There’s no question that COVID-19 has changed so much about the way we live our lives. From learning to socializing, the virus has infiltrated every activity, transforming our world and how we engage with it.
Among the most significant changes, however, is the significant shift to telework. Studies show that the transition to a work from home (WFH) model due to the pandemic has been rapid.
Significantly, this is a trend that doesn’t seem to be abating any time soon. Although infection rates are declining and a host of vaccines are becoming available. Many remote workers report that they hope to continue telecommuting at least part-time once the pandemic ends. Indeed, a whopping 77% claim they plan to continue working from home. These employees cite not only continuing concerns over the virus but also the greater convenience of remote work.
Telecommuters can avoid the wasted time and fuel costs of a long commute by remaining remote. They may also avoid the expense and inconvenience of arranging for child or eldercare. However, for all its benefits, working from home is not perfect. It takes both effort and strategy to ensure that your employees thrive in their virtual office environment.
Recognize Employee Needs
While many employees enjoy remote work and hope to remain remote, WFH is not ideal for every worker. In fact, a large contingent of remote workers report mental health impacts in the transition to the remote work environment.
In a study of remote workers conducted before the coronavirus outbreak, researchers found that nearly 20% of employees felt lonely. Nearly 1 in 2 cited wellness as a particular challenge of WFH.
In the wake of the pandemic, the mental health challenges associated with working remotely are amplified. Because teleworkers must contend not only with feelings of loneliness, but also with financial and, especially, health-related anxieties. Your employees, in other words, have been dealing with a lot for the past 12 months.
And that means that your remote employees need additional care and support right now. Not only to survive but to thrive, both mentally and professionally.
Alone, Not Lonely
As has been shown, the most significant challenges that remote workers face are feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anxiety. The good news is that there are many things that leadership can do to help employees.
With today’s communication technologies, there’s no reason why you and your employees can’t be just as connected as ever before. For example, holding daily, or even weekly, video conferences with your team can help them maintain a sense of connection.
Setting up a messaging tool, such as Slack, for one-on-one and team communications can help establish a daily cadence of communication that feels a whole lot like a traditional workday in the office.
Aside from these remote connections, you can also arrange for safe, socially distanced in-person meetings. You can transform these activities into full-fledged events, occasions not only for work productivity but for reconnection, bonding, and support. Renting out a conference hall can give your team the space they need to feel secure, while also enjoying the mental boost of being with their colleagues again.
A fun and productive in-person function may well be all the motivation your employees need to thrive until the next event. That’s especially true if you take the time and care to make your employees feel extra special, from catering the event to offering goodies they can take home to make work (and play) more fun. Even something as simple as a grab bag filled with stress balls and aromatherapy candles can help your team feel appreciated and cared for.
Setting the Scene
Helping your employees thrive in a WFH environment is not just about helping them maintain their connection to the company and the team. They also need to be able to negotiate for equipment and supplies that will enable them to be productive, focused, and motivated while working from home.
Again, this is where you come in. Even if your employees made the transition to remote work months ago, it’s a good idea to check in individually with each team member to assess how they’re doing and what they may need to perform their work more effectively. You may find, for example, that a team member is having difficulty with securing a reliable and fast internet connection. Or you may learn that an employee is suffering from neck and back pain after hours of working on their laptops.
Learning what your employees need, from a stronger router or signal amplifier to an ergonomic office chair, can be all that’s required to boost both morale and productivity. You might also offer support and advice for your team as they prepare their home offices.
Using techniques derived from sensory-friendly design, for instance, can help your employees create a calming environment that helps mitigate anxiety. For employees working from home amid a pandemic, a soothing and sensory-friendly work environment can mean all the difference in the world to your employee’s performance and their overall well-being.
COVID-19 has changed the world of work as we know it, but even when the pandemic ends, it’s unlikely that we will return to the way things were before. Employees are increasingly interested in continuing to work remotely, at least part-time, for the foreseeable future. As a leader, though, it is incumbent on you to help ensure your employees are thriving in the virtual office. This includes helping employees maintain a sense of connection, combat feelings of loneliness and anxiety, and cultivate a workspace that is at once calming and inspiring.