COVID-19 is reshaping the workplace. McCrindle research recently released a report showing that Australians are very positive about a shift to remote working. They found that not only do 78% of people believe it will become the new normal, but three-quarters are excited about it and consider it important to their future employer choice. This echoes similar findings by Gallup in the USA.
At the same time, we know there are very real challenges that come hand in hand with this ‘new normal’ of the workplace, and they’re challenges that neither employers nor employees can afford to ignore.
There’s no question that the associated effects of coronavirus have negatively impacted mental health. Data in Australia indicated an up to 500% increase in some mental health problems, while data in the USA indicated an 800% increase. This isn’t just serious mental health issues, but also an increase in general nervousness and restlessness.
This is only exacerbated by the fact that many are struggling with sleep in recent months – either falling asleep, staying asleep, having strange and vivid dreams and nightmares, or not sleeping sufficiently deeply to get its full restorative benefits.
The combination of factors of COVID and working from home can also increase unhappiness from social isolation, as well as lack of work/life balance. Our social lives have become more limited, and productivity becomes more difficult during COVID because our brains are having to deal with so many new taxing factors, both of which can lead to work creeping over into what would normally be ‘home time’.
For many, the practical realities of working from home in whole or part, and the lingering uncontrollable spectre of coronavirus, will become the new normal for some time. But there are positive steps we can take.
- Be kind, be kind, be kind. To yourself, first of all, and to those around you, including those you work with. Remember to continually examine your own expectations of yourself, and whether they are calibrated to the present realities.
- Cultivate positive habits, like mindfulness, gratitude journaling and practising encouragement. Consider getting back into a positive hobby you’ve enjoyed at other times in your life, like playing a musical instrument.
- Get serious about sleep. It’s the secret sauce. Start experimenting with different ways to improve your sleep, like establishing a pre-sleep routine, monitoring caffeine intake, and banishing screens from your bedroom.
- Communicate with your team members about priorities and progress, to help maintain a reasonable workload.
- Regularly remind those you are leading that you recognise the stresses and demands they are navigating, and that things aren’t the way they were before. Acknowledging this reality, and its impact on work, productivity and priorities can help ease the pressure they might be feeling.
- Be even more intentional about connecting on a personal level. Particularly when meetings are virtual, it can be easy to go straight into business and miss catching hearing how people are doing. Make a point about building this into meetings, especially one to ones.
- Reinforce the importance of work-life balance. Be explicit about expectations that people maintain healthy boundaries.
- Ensure you are working with your team to continually assess the best use of everyone’s efforts and resources in a changing landscape, and pivoting where relevant.
- Model taking time out for rest to your team, as well as other boundary-setting behaviours like not sending emails on weekends.
- Don’t just encourage rest – consider incentivising it. For instance, to encourage people to take leave for the purposes of rest even though they can’t travel anywhere, you could offer to give two extra days TOIL if people take three days of their leave, so that people get a full week off.
- Consider providing your team with telehealth or online support tools like this one.
- Communicate regularly and transparently about what steps are being taken to navigate the way forward as an organisation, and to ensure staff wellbeing.
The impact of changes to our whole world are felt by our whole selves – and that’s not something we can compartmentalize off from our workplaces. The people, teams and organisations who thrive in the season to come will embrace that reality and lean into it, deliberately nurturing wellbeing at all levels.