A Gartner, Inc. survey of 800 global HR executives on March 17 found that 88 percent of organizations have encouraged or required employees to work from home. Remote work is a paradigm shift for most workplaces — and there’s been no time to prepare for this unanticipated world of remote work. For employees, it can create stress, productivity drops and feelings of isolation.
As leaders, we need to step up. Following these five leadership practices will ensure you can reduce stress, engage your teams and still maintain productivity as we wade into this uncharted territory.
1. Focus on communication
Your team needs you to be the voice of calm and reason. They rely on you to take action and set the tone, so use every opportunity to reinforce your organization’s mission and values, explaining carefully how they relate to the current state of affairs. If you are calm, confident and have a plan, it will reassure them that everything will be OK.
Tip: Communications should always prioritize health and wellness, as well as business continuity. Communicate regularly with employees, preferably daily check-ins on video where you can look them in the eye.
2. Share the facts
Misinformation and unknowns are a significant contributor to stress and anxiety. Leaders should share trusted resources for accurate and up-to-date information on COVID-19 and how it is impacting the organization and your community.
Tip: Leverage trusted resources such as your local public health authority, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, share tips with your team on managing the information to reduce anxiety, such as turning off notifications and only checking the news updates at specific times during the day once or twice.
3. Foster virtual employee interactions
In this time of isolation, virtual communities are essential for mental health and wellness. Without the regular face time in the office, employers need to maintain frequent professional interactions and foster personal connections among all employees. You can do this through employee portals, team messaging and collaboration apps, virtual meetings using conferencing tools or setting up social media closed groups.
Tip: Find new ways to interact for both work meetings and also social interactions, such as virtual coffee breaks, book clubs or even resource and idea-sharing groups. Try virtual crazy hat days and PJ days to add a little levity to a stressful time.
4. Develop clear policies
Remote work looks different for each employee, depending on their needs and those of their families. With daycare and school closures, many employees are multitasking throughout the workday. Empower teams by providing flexibility to balance to their conflicting time demands.
Tip: Set “core business hours” when team members should all be available to collaborate, and outside that time block allow flexibility with start, finish and break times.
5. Safeguard mental and psychological well-being
Working from home can lead to feelings of social isolation, which can be detrimental to mental health. Remind your team to protect themselves and loved ones not just physically, but also mentally and psychologically. As an organization, you’re going to be in a much healthier position as the company if you take your emotional wellness culture seriously and uphold a culture of respect.
Tip: If you have an Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP), share resources, tips and tools regularly. If you don’t have these tools through your benefits coverage, they can be found online through organizations like the World Health Organization or online.