How to Support Your Remote Teams’ Mental Health in 2021 and Beyond

2020 highlighted the supreme value of showing kindness and understanding to others. We have faced many of the same burdens together, yet alone. As many states and countries around the world enter into a winterized second wave of lockdowns to mitigate the devastation of a new strain of COVID-19, it’s fair to say that remote work as well as mental health challenges are here to stay. 

The start of a New Year is commonly marked with resolutions of renewed focus to areas of life we have neglected, and as businesses we have an opportunity to do just that. In this two-part series on the WME blog, we offer some ideas for promoting and supporting the emotional wellness of your employees while they continue to work remotely through the coming winter. 

Give Time Back

While studies show that remote workers enjoy greater job satisfaction, many also report working longer hours since the start of the pandemic. Muchof that added time is spent in conference calls and video meetings. The term “Zoom fatigue” has emerged to give a name to the unique virtual-meeting burnout remote employees are experiencing. Jeremy Bailenson, a professor of communication at Stanford University, offers an explanation of why exactly it can be exhausting to sit in front of a video-call each day. When participating in a video-call grid, the grid of faces reflects the scale and dimensions of a person or persons standing roughly two feet away from you.

“Very rarely are you standing two feet away from a person and staring at them for an hour like that, unless you’re getting in conflict or about to mate,” he says. “When you have faces staring at you like this, the arousal response kicks in, that fight-or-flight mode. If you’re in fight-or-flight mode all day, it’s taxing to do these meetings.”

To lessen the Zoom and meeting fatigue workers are battling, managers should consider giving time back to staff by cutting down on unnecessary meetings and leveraging asynchronous tools to convey daily information. Microsoft Teams offers users many ways to communicate informally, such as Messages (Microsoft’s instant messaging platform), Announcements within Channels, and emails. If the purpose of the meeting is strictly to receive an address from an executive or a certain department, rather than collaboration, asynchronous pre-recorded videos give your employees the flexibility to watch them when they have the bandwidth to absorb the information, and re-watch them if needed. 

As an added bonus to using asynchronous tools, having to write out the information being shared forces the sender to think through their ideas or self-edit for clarity. Once shared, the history is searchable. When an employee misses something in a meeting, it is difficult to try to retrace the steps of (often meandering) conversation to remember that key point, and to ask a colleague after the fact would essentially “out” the employee for not being 100% present during a meeting. It may be that certain managers need additional resources in the remote work environment. 

Survey your employees to take a pulse: do they find the video calls they are required to attend to be well organized, useful, and productive? If not, implementing policies regarding the use of video calls may help your managers engage their teams better! Consider requiring someone who calls a meeting to share a detailed agenda in advance, or peer-reviewing meeting agendas with fellow managers. Talk with your teams to designate a specific day of the week that is a zero-meeting day. Employees will get more done in less time thanks to the uninterrupted flow and focus they are able to maintain without meetings breaking up the day. 

Provide Adequate Tech

According to a Gartner study, nearly half of all employers plan to continue remote work teams permanently, even after the pandemic, and over 80% report they intend to create new policies which allow remote work at least some of the time. When the pandemic started, it was common for companies to face challenges procuring enough laptops for their newly remote workforces, and IT departments struggled to deploy appropriate security, VPNs, and new software to company-issued machines. 

Companies that had not fostered a healthy remote workforce before the pandemic had a rougher transition to remote collaboration and communication tools. Major software licensing decisions such as tools to use for communication and project management were made hastily, and employees experienced the pains of those rushed adoptions. A majority,  62%, of remote workers were found to use unsanctioned tools, such as Google Docs, Doodle, WhatsApp, and Zoom. 

Microsoft Teams aims to combat the need for “Shadow IT” with an all-in-one platform and digital workspace that is powerful, customizable, secure, and user-intuitive. 

When asking workers to step up in this uncertain future, the least we can do as business owners is provide them with quality, functional, tools that facilitate, rather than hinder their jobs. That applies to hardware, software, and ergonomics. If you provided your employees with appropriate office chairs at the physical office, consider offering them a one-time stipend to set up their home office space. If that’s not possible, keep a company log and give employees the option to use their own desk chair from the office. These are simple yet substantial things you can do to support your remote workers.

If the mental and/or spinal health of your workers doesn’t move your board or finance department, security and legal compliance issues present a business-critical reason to make sure your mobile devices and software tools are adequate. The average American with an internet connection and computer at home practices much lower security standards than you are likely required to maintain as a business. Remote workers using unsecured Wi-Fi connections, consumer-level software services vulnerable to hacks, and more could result in legal fines and fees that exceed the upfront costs of providing the appropriate tools to your teams. 

Honor and Promote a Healthy 2021

In this article, we offered some tangible ways you can support your employees while they work remotely into 2021. Next week we will offer insights on promoting wellness within a remote work culture. Modeling a culture of wellness from the top down can help prevent employee burnout, improve team performance, and ultimately save your company the immense hassle of employee turnover during a global crisis. If you have good people you have built trust with before the pandemic, retaining them through this challenge is a far better investment than trying to backfill positions in an uncertain time. 

Windows Management Experts is proud to support businesses that have stepped up to the challenge of creating effective remote workforces in 2020. We look forward to continuing offering world-class service and support as more businesses make the transition in 2021. 

Our door is always open! Contact us today for expert assistance equipping your remote workforce, licensing new software to power your company’s collaboration, and so much more. 

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