COVID-19: Staying Engaged, Staying Connected and Staying Calm
As many have now completed several weeks of teleworking, we are acclimating to our new “normal.” While remote working may have seemed like a “dream job” with flexible schedules, casual (sometimes very casual) attire and more efficiency, we have also experienced many unexpected challenges.
Shutdown orders have triggered school closures, limited (if any) travel and nonessential business closures. As a result, the remote working situation has forced many of us to balance work, personal and emotional commitments. Parents and caregivers face stressful situations as they support their children with virtual learning, family members search for ways to support older relatives who may be more vulnerable and everyone seeks answers for the uncertainty we face.
Most workers have never worked remotely for such an extended period of time. With these demands, we share the following thoughts on ways to support each other from the perspective of the organization, manager and entire workforce. We also include suggestions on how to focus on your mental well-being.
Organization’s Role: Stay Connected
- Prepare regular company-wide communications to share news, provide updates and stay connected to the workforce. Such communications will remind employees that the organization considers them a valuable part of the team.
- Strong leadership can be a stabilizing force in an unsettling work atmosphere. Send communications to remind employees that you care and acknowledge the fact that many who work from home are working more, not less, especially as they are balancing personal obligations.
- Management should send messages to employees via e-mail or video bridge, and encourage managers to communicate via telephone or video conference.
- Communicate with managers on the importance of remaining flexible during these unprecedented times. Many parents and caregivers are balancing personal and work commitments during normal business hours. Messaging from the top is critical and, during these times, the entire workforce needs to know that leaders support them.
- Remind employees of company resources that may be available for them. This may include relevant contact personnel (i.e., human resources, benefits, IT) or available resources (i.e., employee assistance programs).
Manager’s Role: Stay Engaged
- Some positions are more amenable to working remotely than others. Certain employees may be overwhelmed while other employees may be looking for work. Managers should monitor each team member’s tasks and consider what tasks may be shifted to share the burden and avoid burnout or boredom.
- Managers should increase communication regarding status, deadlines, changes and progress. Managers should still hold employees accountable and continue to document performance.
- Provide as much notice as possible when scheduling internal phone or video conferences (understanding that sometimes the clients, customers or other third parties will dictate timing).
- Rather than rely on email or chat, pick up the phone and call. We are all more inclined to be kind and share how we’re doing when we hear another’s voice.
Workforce’s Role: Maintain Structure
- Remote working may isolate many and strain the collegial environment the company has built within the office or across offices. Seize on opportunities to interact with colleagues (respond to management’s request for feedback, make suggestions or create platforms for employees to stay connected). Everyone should take intentional steps to maintain a sense of collegiality and unity during this difficult time.
- Follow up with your supervisor/team lead often by email, text or telephone to keep them informed. Be sure to communicate any flexibility you may need (i.e., time to care for children or other family members). Over-communication is important to manage expectations, make sure your needs are met and you are meeting expectations.
- Create structure by preparing a daily or weekly “to-do” list of interactive, physical and/or “fun” activities. Incorporate those activities into your calendar and, to the extent possible, make them part of your daily or weekly routine.
- Do you miss the co-worker you spoke to often? Give that person a quick call to check in. If they don’t answer, send a follow-up text or email to simply let them know you’re thinking of them. This goes a long way, particularly in this period of isolation. Adapting to a new routine of communication is important to replace the face-to-face office interactions you otherwise would have had.
- Take the lead in organizing virtual coffee or lunch dates or an end-of-week virtual happy hour with your co-workers. If your company does not provide a video conference tool, use Zoom or another free videoconferencing tool. These interactions are a great way to stay connected and continue being a support system for one another.
Mental and Emotional Well-Being: Stay Calm
- Stay physically active. Exercising regularly will help you feel better not only physically but mentally. Set an exercise routine and stick to it. At this point, no one is going to the gym and you do not need a gym to exercise. Many companies are offering free online workouts that you can do from home, at your convenience, with no equipment needed. You can also take walks while practicing social distancing. And make it interactive! If you have a roommate, spouse or kids, consider getting them involved. Look at your workouts as bonding time, something we need now more than ever.
- Schedule five to ten minutes every day (or every other day, if you're new to it) to meditate. Meditation is scientifically proven to improve your health, well-being, performance and focus. There are a handful of meditation apps out there, including some that are free.
- Regularly practice gratitude. There are many simple ways to do this, from starting every day off by writing something down that you're grateful for to committing to one day a week when you won't complain about anything. You can also make gratitude a part of family life — for example, by having your kids keep a gratitude journal or by simply sharing with your family what you are grateful for on any particular day. Keep in mind that the act of being thankful releases dopamine and serotonin in your brain — it makes you happier!
Legal clerk Kerry C. Zaroogian contributed to this article.