It can be easy in uncertain or anxious times to forget about managing stress and maintaining strong connections with colleagues, particularly when you’re working outside of your usual environment or your team is dispersed. Here are some quick tips for managers and HR leaders to consider when supporting employees’ (and their own) mental health, productivity, and team dynamics.
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented situation that finds many of us in uncharted territory. Between the fluidity of the news, social distancing, and trying to stay positive and productive while working in stressful circumstances, there’s a lot to keep track of.
It can be easy in uncertain or anxious times to forget about managing stress and maintaining strong connections with colleagues, particularly when you’re working outside of your usual environment or your team is dispersed.
With this in mind, we’ve rounded up some quick tips for managers and HR leaders to consider when supporting employees’ (and their own) mental health, productivity, and team dynamics.
Supporting mental health
As Aiysha Malik, a technical officer at the World Health Organization’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse Department said recently, “It’s really important to think about mental health as part of the public health response to COVID-19.”
We previously collected a series of tips for World Mental Health Day here. Some recommendations include practicing mindfulness by “thinking like a toddler,” not rushing through every minute of your day, and being present and keeping your attention on what’s important as some ways to stay grounded.
More recent suggestions related to managing stress and mental health amidst the barrage of COVID-19 news include the following:
- Manage social media and news consumption: In short, limit your news-related screen time. Seek information from trusted and reliable sources. Panic-driven headlines, content without context, stigmatizing language, and a constant ticker tape of updates can heighten anxiety. Consider checking the news only at specific times during the day, and at a set number of times per day. Emotions can be contagious, so set communication boundaries as well.
- Get outside: Exposure to nature – even for short periods of time – is a mood booster for office workers. This remains true whether you and your team are working from the office or at home. Take some time to get outside, clear your head, and burn a little adrenaline.
- Make time for activities you enjoy: It’s important to step away from work and spend time on activities that help you unwind. Embrace your hobbies, get some exercise, or look into new learning opportunities to balance your focus and attention.
- Check in with others (see below for more tips on staying connected)
Staying productive when working from home
COVID-19 has led to an unexpected shift to large-scale working from home for many employees.
There’s already been a slew of research about the positive effects of working from home on productivity, and some suggest that the need to do so during COVID-19 could result in a permanent shift in many employers’ policies around flexible work arrangements.
As it stands, 62% of businesses worldwide have a flexible workspace policy, according to WIG’s Global Workspace Survey. And 85% of business leaders in that same survey said that flexible working has made their business more productive, and 67% think it can improve productivity by at least a fifth.
Check out these productivity-boosting hacks, and some additional ways to keep cabin fever at bay, stay productive, and keep the work flowing below:
- Figure out how you want to structure your day: Fast Company points out that without the usual commute time or office antics, it’s possible that you can get your work completed on a condensed timeline. Decide if you want to stick to your standard schedule or switch it up. The publication suggests that if you keep your usual schedule, use the time you’d typically spend commuting for learning.
- Choose a specific area at home and designate it as your workstation: Set boundaries to discourage interruptions or unexpected drop-ins. Designating a specific area as your workspace – and then leaving it at the end of the day – means you’ll also be less compelled to respond to (non-urgent) work emails throughout the night.
- Get creative with tech tools: If you’re working from home for an extended period of time, it’s worth considering whether or not you need a set-up that’s more elaborate than your laptop.
- Take breaks: Structuring your workday differently doesn’t mean you’re immune to needing breaks. Take a few minutes to step away from your workstation – whether to take a walk, eat, stretch, or call a friend.
- Overcommunicate: With remote work, it can be easy for messages or information to get lost in the flurry of emails. As well, for companies and employees that aren’t used to the majority of their workforce working remotely, communicating often goes a long way to building trust and providing transparency. Consider first how you’re using each channel or platform (whether email, text, chat, or group meetings). As well, think about sending daily update emails or having short check-in meetings more often. Check out some additional tips below on staying connected with your team.
Staying connected with your team
Whether it’s due to social distancing or because teams are dispersed, it’s important to keep connections strong when everyone isn’t physically in the same place.
This isn’t only a workplace practice – it’s also a positive contributor to improving the population’s overall social health.
There’s a loneliness epidemic amongst workers (which we previously covered) – and in fact, according to Scientific American, a recent U.S. survey found that 79% of Gen Zers, 71% of millennials, and 50% of boomers feel lonely.
Physical distance and loneliness stemming from isolation can be amplified during times of stress or crisis, and that’s when it’s especially critical to be creative with maintaining connections.
Some suggestions from experts via the New York Times, Scientific American, and Time are as follows:
- Connect with team members via social media, chat, and/or video
- Enroll in a remote learning course together
- Use video calling when possible for meetings
- Set up a buddy system with a colleague, to contact each other if/when you need to chat
- Practice “one-minute kindness” by sending a quick, personal direct message or email compliment or expression of gratitude to a friend or co-worker