These certainly are unfamiliar times. There are many different factors which may be influencing the wellbeing of your team members, so it’s important that you monitor them and regularly check in to make sure they are coping well. Supporting the wellbeing of employees is an important aspect of management in any organisation.
Whilst some businesses and employees are gently returning to work in the office, many professionals around the world continue to work from home. Those who are venturing back to the workplace after numerous months of home working may feel uneasy about it, so it’s crucial to keep a close eye on how they are doing. Similarly, it’s harder to monitor team members who are working from home as the visual indications are clearly not as noticeable when you’re not working in the same building - so it’s just as important that you make sure you’re supporting the wellbeing of your remote workers.
We all recognise the importance of maintaining our colleagues’ and team members’ wellbeing at work; it’s great for morale and can improve retention rates. Here are 7 ways you can support the wellbeing of your remote and office workers...
- The importance of communication
- Why you should give employees more flexibility
- How to protect employees through making the office safe
- The best ways you can increase support
- Make sure they recognise work and personal life boundaries
- How you can facilitate (safe) socialising between team members
- Consider rotating tasks between colleagues
Bonus section: 3 companies setting a great ‘employee wellbeing’ example
1. Communication is key
The best thing to do is simply ask team members ‘how they are coping’ on a regular basis. Why not arrange daily (virtual) team meetings, send round weekly email updates or upload video updates onto your intranet, or even just keep in touch via online chat! Hopefully this consistent level of contact will instill a level of trust that will make staff comfortable and allow them to open up more about how they are truly feeling.
It is easy to say that managers should just regularly ask about their team members’ wellbeing at work, but in practice, approaching someone can seem daunting and the easy option is to avoid the topic entirely. But it is best to be proactive and open a dialogue to discuss how they are getting on so that any potential issues can be resolved early; if that employee is working remotely, this can easily be done over a video call.
In contrast, if an employee actively approaches management wanting to discuss their wellbeing, you should be prepared to talk about any issues and ready to try and identify what the causes might be. In this instance, it’s important to remain professional, calm, patient and supportive.
2. Allow your team members an element of flexibility
Never before have working practices been so widely disrupted. Most organisations adapted to this disruption effectively and efficiently, but now some have begun to transition towards returning employees to the office. At this stage, the greatest emphasis should be placed on how to take care of your employees, paying close attention to their health and wellbeing.
A major part of this will consist of being flexible. If you are returning to the office, give your team members the opportunity to choose whether they continue working remotely or work from the office - be balanced by educating them about the safety measures being taken in the office while also highlighting the risks to themselves and their colleagues. It is also worth outlining the benefits of getting back to work in the office as well..
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Twitter has announced that it is allowing employees to work from home “forever”, becoming one of the first companies to go to a work-from-home model.
Further to flexibility surrounding whether or not employees have to attend the office for work, you could also introduce an element of flexibility around working hours as well - staggered work patterns will mean that not everyone arrives or leaves at the same time, reducing the risk of unnecessary contact in lifts, lobbies or stairwells. Not only will this ease any concerns your employees may have about travelling during peak hours, but it will also protect office based workers by keeping employee density low.
Flexible hours should be extended to your remote workers as well. It may be the case that they are juggling childcare or other family commitments with work, especially if their partner is working as well. Adjusted hours whilst working from home mean that they can take shifts and swap over the family duties at some point in the day! Easing the load in this manner is a great way to improve employee wellbeing.
3. Establish a safe working environment
Following on from easing concerns by reducing the risk of transmission at work, there are more steps that can be taken to ensure you have a safe working environment:
- Introduce a minimum area per person within the office to decrease density
- Supply PPE and train employees on how to properly use it
- Increase the frequency of office deep cleaning
- Temporarily close communal areas such as kitchens and break rooms where numerous people are likely to be touching surfaces
- Create visual instructions and prompts (circles around desks, lanes in corridors, standing spots in lifts etc.) to reinforce social distancing around the office
The peace of mind employees will get from simply seeing the active steps you are taking to make the office safer will be a definite boost to wellbeing at work.
