To commemorate Mental Health Awareness Week, Open Access Government spoke to six technology experts to hear their advice on how organisations should be tackling mental health as we embrace a new normal life
While the UK remains on high alert with COVID-19, most people are still working from home and less likely to be in the office despite restrictions slowly opening. However, it’s important to remember not just how organisations have been affected, but also how employees are coping, not seeing and even losing loved ones, dealing with increased work stresses, albeit remotely. It’s not an easy time for anyone, which is why it’s crucial that leaders of organisations take a step back to remember mental health and lend a supporting hand.
According to Krishna Subramanian, COO at Komprise, companies are in difficult times trying to juggle the remote workforce as well as keeping customers on board to ensure cash flow is constant. “Employees in every industry are under more pressure now than ever before, and so many business leaders are looking to find the technology solutions that will improve their new working environment.”
She advises, “To keep employees productive and engaged when working remotely, having secure access to the data they need to do their jobs is very important. Cybersecurity of data is a much bigger issue with so many employees connecting from home – so creating a cyberresilient safe copy of your business data in a location that is separate so it is not subject to attacks is very important.”
Alan Conboy, Office of the CTO at Scale Computing adds, “Organisations need solutions that can be implemented quickly to connect remote users to desktops and create an effective work-from-home environment, while also providing security for their employees and businesses at an affordable cost.”
He continues, “To help reduce the security drawbacks of isolated workers, organisations should look to virtual desktop solutions as part of their DR plan, if they aren’t already in use. These solutions can keep workers connected from a variety of devices while ensuring sensitive and business-critical data safely resides on the business’ data center storage. As budget concerns continue to rise, look for simple, scalable and highly available infrastructure that can help deploy VDI solutions more easily, more quickly and at a lower cost than competing solutions. This will help remove some of the stress IT professionals and organisations are facing during these challenging times.”
Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO and Co-founder at Content Guru explains how the contact centre is an example of a key operational function which has proven difficult to convert to home-working, which can cause unsolicited stress to employees. “Some employers have acted fast in deploying the latest cloud technology, which enables their customer service workers (known as ‘agents’) to switch to well-supported home-based operations without too much upheaval. However, research from the University of Strathclyde strongly suggests a worrying disconnect between what many contact centre operators still require, and what their agents are demanding.
“When you consider that the majority (two-thirds) of contact centre employees have asked to work from home and yet just four per cent of those requests have been granted, it can seem that this is a sector not only taking a relaxed approach towards curbing the pandemic, but one that has not placed a high priority on the wellbeing and mental health of its workers.
“Strathclyde’s research should be a stark wake-up call for those operating contact centres. During the current lockdown period, deploying homeworking capabilities may be a case of business survival. However, protecting employees’ physical and mental health should be viewed as equally – if not more – important.”
Make workplace wellbeing virtual
“While many employers have been trying to manage the disruption of deploying an entirely remote workforce, it’s even more vital they are aware of the impact this is likely to be having on their employees’ mental health. It’s not an easy task. Many employees will be juggling workloads, home-schooling their children, and looking after vulnerable family members,” explains Agata Nowakowska, AVP at Skillsoft.
She suggests, “Now is the time to raise the profile of workplace wellbeing – even though our understanding of the physical workplace has shifted dramatically. Employers need to take workplace wellbeing virtual – meeting the needs of all employees, wherever they are and whatever environment they are in. Even if this is just regular check-ins – whether by phone or video call – everything you do as an employer makes a difference. Employee wellbeing should be a strategic priority for organisations, particularly given the uncertainty we’re all facing. Being supportive and lending a hand when employees need it will not just nurture their mental health, but the fundamental health of your organisation as a whole.”
Nicole Sahin, CEO and Founder at Globalization Partners agrees that consistent communication is key. “Video calls, internal newsletters and informal check-ins all let employees know that they are supported and valued, also giving leaders the opportunity to look out for signs of stress. With the lines of home and work blurred, particularly for individuals having to manage childcare, or care for elderly relatives alongside their work duties, there is an increased risk of burnout. It is important to reassure colleagues that working from home does not mean being ‘on’ 24/7. Easing this pressure, showing care and compassion all help to cultivate a culture of care.”
Rob Mellor, VP & GM EMEA at WhereScape advises that the way to foster a positive and healthy work environment, even while at home, is by enforcing an open and honest work culture. “Encourage employees to take the tough decisions for an easy life when it comes to managing sometimes unrealistic workloads. Honesty also applies to our mental wellbeing that keeps us happy and focused. If appropriate, it can be useful to know about issues that affect performance at work, so managers must make it clear that they’re available to talk.
“As long as organisations continue to make progress in promoting mental fitness, no matter how slow that improvement might be, they are making the move in the right direction. During Mental Health Awareness Week I would like to encourage organisations to share tips and technology that have enabled their progress through social media, websites, Slack groups and other channels. At WhereScape we also work with Matt Pepper, author of Happiness The Inside Job, which is a book people could review and take inspiration from. After all, we all have vital roles to play in the mental well-being of technology workers overall.”
It’s clear that positive mental health is fundamental to employees not only feeling good about themselves, but also being productive in their day-to-day roles. Despite being virtual, the advice for business leaders is: remember to communicate regularly and put in place the technology that will make their and your life easier, reducing stress and creating much happier employees in the long term.
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