With morning commutes becoming walks to the kitchen instead of train rides downtown and important corporate meetings occurring over Zoom instead of in a VP’s office, employees have had to quickly adapt to dramatic shifts in the way we work.
In the scramble to enable workplace success offsite and assess ongoing fallout, most companies and their team members haven’t had a moment to pause and process each new day’s changes and challenges.
As remote work and tech-enabled connections become the norm, we can’t lose sight of the unique emotional toll this type of work may take on your people — from frontline employees logging extra hours to executives pivoting strategy and product offerings.
New challenges, new corporate responsibilities
Initial research on employee response to the novel coronavirus’s abrupt upheaval found that 53% of employees reported increased loneliness while working from home.
Many parents have been forced to juggle childcare or tending sick family members with remote work duties. Young employees playroom roulette with roommates, partners, or parents to manage conflicting meeting schedules, and the temptation to bring work computers to bed further blurs work/life boundaries.
On top of these challenges, our bodies are combating traumatic fight or flight responses as our sympathetic nervous systems work in overdrive amid the pandemic.
Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety cost the economy an estimated $1 trillion per year in lost productivity, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Given the emotional toll of the pandemic, businesses will pay a higher price this year. Considering the unique challenges in today’s working landscape — isolation, lack of work/life balance, and competing priorities — implementing programs that ensure your employees take care of themselves in and out of the workplace sets your business up to continue producing good work through challenging circumstances.
A whopping 85% of American adults surveyed said they want more help from employers during this time, leaving company leaders in a powerful position. In providing employees the proper tools and support to address challenges head-on, employers can begin to shift the collective narrative from “fight or flight” to “threat or challenge.”
Centering your people during periods of business disruption
To demonstrate that your organization prioritizes the physical and mental wellness of its workforce, executives at the top need to recognize unique pain points and listen to ways they can address employee experience remotely.
New experiences often bring anxiety, and employees are looking to leaders more than ever on how to stay focused and productive. Organizations must step up to work with and for their employees as we continue to adjust to a new normal working from home.
- Schedule more frequent check-ins
Fostering often and effective communication and collaboration helps create a successful remote work environment — and it’s what your employees want, according to our study of Gen Z worker preferences. Lean on digital solutions to bridge the communications gap created by work from home policies to schedule frequent manager/employee check-ins, but take caution to toe the line between transparency and over-communication.
While some of your employees may want to pack schedules with team meetings and happy hours, others may feel they add to the noise, so make sure you’re providing flexible support.
- Encourage employees to set boundaries that work for them
Empower employees by allowing them to establish their own work cadences and schedules surrounding when they’ll be using team tech or work computers. Fixed schedules and routines while working from home minimizes stress, reduces burnout, and helps employees stay on task during the workday.
As with check-ins, allow employees to determine their own boundaries — for example, a working parent may prefer to work early and late to spend the day with their kids. Once these expectations have been set, managers and teammates will adapt.
- Eliminate time-consuming labor from employees
Automation offers crucial opportunities to reduce tedious tasks and free up employees’ time and energy for more creative, valuable work. While technology solutions don’t naturally adapt, humans do. But it’s important for leaders to pair any new technology solutions with proper upskilling programs. Now’s a critical time to leverage customer and employee feedback through surveys and webinars to see where automation efforts — and wellness initiatives — are landing, and which areas need more support.
- Offer remote opportunities for wellness
Supporting your workforce with mental health services is no longer a soft benefit, it’s an essential resource. A Harvard Business Review article said that “work and mental health are inextricably tied,” with 61% of employees surveyed in 2019 by MindShare Partners saying their productivity has been impacted by mental health.
Offering access to virtual guided meditation sessions and fitness apps, and encouraging employees to take PTO for staycations to disconnect from work and news are all good starting points for creating a healthier workplace.
Employers should reaffirm organizational values of unity and support as businesses continue to encounter new challenges that ask more from their employees. Though today may require “all hands on deck” at your company, that should come with an affirmation that mental and physical health are a part of your business’s KPIs.