How to look after your employees mental health and productivity when working from home.
When a whole business is working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be challenging to maintain productivity, quality of work and most importantly, your employee’s wellbeing. At first thought, working from home seems like a dream for most but after a few days cabin fever can set in and it’s not all its hyped up to be.
What makes things more challenging is that when working from home, some workers may usually choose to work from a café as a change of scenery to home and to get some human interaction. With our current lock down measures this is not possible. Being confined to the house means less human interaction, lack of routine and blurred lines between work and leisure. The result can be poor productivity and low staff morale & happiness.
Here are 8 tips to ensure it’s as close to ‘business as usual’ for your team.
1. Work space
Set up a working space separate from their usual living area. Suggest employees create defined areas where they work and areas where they relax. This goes a long way towards assisting them to switch off when the day is done. Sitting on the same couch to do work as they do when they watch Netflix can blur the two activities; meaning they’re working when they should be relaxing and relaxing when they should be working. This creates an unhealthy environment where they’re never fully focused on work and also can never relax.
If they’re lucky enough to have a spare bedroom or study, encourage them to perform work confined to this room. If they don’t have that much space, suggest making one end of the dining table (the one they never sit at) their work place. Ideally, suggest they pack up their laptop every day so it still feels like home in the evening and morning.
2. Touch base
Touch base as a team via screenshare to keep the human feel to the day. While you may not normally have daily morning group meetings in your workplace, the team is still able to say “good morning” to each other as they come into the office. Having the daily kick-off meeting via screen share can replicate that and helps signify the start of the workday.
Speaking to people face to face albeit via a screen goes a long way to satisfying the basic human need of interaction, especially if your employees live alone.
Encourage the team to carry out daily tasks like they’re in the office. Trying to replicate an office workday as much as possible gives purpose and structure to your employee’s day. E.g. If they have group meetings in the morning and outbound work in the afternoon, keep it that way. By losing that structure, the workday is less productive and can feel less satisfying.
Encourage the team to ensure they are booking out this time in your calendar so they know when they should be doing each activity.
4. Work times
Alternatively, be open to employees shifting their day around to non-conventional work times. Contrary to the last tip, working from home may allow some extra flexibility in the workday for your employees and may actually INCREASE productivity. Is someone more creative in the early morning? – Let them do their design and creation at 2am if they desire. Does someone within the team analyse data better at night? – Encourage them to burn the midnight oil.
If it makes your team happier and more productive, why not?
The caveats to this flexibility are:
- They must still be available for group meetings
- They must be available to clients/customers during regular business hours
It’s up to you if you want them to keep a log of their hours but tracking their productivity will give you a fair idea of how well it is working for them and the business.
5. Its ok
Let them know it’s ok to have regular breaks away from the computer as though they were in the office. If breaks to grab a coffee at the local café were part of the usual workday, encourage staff to step away from their ‘workstation’. Suggest they walk around the block to get some fresh air or still grab a coffee if there is a local café still open.
These breaks will ensure they get a chance to refresh and slowly grind themselves into the ground sitting on the computer all day.
6. Have a date
Book in webcam lunch dates with your team. Relationships and team morale grow in the break room when people share lunch. Why not do the same via webcam? While there might be a lack of office gossip to chat about, the team will likely still be able to chat and have a laugh around how their family is managing to keep kids entertained or explaining how they are improvising with their home workouts.
This is a required break during the day and if the team don’t have it, it can really affect everyone’s mental state.
If your team has Friday social time drinks and nibbles, make sure that happens too! The plus side to this is that they might be able to have an extra drink or two as they don’t need to drive home!
Suggest your employees agree to ‘house rules’ if multiple people are in the house during work hours. If your employee is making phone calls while another family member/housemate is watching TV, vacuuming or speaking loudly in the background (especially if it’s unprofessional language) this can pause real problems for them, and ultimately you.
Suggest they have a discussion with their lockdown buddies as to what is fair and reasonable. This is just a temporary working measure so hopefully they can both make compromises together. I would also strongly suggest they always let someone know when they are making a call and most definitely when they are going on webcam. Seeing someone walking around in the background in their pyjamas really doesn’t promote professionalism!
8. End time
Set a definite end time to close the laptop and to back to ‘home life’. Just like it’s important for your employees to set clear work and personal areas, it’s important that they are disciplined with start and end times. We all love an employee that goes above and beyond but if they are checking emails every hour regardless of the day, they will never switch off, they will never rest, and they will eventually burn out.
In conclusion, depending on the requirements of your business, I encourage you to be very firm regarding recommendations around logging off for the day. I’m not saying check their emails for activity outside of their hours but make sure they know it’s okay to have that time to themselves.
Working from home during this COVID-19 lockdown certainly does have its challenges but even if just one of these ideas helps your team, it’s going to go a long way to keep your team unified, productive and happy.
In addition, if working from home was never something offered in your workplace, use this time as a trial run to see it’s viable. Allowing your team to work from home even one day a week/fortnight/month is a wonderful job perk to offer and can go a long way to employee happiness and ultimately, retention.