email newsletter, others may prefer to see the messages delivered via video.
Depending on how much time you have or the expertise available to you in-house, you can make your messages more relevant for different groups of people within your workforce. A good way to do this is to survey your remote workforce to identify which elements of wellbeing they want to improve so you can be a bit more targeted with your communications. For example, it’s not worth sending repeated messages about Zoom meditation or yoga sessions to people who have no interest in these things; they are likely to switch off and ignore future communications which might be more relevant.
Ask for feedback – and then act on it!
Regular communication is crucial but so too is regularly gathering and responding to feedback. This is more challenging when everyone is working remotely. Larger organisations with multiple sites may have more experience of this but even they may have had to reconsider how best to build engagement and encourage conversations when every individual is working from home.
Surveys are a great way of keeping your finger on the pulse and gaining real insights into how your employees are feeling – but they must be done quickly and in real time if you are looking for feedback on a particular initiative. They must also be short, to-the-point and easy to respond to.
The overall aim is to keep the conversation going: tell people what’s going on, ask for their feedback, listen and respond, so that you create a continuous cycle of communication. As a result, people will feel well-informed and that you have their best interests at heart. They will also feel empowered, knowing that they have a voice and it is being heard.
This approach will not only enable you to offer the wellbeing tools that employees’ have requested but you’ll also improve their mood just by listening to what they have to say.
Employee benefits provider, Perkbox, has published a wellbeing strategy guide ‘Unleash Employee Happiness in 2021’ which you can read here.
For more practical advice on dealing with mental health and wellbeing issues in the workplace, this guest blog from Colette Newbury, training lead at Oxfordshire Mind, is a must-read.