By business author and Purple Cubed founder, Jane Sunley
This blog is available as a podcast. You can listen to it here:
If the thought of enforced homeworking is sending you into a tailspin, you’re not alone. In a recent survey even back when things were ‘normal’, where people were choosing to work from home, one in three of them reported stress as a result of home working; double that of onsite workers. Last October, in the State of Remote Work report, the thousands of remote workers surveyed were enthusiastic about the work-life balance, schedule flexibility, and work performance that being able to work offsite brings to their lives. However, 49% of them found their biggest challenges to be wellness-related, for example being unable to ‘turn off’ after work, feeling lonely and staying motivated. For some industries, such as hospitality, where home working is infeasible though, due to closures, people are sent home anyway, the challenges increase because they might not only be suffering pay cuts, though the sense of purpose and collaborative, interactive spirit of their work is lost. Many people in social industries simply aren’t naturally suited to working remotely or in enforced isolation and will need extra-special care in these challenging times.
Social isolation is often associated with poor mental health and can lead to increased risk of depression, cognitive decline, anxiety. Homeworkers can feel lonely, disconnected, unsupported and there’s a serious FOMO factor; fear of missing out on opportunities, on information and on connecting with colleagues, for example. People often feel as though there are more hours in the day to fill because there’s no commute, no interruptions, no one encouraging and supporting, chatting. As a result, they may begin to feel stressed because of a perceived need to keep busy and be productive, without the adrenaline buzz of the workplace and colleagues to drive motivation and morale. So, what should leaders be doing to lessen the negative impacts of enforced home working and giving everyone the best possible chances of coming out of Covid-19 as mentally healthy as possible?
- Breathe: be aware that whatever you’re going through, your people are suffering as much if not more than you are in their own way. Even if you feel like screaming, your job is to focus on acceptance, resilience, determination, adaptation and action so you can support your people through to the other side.
- Empathy: it’s human nature to resist change let alone deal with something as significant as the fallout of Covid-19. You’re in this together so work together on the ‘ground’ rules and best way forward and put yourself in ‘other people’s shoes’.
- Clarity: work out what the new priorities are and exactly how everyone will play their part. Just saying ‘work at home’ without thought and direction will send many into a stress-entrenched tailspin. Be clear about what’s expected, how things will work and let people know to expect updates and modifications on a daily basis.
- Trust: those who are still micro-managing will find it difficult to let go. Focus on outputs not inputs and work hard on learning to trust people to get on and do what they need to without checking in on them all the time. Remember you employ responsible adults so expect the best of them.
- Workspace support: give people advice on how best to work remotely. Do as much as you can to ensure they have at least the basics of what they need to work as healthily and safely as possible. See our ten top tips for home workers.
- Flexibility: different people perform best at differing times and durations of working so allow them to take advantage of the crisis by enjoying more freedom to choose how they work. Establish any ‘contact non-negotiables’, ensure people can find out who’s available when and then let them get on with it.
- Communication: this is a biggie. Make sure that any message that goes out centrally is clear, unambiguous and consistent across the organisation. You might want to set up a central place that people can go to find out the latest information, such as on your Talent Toolbox or other dashboard.
- Collaboration: find ways to make sure people don’t miss out of team communications and the ability to work together. You can do this by having an optional ‘daily dial-ins’ at a set time and by making sure there’s a forum for people to go to chat online on your comms platform. And this is an excellent time for people to dial into learning webinars and the like.
- Feedback and support: It’s demoralising to work hard, and no one notices so organised report back systems so you can see when people have completed their projects and give them recognition and feedback. Also make sure people know there’s support available if they need help, guidance or just to chat to a human.
- Monitor: check in with your people specifically around their wellbeing and ensure they know where to go for support. Our new Wellbee tool makes this simple by not only enabling self-check in and diagnosis though also providing advice and links to support as well as enabling organisations to track the wellbeing of their people.
Bonus tip: Learn: take advantage of being thrust into this ‘alternative existence’ by observing any inadvertent benefits of leading and working differently. Take a few risks on trying things that are new or changed. Think about the lessons and how they can be used in the future.
Overall, think about what you’re learning from having to do things differently and see how this can be applied in future – you might discover a few surprises…