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There are a vast number of isolated employees who have been working from home since March this year, with no fixed return date in sight.

   

Businesses and their employees have mostly adapted fantastically to the new normal of working from home. Overnight, kitchen worktops became workstations and box rooms became boardrooms. The nation quickly got up to speed on Zoom and Teams, with “you are on mute” swiftly becoming the 2020 catchphrase for office workers.

   

But now, 10 months into working alone at home, for many, the novelty has worn off and has been replaced with mental health concerns, stress, loneliness, and isolation. Thousands of workers across the UK feel like they are ‘living at work’ rather than ‘working from home’.

   

What Are Employees Missing Most?

 

The top 5 things that employees are missing most about working in an office environment (according to Vodafone conducted research) are:

   
  • Office banter and jokes
  • Spending time with colleagues
  • Having a routine and structure
  • Idea sharing, asking questions and collaboration with others
  • Motivational buzz of the workplace
   

How Can Employers Address This?

 

Good managers will already be supporting their employees who are working from home and will have hopefully put in place some new procedures and/or practices.  However, after months of working in solitude it may be time to re-assess what is working, what isn’t and what more can be done as we go into the dark, winter months.

   

Make Time For Some Fun

With 46% of people missing the office banter and laughing with colleagues it is important to facilitate some downtime for your teams where possible. Encourage your employees to have some laidback interactions during their working week – you could organise some virtual drinks, quizzes, games or informal catch ups. Whilst you want to ensure your employees are productive when working from home it will help get the best out of them if they are enjoying their jobs and enjoying some social interactions.

   

Encourage Fresh Air & Exercise

With the absence of a work commute or leaving the office for a lunch break (and the current closure of gyms and leisure centres) it is important for stationary workers to keep moving for their mental and physical health. With the dark, cold evenings some employers are encouraging their teams to take a longer lunch break so that they can do their outdoor exercise during their working hours. Others are hosting morning Zoom yoga sessions or holding ‘step count’ competitions within their teams. If colleagues live nearby each other, a nice idea would be to hold ‘walk and talks’ to allow colleagues to catch up face-to-face (whilst keeping to the current guidelines of only meeting with one other person outside of your own household, outdoors). A walk with a colleague could have many benefits – a suitable break away from the computer screen, fresh air, exercise, socialising and also an opportunity to raise concerns or ask questions in person.

   

Keep in Touch Regularly

Employees need to be in regular contact with their team, whilst also establishing some boundaries. It is good management to connect with your teams in different ways – for example using email, phone and video call rather than the same source each time. Managers should have team meetings and one-to-one contact with their team members to provide them with a platform to raise issues or concerns privately. Checking in on those working from home will help managers spot mental health concerns or tackle any problems they are having before things spiral. When speaking to employees individually it is worth remembering to ask them 3 questions.

  • How are they coping with their workload?
  • Do they have everything they need to complete their work?
  • How are they feeling?
 

Be Aware of People Who Are Over-Working

LinkedIn research has found that people are working an extra 28 hours a month during lockdown. Some managers may think ‘Great!’ however, this does raise alarm bells for employee’s wellbeing. Whilst people may be putting in longer hours, are they being more productive? Are they working longer days because they are distracted, stressed, or struggling to cope? Or are they worried about their job security and trying to prove themselves at their own detriment? Working from home can blur the lines between home/family time and working time. It can be easy to continue working when you don’t physically leave the office (18% of people are working after 7pm) or log in first thing (12% or people are signing into their work emails before 7am) without the need for a commute to the workplace. Managers can tackle this by leading by example – not emailing after working hours themselves or questioning their team when they can see that they are working overtime. They could put reminders in their team diaries to take breaks or to close down for the evening – making it clear that they are not expected to work past their paid working hours.

   

Team meeting of staff online whilst working from home

Addressing Mental Health

If you have concerns or know that an employee is struggling with their mental health, then it is imperative that you address this by following your HR policies and processes. Whilst we cannot force people to talk about their personal matters, you can encourage an open and safe environment to help people feel more comfortable to talk about such matters. With the absence of a physical open door in an office, think about how you can make yourself easily accessible to your team and make them feel reassured. There are some really useful resources online and many blogs / articles about taking care of your mental health whilst working remotely – perhaps share useful materials, speak about how you are coping yourself, share ideas on how your team are maintaining good mental health, etc. Does your workplace have a Mental Health First Aider? If so, then what steps are they taking during these challenging times? Are they as easily available for support as they were when the workplace was open? One way that managers can practically support their teams is to encourage them to complete a ‘Wellness Action Plan’ these are available to download for free from the Mind website.

   

Acknowledge, Thank and Praise

With the absence of physical team meetings, make sure you take the time to notice and celebrate your team’s achievements. This can really help boost morale and lift spirits. Managers could create a weekly or monthly agenda item that covers this, share news with the rest of the organisation or create a rewards scheme in-line with the company objectives. It is also important not to forget about personal celebrations too – send employees birthday cards, congratulate them on exam passes, engagements or work anniversaries. These types of milestones are often celebrated with cakes in the kitchen or after-work drinks, so try to make sure something still happens to mark special occasions or achievements.

   

Additional Training

The majority of managers, supervisors and team leaders have not experienced running a team remotely before. There are different skills involved when supporting, managing and motivating employees during difficult times and without any face-to-face workplace interaction. It is worth considering if managers could benefit from some additional management training in light of the new working practices.

   

Be Aware of your Legal Responsibilities

 

Just as you would take care of your employee’s physical health with suitable workplaces, protective equipment, training, and first-aid etc. employers have a duty of care for their employee’s mental health too.

 

When a mental health issue is raised, companies should strictly follow their policies in order to make sure they are following the correct procedures in accordance with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Equality Act 2010.

 

Employers must not discriminate on the grounds of mental health and should instead make reasonable adjustments to assist employees in the workplace, or from their home.

   

Next Steps

 

If you are looking for additional information or support in relation to mental health at work, understanding your legal obligations or any other employment law matters, then please get in touch with our Employment Lawyers on 01256 844888 or email enquiries@lambbrooks.com.

 

Alternatively, you can speak to our online chat assistant at any time of day to see how we can help your business address issues and protect your most important assets.

     

Other Articles You May Be Interested in Reading:

Combating Cyber Bullying at Work

Leading a Team During a Crisis

Coronavirus and your Commercial Lease

   

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.