You can support your remote employees by helping to improve their working environment. If this is going to become a long-term solution for a number of your employees, their set-up will need to be adapted to better accommodate their working practices - and part of the responsibility falls on you as their employer!
Leading from the front (as ever), Google has pledged to give employees a $1,000 allowance to spend on equipment to help outfit their home workspaces and has also implemented various schemes to help support employee wellbeing.
4. Provide increased levels of wellbeing support
Sometimes employees would prefer to talk to someone who is not their direct line manager or team member. In this scenario, it is important to let them know that HR can be of assistance and can help with both professional and personal issues from a work perspective.
If you don’t have one set up already, now would be a great time to establish an employee assistance programme. This form of wellbeing support programme offers your staff an outlet to discuss any personal problems or concerns they may be encountering - making them feel comfortable and able to talk about their issues is crucial.
5. Don’t forget: Encourage staff to take breaks
When working in the office, boundaries between work and personal time are clear. You arrive and start your working day, you take breaks to get coffee and catch up with colleagues and try to get out of the office at lunch and then you pack up and depart for the day, leaving your work mindset behind (or you should be able to do all this at least!). These interruptions and interactions break up the day.
It may not be so simple for those who are working remotely - they feel like they should always be contactable. Therefore, you should encourage remotely based employees to take short breaks throughout the working day, every day.
In their video, HubSpot perfectly outline how, by adjusting your attitude and management style, you can make sure remote work really works for your employees.
It’s not feasible to expect your employees to be working constantly, even if they are in the comfort of their own home. You wouldn’t expect it of your office based workers, so encourage them to break regularly to keep their minds fresh and attentive! Not only will this improve employee wellbeing, but it will increase employee engagement as well - and boosted productivity may well follow on from that!
6. Facilitate socialising between team members (with social distancing)
It is almost inevitable that employees will be feeling somewhat isolated from their colleagues. This is likely to continue even when a return to the office occurs because they won’t be able to go for drinks, stop for a coffee and chat in the communal kitchen and will be spread around the office so they can’t have casual conversations as they work.
In this scenario, the responsibility falls on management to facilitate some safe socialising. It’s easy to arrange daily virtual coffee catch ups over Zoom or Google Hangout, and will be a welcome break from the working day for your teams. That way, both groups of remotely based and office based employees can communicate in a more social and less work-related setting.
Be careful not to overdo it - with so many virtual meetings using video conferencing tools, your employees could start to experience ‘Zoom or Hangout burnout’. Change it up by using other forms of communication or don’t force video interaction - a voice is often more than good enough!
7. Explore the option of rotating work loads
Whilst the wellbeing focus has primarily been on the current environment and how we all can adjust to it, it’s important not to forget that your employees are all still carrying out their jobs - and this can be stressful enough as it is.
If you think that any of your team members are struggling to cope with their workload, could you help them by sharing some of their tasks with other employees? If some employees have transferable skills, this could be their time to shine and gain experience across other teams by helping out with their colleagues’ duties.
A few companies that are setting a great example:
- Unilever - Unilever has a company-wide focus on physical and mental wellbeing in order to “support employees to be the best they can be.'' This has the ultimate goal of ensuring all employees are in a sustainable state of feeling good and functioning as a ‘whole human’. It also runs a lamplighter programme, which recognises that mental health is especially important in times of change or uncertainty.
- Innocent Drinks - Innocent has a number of programmes in place which have the aim of creating an environment that supports employee wellbeing; a 24 hour assistance programme that allows employees to speak confidentially, as well as training courses that promote a better understanding of mental wellbeing.
- EY - Ernst & Young offers many benefits that are specifically conducive to promoting positive workplace wellbeing - private healthcare, free health assessments and occupational health and rehabilitation consultancy. In an attempt to eliminate the stigma, senior leaders frequently share their own stories, talking frankly about their struggles with common mental health problems. This encourages employees to reach out whenever they feel like they need help. EY also has a free online health assessment and 24 hour counselling that employees, and their families, can use.
For more comprehensive expert advice…
Check your national health authority website for further expert advice on supporting employee wellbeing during these difficult times.