While the long-term impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) may not be known for months, many businesses are already having to adapt to their employees working from home – making the need to monitor staff wellbeing increasingly important.
For some, this can feel like a pleasant change, particularly early on. However, it can throw up all sorts of challenges for employers and staff who are not used to it. For owners and managers, perhaps the most important question is how do you monitor staff wellbeing if you’re not in the same building every day?
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Why it’s so important to monitor staff wellbeing
There’s plenty of research that shows a happy workforce increases performance and productivity in a business. Employees who feel physically and emotionally healthy are more likely to be engaged, productive and committed to their jobs.
They’ll also be more able to cope with the disruption and stress a new routine may bring. This is particularly the case if they’re juggling the job with looking after children sent home from school, or loved ones affected by coronavirus.
Social interaction is a major part of staff wellbeing. Feelings of isolation and loneliness could become common the longer working from home persists. Lower engagement, lower productivity and general unhappiness are then likely to set in.
Under the circumstances most of us now find ourselves in, looking after the wellbeing of staff is more important than ever.
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Ensuring you have certain procedures and technologies in place will help you support your staff.
- Ensure everyone’s contact details and emergency contacts are up to date
- Make sure employees know who they should report to if they suspect they, or someone in their household, has coronavirus symptoms
- Make sure employees understand what sick pay and leave they are entitled to
- Communicate regularly with staff and share appropriate information from the government as it is released.
Rachel Suff, senior employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: “Promote the resources you have available to support people’s health and wellbeing generally. Make sure you listen to any concerns and that employees are taking care of their mental wellbeing.”
Things to consider when staff are remote working
Step 1: Make sure you have the right software in place
The key to keeping employees connected is having the right technology in place. Many businesses use email, but video conferencing and encouraging phone calls go a long way to replicating face-to-face conversations.
Most people find talking face-to-face (via a video call) easier, quicker and harder to misinterpret than email. It’s to complete work and helps minimise any friction that may arise while employees are feeling stress.
Research has found that remote workers find it difficult to recognise if colleagues are feeling stressed when they can’t see them. A sharp email which may have been easily forgiven if someone can see a colleague is having a tough day feels different when you’re working remotely.
Workers may now go a whole day without speaking to anyone, which over time, can have a significant impact on their mood and mental health.
- Make sure you have the right software in place to encourage face-to-face interaction
- Make sure all employees know how to use it
- Set the standard by using it yourself so employees follow your lead
- Review and consider if you need to introduce other ways for staff to engage
Step 2: Keeping connected and encouraging productivity
Research shows that when employees aren’t in regular contact with colleagues or managers, their productivity can drop. This isn’t the case for all workers, but a lack of contact can result in people beginning to feel their work is invisible or undervalued.
Many staff struggle to cope with less access to support and communication. It can feel like their manager doesn’t have the same oversight of how busy they are. Over a long period of time, isolation can cause employees to feel less connection to the company. They may even consider leaving once the coronavirus outbreak passes as a result.
According to Gallup’s physical wellbeing lead, Ryan Wolf, “the key to effectively managing remote workers is personalised coaching”. This means ramping up communication and finding out when in the day those feelings of isolation peak (one study found it to be mid-afternoon).
- Make sure every employee is regularly contacted by someone in management or HR
- Introduce regular team catch ups, where employees can report on what they’re working on and share challenges
- Look out for employees who you haven’t heard from recently. The absence of communication from an employee can often be a sign they’re struggling
Step 3: Keeping up the physical health of employees
Some employees may be used to working from home already. They may have an office space set up and won’t notice many changes to their daily routine.
For others, this is all new. It will create physical challenges as much as mental ones. Staff may be seated at kitchen or dining room tables for long periods of time, or working from the sofa on their laptop. Physical discomfort or even pain may begin to appear after a few days or weeks.
- Encourage staff to take regular breaks, be it making a cup of tea, wandering around the garden, or stretching their legs up their road (while following social distancing guidelines)
- Encourage exercise. There are lots of free apps such as the Nike Training Club or Daily Workouts Fitness Trainer. YouTube is full of exercise videos for all levels of fitness as well. Most of these are designed for home workouts with little or no gym equipment
- Provide hardware, such as keyboards, so that employees can replicate their office workstation as much as possible. If you can afford it, you might want to consider supplying office furniture for those who don’t have it
Step 4: Working on mental health too
“Employers need to ensure they don’t take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to managing the mental health of remote workers,” Health Assured CEO David Price believes. It can be “particularly taxing” working remotely and “being isolated from the rest of the organisation” in his view.
One of the most important steps you can take is providing a way for employees to interact socially about non-work topics. Encouraging employees to talk to each other and replicate the conversations they usually have over lunch, a cup of tea or a glass of wine is vital for mental health.
- Establish virtual lunches where employees can eat with each other over a video call
- Consider things like yoga or meditation sessions which employees can join. There are plenty of independent coaches who provide classes via Zoom or Google Hangouts
- Share links to mental health support websites and let your employees know that it’s not unusual to find remote working tough at times
- Be aware that employees will be looking to managers for cues on reacting to the sudden changes. If they sense their manager is calm, this will trickle down to them. Acknowledge that they may be feeling worried, but regularly reiterate your confidence in employees and offer emotional support
Step five: Keeping on track for weeks or months
Nobody is certain how long the current situation is going to last for, which means remote working could become essential for weeks or months.
Feedback and regular assessments of how your team’s experience is turning out will be vital. So will monitoring your own physical and mental health – you will be impacted by this change just as much as your staff.
There’s plenty of help and advice out there, beyond what we’ve laid out here. Follow these areas of focus, and you can make remote working a success for your workforce during this challenging time.
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