Nick Taylor, CEO and Co-Founder at Unmind, discusses how employers can tackle the stress and fear caused by Coronavirus, and how they can continue to support their employees’ mental health from afar
Following the recent news from the UK government, a high proportion of UK employees are now going to be working from home in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak. We need to ensure that workplaces are ready for what this truly means. This will be a huge change and has been referred to as the world’s biggest working from home experiment. A change on this scale presents many challenges, from navigating how to effectively communicate with teammates to maintaining morale. Yet, just as important is ensuring that workplaces are looking after employees’ mental health and setting out measures to monitor and improve workplace wellbeing remotely.
The first step is communication. At a time when Coronavirus fears have already caused a rise in stress and anxiety among many people, we are also seeing theories, misinformation and speculation circulate widely. As employers, it’s our job to point employees towards official information and communicate policy, contingency plans and advice in a compassionate and rational way.
A sudden change of this magnitude can also present many challenges for employees. Although the first few days of home-working may initially feel like a nice change of scene, without daily face-to-face contact some employees will begin to feel lonely and isolated. These are feelings which can potentially exacerbate existing mental health conditions and affect wellbeing in those who have struggled with mental ill-health in the past.
It is, therefore, important that organisations are well equipped and able to maintain an active flow of communication during this time. Making use of technology such as video calls can help replicate office communication and keep business running as usual. However, these solutions cannot reproduce all social interaction, and some employees will need more support than usual during this time.
Undoubtedly technology such as video calling will have an important role to play in keeping communication regular – but tech can also play a wider role in ensuring employees’ wellbeing during this time. Investing in or pointing employees towards trusted online resources or digital mental health platforms can be an effective way to ensure they can access the support they need to proactively look after their mental health and identify any challenges as they appear.
During this period, employees may also be affected by the challenge of dividing work and home life, struggling to be productive within a home setting, or finding it difficult to switch off from work. Routine is key to this; setting out clear hours, maintaining contact with colleagues and setting attainable goals as though everyone were in the office means we can more easily distinguish the work/home barriers. A clear sense of routine also reduces anxiety over the unusual situation and will allow employees to feel comfortable.
As more workplaces encourage remote working day by day, employers will face a whole set of new challenges in the coming weeks and months. Effective communication, sharing official resources and making use of technology will be key to making a success of mass home-working and could change the way we approach mental health at work forever.