As I write this, there are nearly a quarter of a million confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally.
This pandemic has challenged businesses around the world to develop innovative ways of working, including having employees work from home in order to minimize the spread of the virus.
While telework is not a new concept for some employees, the surge in this practice is deeply disruptive to many, especially as an employee’s job normally provides access to the in-person social engagement so necessary for well-being.
Psychologists expect that conditions of extreme stress, as have been experienced over the past weeks, will contribute to sharp increases in anxiety and depressed moods among employees, with the isolation caused by working away from one’s team fueling loneliness and disconnection. Leaders can play a significant role in abating this potential outcome and help to keep employees engaged during this time of crisis.
New Jersey psychologist, Mary Kelly reinforced the importance of team leaders taking action to reduce employee stress. “We may not have control over the virus yet, but we do have control over our response to it,” she said. “Finding meaning in what we are doing is critical when we are all feeling so uncertain and helpless.”
Here are some important practices to put into place for remote workers that can reinforce interpersonal and organizational connection among your team and reduce employee stress levels:
Everyone on the team is likely dialed into the news and is aware of the speed with which the pandemic is unfolding, so leaders should acknowledge that the senior team may be making decisions on a daily or weekly basis that are influenced by what government and medical professionals advise.
This allows employees to know that future work changes are inevitable, but your commitment to keeping them apprised reinforces trust during these difficult times. Engage the team in designing new approaches to working so they feel a part of the solution rather than a victim of it. Pairing employees into small work teams for this purpose is especially empowering.
Create a schedule
When outside forces are ripe with unpredictability, there is solace in having a schedule. Create frequent opportunities for employees to connect with one another and with you as their leader. You might consider a daily morning update call or a team text that keeps everyone apprised of business issues and progress. Those check-ins are also a method for gauging the physical and emotional well-being of team members.
Now more than ever, having an opportunity for virtual in-person interaction is essential to employee engagement. One team I spoke with is holding video calls every Monday for an update on the week ahead. They reconvene for another video call on Friday to discuss work progress, identify issues that need further attention and share insights gained that week.
The team leader feels the practice is building stronger relationships and camaraderie on the team. “Since we are all working from home, she said, these calls provide us with a brief glimpse into each other’s lives," this leader says. "When my cat jumped onto my computer in the middle of a financial briefing, we all had a good laugh.”
Double down on training
When times are challenging, especially financially, training is often the first budget item to be cut. Yet, providing your employees with a chance to participate in self-knowledge and skill building programs is a powerful weapon for fueling engagement, even more so when they can do it as a team. Crisis experiences often ignite introspection, prompting employees to reflect on what is most important to them personally and professionally. Offering programs that help employees build a deeper understanding of self and an appreciation for the unique contributions they can make to the team will stimulate the renewed sense of purpose and commitment to the organization that is so vital at this time.
Leverage mindfulness and meditation practices
It is established that mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga in the workplace reduce employee stress and increase productivity. The importance of applying these practices during crisis periods is evident and is something that you can do together as a team, even virtually. There are many resources available online, including this set of meditation sessions, best practices, and tools from HeadSpace offered for leaders and their teams at no cost.
We are truly in uncharted territory right now, but we are navigating it together. This moment is calling forth the grace in all of us, especially those of us who lead. The more centered we are and the more we help our employees feel anchored and valued, the more grace we will collectively have to extend to others. This is a time when it has never been more needed.
Written by: Alaina Love, CEO of Purpose Linked Consulting and co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results”, for SmartBrief.