Business leaders can’t do enough to keep their employees feeling safe and motivated during these challenging times.
Remote working had already begun to become more mainstream in recent years. However, no one could have predicted the impact of the pandemic on the future of remote working. According to recent US technology research, globally the number of employees permanently working remotely is set to double in 2021 from 16.4% to 34.4%. In fact, a report from Cardiff University and the University of Southampton showed that 88% of employees who worked at home during lockdown would like to continue in some capacity even once restrictions are lifted.
Remote working is here to stay, and employees have learnt how to stay productive and proactive. However, the sudden transition to working from home has not been an easy one.
While businesses overcame technical and administrative challenges quite quickly, the unexpected shift to remote working is taking its toll on mental health for employees. Whilst many enjoyed the novelty of working remotely early on in the pandemic, a significant number of workers have suffered from isolation. Spending prolonged periods of time in the same environment during one of the most challenging and uncertain times of our generation is difficult. To combat the negative mental health implications, organisations and business leaders have had to step up and consider the wider aspects of keeping employees engaged, motivated and positive.
Focus on wellbeing
Most employees were not used to working from home full-time before lockdown. In-person meetings were changed to video or phone calls, and to keep teams in touch, collaboration platforms were implemented. The adoption of these tools enabled workforces to work effectively and deliver the same level of service that they would if they were working from the office, continuing to create innovative solutions.
However, these same collaboration tools can exhaust employees. Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face meeting. We are constantly having to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, tone of voice, pitch and body language and many of us are on several video calls a day.
Lockdown has its own set of challenges for employers and has affected their wellbeing negatively.
Many business leaders have been charged with creating initiatives to connect with employees, encourage teamwork and digitally replicate the collaborative culture of the office. Virtual cocktail hours or “Bring your pets to virtual work meetings” are just some of the ways businesses have been engaging with their colleagues, beyond their day-to-day responsibilities to ensure teams feel connected and supported.
Business leaders must be constantly communicating with all employees to keep them motivated and engaged. You cannot communicate enough, especially with so much uncertainty about the future.
It is important to send out regular communications to team leaders and employees around the world to keep them engaged, optimistic, and positive about the future. In fact, there is no limit to how innovative you can be in your conveyance of the message. Some CEOs are even reading bedtime stories to employees’ children via Zoom but whatever it is, sharing weekly wellbeing initiatives across the business should remain a priority. These varied communication methods mean employees stay fully informed and motivated, allowing them to continue to provide best in class service to customers.
How leaders communicate can make or break employee commitment to their organisation. When people are exposed to bad news and negativity, largely within circumstances beyond their control, leaders need to remember to highlight the positives. Reassuring your employees and reiterating your support will ensure that they feel safe through the unpredictability. The more committed you are to your employees, the more committed they will be in return.
Preparing for the future
Given these extraordinary circumstances, it isn’t surprising that employees are anxious about the future and are looking to leaders for cues. People need leaders who can help them navigate uncertainty through a commitment to well-being and mental health, constant communication and preparation for the future. Sharing upcoming plans and strategy, alongside what is going well for the organisation helps bring employees along the journey and alleviate their concerns.
Moving forward, businesses must remember that despite the circumstances and the pressure on mental health, employees have demonstrated agility and adaptability to help support business continuity.
Employees deserve company support as they helped drive businesses forward through a trying year. They have been under immense strain so now is the time for businesses to practise empathetic leadership and take a more humanistic approach. What leaders say, how they convey it, and the commitment they make to employees will directly correlate to their success during, and beyond the pandemic.
Justin Kearney is the SVP Human Resources for Logicalis Group in Slough, UK. Prior to this, Justin was the HR Director for the Corporate function leaders at Invensys. He has also held international HR business partner roles within the aviation and financial service industries with General Electric, and in retail, with Sainsburys in the UK. Justin has an honours degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Leisure Management, as well as being a Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management.