Five months into 2020 and our world as we know it has changed. In nearly every corner of the globe, citizens find themselves under a “new normal” that includes face masks, hand sanitiser and … remote work.
According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 59% of South Africans felt stressed – the American Institute of Stress (AIS) reports 79% of workplace stress is caused by workload. In addition to worrying about COVID-19, many employees who are now working from home feel even more anxious, especially since the lines between work and personal time have become blurred.
How to manage stress when working remotely
As a leader, you may be concerned about the mental well-being of your employees now that you’re unable to check on them in person. Here’s how to help them manage stress while working apart.
1. Provide a support structure
With work and home life now bundled into one, many employees may feel overwhelmed. Mitigate this by offering your employees support in the form of set working hours or even a buddy system, where employees are paired with each other and can check in to vent or help each other find solutions.
2. Engage in fun activities – as a team
Before lockdowns and work from home, this meant happy hour drinks on a Friday or team lunches close to the office. Just because your team is now remote doesn’t mean you can’t have fun together. Gather your employees for a Friday afternoon virtual pub quiz on Zoom or Google Hangouts or set up a lunch date where everyone cooks the same meal then enjoys it together virtually.
3. Check your language
Since face-to-face interactions are less frequent while working from home, it’s important to double-check the language and potential emotional tone your emails or direct messages could hold. Before hitting send, think about how your quick “let’s chat about this later” could translate negatively when what you really meant was, “these ideas are good, and we should explore them in more detail later”. Try ending your message with a positive by offering to jump on the phone or a video chat if things are unclear.
4. Use apps to prompt informal conversation
Feeling isolated is a pretty common emotion when working from home and living with uncertainty during a global pandemic can add to the stress of isolation. What’s more, those impromptu “water cooler moments”, when the best conversations or greatest ideas emerge, will be lost too. To virtually recreate a space for an informal conversation to take place organically, add your team members to a WhatsApp or Slack group where they can toss ideas around, simply check in with one another or start a conversation for the sake of talking.
5. Foster flexibility
If your industry allows for it, offer your team members some autonomy when it comes to their working hours. While you may be comfortable with your regular nine-to-five, your colleague may need an hour or two for their kids to attend online classes while schools are closed. Just make sure everyone is aware they need to be available for scheduled meetings via phone or video regardless of their self-imposed working hours.
6. Offer a low-stake listening ear
Some employees may not feel comfortable to disclose their anxieties in a virtual group setting so foster one-to-one communication individually and offer face-to-face video chats to those that may need it. During these conversations, avoid adding pressure by checking in on their workload and providing solution-oriented advice. Not only will this make them feel more comfortable but will provide you with an opportunity to visibly see whether stress is affecting them.
And remember: As a leader, you need to disconnect too. Most leaders feel the need to work 24/7 but this can quickly lead to depleted energy and creativity levels and more stress. During these unprecedented times, your team will need you to innovate in moments of crisis and be a shoulder to rely on – in order to help them continue to do their jobs, you’ll first need to do yours.
Conclusion: Improve your interpersonal leadership skills and learn the fundamentals of human resource management with USB-ED’s Leadership Fundamentals course and Management Development Programme (MDP). Both courses aim to provide managers and leaders with the knowledge and skills to empower their teams and build optimal employee functioning and effectiveness to manage stress of any kind.