Teleworking and COVID-19: how to help employees see light at the end of the tunnel
During this time of the coronavirus, the new normal of being confined—and working from home—is a challenge that needs to be managed thoughtfully and innovatively. It’s an opportunity for managers to step up and put their emotional intelligence and internal communications skills to work. How can you if your employees need support? And what can you do to help them?
Here are a few tips for gauging your employees’ states of mind:
- When you are holding group meetings on video platforms, pay close attention to every member of your team. Notice if they are contributing in the way they used to. Watch their body language, their facial expressions. Even if you are not physically in the same room, be aware.
- Do you hear from your team members regularly? Or are one or two of them fading quietly into the background when they used to confidently take up space? Be conscious of the tone in their emails. Are they making typos they never would have let in before—or even skipping crucial steps in a process? Small mistakes might indicate distraction or unwellness.
- Have they stopped putting their hands up for the interesting assignments? If the most motivated and dedicated employees are suddenly sliding out of focus, it might be an indication that they’re not feeling their best.
“The unusual times we are living right now can be an opportunity for managers to to show their mettle,” says Caroline Leroux-Boulay, a Montreal-based ICF Professional Certified Coach and Human Systems Interventionist who works with leaders, teams and organizations in a variety of work environments. “Authentic leaders will show empathy while insightful leaders will watch for changes in behaviour,” she explains. She adds that leaders who are natural coaches will encourage support systems, new work logistics and personal care while innovative leaders will use the situation to create opportunities to bring employees together in new ways.
Leroux-Boulay suggests some basic actions for supporting employees as they navigate the new normal:
- Check in regularly—and not just by email. It’s easy for employees to hide what they might be feeling in the business tone of a work communication. “Schedule FaceTime or HangOuts calls, one on one,” she says. “Don’t lose track of your team—and make the assumption that they’re okay.”
- Encourage your employees to communicate with each other, not to work alone in a bubble over long periods. “Remind them that they should take the time to check on each other. Knowing that they are providing support while they are getting some themselves can make all the difference.”
- Just because you’re working at a distance doesn’t mean you can’t get together. Hold virtual social events and draw people out by getting everyone to contribute to the conversation. “Get employees talking about what it’s like to work in confinement. Create occasions to get together—not just to discuss work but to have a cocktail or play a board game. This makes a difference—employees won’t feel so alone. They’ll have an event to look forward to—just like before this whole crisis began,” adds Leroux-Boulay.
But Leroux-Boulay is clear. If your team members need more in-depth support, and providing an opportunity to talk and share is not enough, you shouldn’t try to play the role of psychologist. “Remind your employees that they can consult their EAP program or seek medical help,” she explains. “This is a global pandemic and there are myriad reactions to the way the world is changing. “The key is to be tuned in to your own experience, the people around you and your contribution to addressing the impact of the change.”
Internal communications practices become all the more important during times of great change. The COVID-19 crisis is no exception. For approaches to communicating during the crisis, you can read more here. For ways to keep employees motivated, you can find more information here. And for mindfulness practices as potential relief for employees, check out this post.