Many of us are now working at home to slow the spread of COVID-19 and practice effective social distancing. The health and wellness of employees, customers and other stakeholders are employers’ top priority, so many of us are deployed using a remote work plan. While some industries have used flexible work plans already, with at least some of the staff working remotely part of the time, for others, this is a brave new world. With in-office time now on hiatus until further notice, how can managers support employees?
Here are some brief tips:
Ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place
Ideally, the virtual workplace includes the same core elements as the physical one: places and means to collaborate, ask for colleagues’ expertise and advice, share concepts and accomplish tasks. But do all employees have the basic essential technology – laptops, file-sharing systems, reliable high-speed WiFi, access to necessary software systems? Has a remote networking tool been selected, acquired and adequately tested? Is there a schedule in place for checking in, reporting on projects’ status, and collaborating on high-priority projects?
Expect an adjustment period
Those of us who are accustomed to working at home at least some of the time already know that working from home can actually make us more productive. But some employees are not accustomed to working remotely, and these individuals may not have some of the techniques that veteran remote workers have acquired to stay engaged and focused on work. Many disruptions exist at home, and during these unusual times, the disruptions at home may be far more intrusive. Children and partners are also likely home, with most schools and workplaces temporarily closed. Cafes and shared workspaces are not generally options for remote work at this time. Newsfeeds are dire, alarming and pervasive, and employees may be understandably distracted.
Stay connected and hold regular meetings
Routines help during uncertain times. Keep your regular meeting schedule going, even if you only have abbreviated versions of regular meetings. Set regular times to check in with your employees, even plan some without work-related agendas. Our Executive Director calls these meetings ‘water cooler chats’ – there’s no set agenda, and work-related topics may arise, but these meetings are simply about feeling connected to work ‘families’ and informally catching up with each other. If possible, try to find ways to keep your corporate culture alive. For fast-paced workplaces, you might consider daily ‘coffee times’, where everyone checks in at a set morning time for ten minutes to discuss their agendas for the day.
Look into online learning and training for employees
Are there skills that your staff could hone through on-line training? Now could be the perfect time to launch this. Not only are many companies offering training on-line, but some are also providing training for reduced prices, even for free. During this pandemic, your staff may find on-line learning to be a welcome change of pace, serving as not just a means to sharpen their skill set, but as a distraction from the present realities.
Be flexible, be flexible, be flexible
Understand that employees have many concerns at the moment about the multiple dimensions and potential repercussions of this pandemic. Are their loved ones’ jobs safe? Are they worried about finances? Do they have children that are demanding their attention? Are they cobbling together a home school schedule? If someone cannot make an online meeting or check-in, is having difficulty meeting a deadline, or seems unfocused, provide alternatives and be as understanding as possible. These are not normal times, and ‘business as usual’ is an aspiration that cannot always be attained.
Recognize and understand the downside of social distancing
You’re not your employees’ parent, psychiatrist or friend, but you are their manager, and their wellbeing should matter to you. Working remotely can cause people to feel alone and isolated. Loneliness and isolation can lead to mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. Take note of your team members’ work output, personalities and moods. If you notice significant changes, consider an off-line, person-to-person (telephone) chat. Offer resources if possible; many companies have Employee Assistance Plans (EAPs) that coordinate support and resources for employees. Assemble a list of website links and phone numbers for EAPs and other helpful links to mental health resources. NAMI CCNS has launched on-line versions of several support groups; please check us out at namiccns.org.
Please take care of yourselves and each other during this uncertain time!