How to maintain morale and emphasize mental health with remote workforces
Supporting remote workers’ mental health and boosting morale
As in-office teams have gone remote, they’ve faced no shortage of challenges in maintaining their productivity in new environments — not to mention their sanity.
Even before a widespread shift to telecommuting, remote workers routinely faced challenges in fending off loneliness and creating high-quality connections with colleagues and customers from afar.
In 2018, Harvard Business Review chronicled then-current research on the effects of remote work on employee isolation and burnout:
- One paper found that telecommuters exerted additional effort when away from the office, a form of “intensification” that could stretch projects over longer periods of time and induce burnout.
- Isolation was flagged as a major health risk in a presentation given at the American Psychological Association. Meanwhile, Buffer’s 2018 State of Remote Work survey found that loneliness topped the list of remote work difficulties.
Fast forward to 2020 and the same challenges are present, if not more intensified by external factors. The 2020 edition of Buffer’s survey found “loneliness” again at the top of the most cited struggles, tied with “collaboration and communication.”
How managers can alleviate mental stress
What can managers, in particular, do to alleviate the mental stress on their teams? Let’s explore a few of the most common tactics.
It’s not enough to just do a one-time check-in with an employee to see how they’re holding up. Instead, try the following:
- Make a schedule and stick to it. The exact timeframe will vary depending on the department. For example, engineering teams may need more frequent meetings than others, due to the continuous, iterative nature of methodologies like DevOps. On the other hand, monthly check-ins can work in other contexts, like keeping up-to-date with people you don’t interact with day in and day out.
- Mix it up when appropriate. Although some meetings will be strictly focused on work, you have room to expand the subject matter and format of check-ins in other contexts. Virtual coffees or team happy hours may be a useful addition to your schedule. These gatherings let you get a sense of how workers are feeling and provide emotional support. Focusing on mental health during check-ins is also useful no matter the larger topic, as dealing with anxiety, depression, and overload can be tough when remote.
- Create an agenda. No matter the type of meeting you’re setting up, it doesn’t hurt to have an agenda, if only for your own sake. Make a list of what will be covered so that you can keep the check-in on track. For more formal meetings, share the agenda along with any collateral (such as forms to fill out) well in advance of the actual meeting time.
- Provide opportunities for development. Just because an employee is remote does not mean their professional development can’t continue. Virtual check-ins via video conferencing platforms and screen sharing software offer good forums for reviewing progress and looking ahead to how the employee might expand their skill set.
Mental health days
In May 2020, Cisco offered employees a company-wide “Day for Me” for purposes of everyone’s well-being. This occasion — an opportunity for the company to take a “collective break” — continued Cisco’s longer-term commitment to mental health, both internally and externally. Cisco leadership has, at other junctures, sent out email updates on mental health and contributed to the ramping-up of telehealth services enabled by Cisco Webex.
More broadly, other organizations may benefit from encouraging their employees to prioritize their mental health by taking advantage of vacation or PTO days and not letting their work intrude into odd hours. Even on days when employees are working, regular breaks and a consistent routine are essential in recharging from the sometimes overwhelming stress of balancing work with ongoing background anxieties.
These techniques help reset the mind and also reduce the eyestrain of looking at screens all day. Consider getting up at least every 20 to 30 minutes, if feasible, and taking the occasion to look at somewhere other than a phone or PC.
One reason that remote employees may feel isolated is that the most common forms of collaboration are very impersonal. Email exchanges can happen without the recipients ever knowing what each other looks or sounds like. And yet enormous time blocks of each work week are consumed composing, responding to, and generally managing email.
In contrast, real-time collaboration solutions with features for video, audio, and screen sharing can provide a much more personalized experience that is good not only for productivity but also for staving off feelings of isolation and burnout. Real-time collaboration tools offer:
- Crystal-clear video to get insight into body language and reactions.
- Crisp audio for having an easy-to-follow conversation from anywhere.
- Screen sharing alongside video and audio for in-depth walkthroughs and demos.
- Integrated messaging for synchronous communication and content sharing.
Add it all up, and the experience is more engaging than relying on email alone. Webex can be the centerpiece of your mental health-conscious and inclusive remote work experience.
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