Working remotely has numerous advantages, but when the Covid-19 pandemic outburst supporting remote teams and taking care of mental health became crucial. One research even stated that almost 70% of employees said that “the pandemic is the most stressful time of their entire professional career”. Teams are navigating a global pandemic that never happened before during their lifetimes, the changing economy, supporting their own families and remotely learning children are on top of the really long list of interrupting events most of us have to deal with right now. That kind of stress is having a huge impact on our mental health, the productivity of development teams, and the increased risk of burnout.
Remote stress – what your employees are navigating?
Offsite teams are navigating a radically different work world and it’s having an effect, on their personal and professional lives. If you want to support your workers, help them build resilience, allow them to work creatively at their full potential, you need to know what is causing their stress, what is challenging for them in the post-pandemic reality.
Symptoms of burnout are not as easy to see as we would like to think, they vary depending on the person. But the most common causes of burnout are lack of structure, social isolation, distractions, fear and they are making adapting to remote work more challenging.
What can help you then? Knowing several causes of stress your development team is likely to deal with. Let’s take a closer look at the most common issues affecting workplace mental health.
Lack of work-life balance
Remote work was once seen as an answer to improving a work-life balance, however, the global pandemic has changed it. Nowadays, people are working longer hours, taking less time off. If you are working from home it is challenging to switch your mind to the “after work mode” as you are not physically leaving an office.
A common refrain among remote teams throughout the pandemic has been “Zoom fatigue” with Google searches for the term skyrocketing since early March 2020. Although video conferencing has its own issues, the larger problem has been overscheduled days for many employees. Companies have noticed a striking 40% uptick in meetings, which has led many to deal with back-to-back video-conferencing meetings throughout the day. The Harvard Business Review has found that online meetings are more taxing and stressful than in-person meetings.
Lack of social interaction in the workplace
It goes without saying that COVID-19 has made socializing with friends and family more challenging. Whether due to regional shutdowns, social distancing guidelines, or health concerns, the global pandemic has upended much of our normal avenues to socialize with friends, family, and colleagues. The University of Michigan found that 60% of people feel they lack social interactions and 41 percent report feeling isolated. Although this trend largely impacts older adults, it has a variety of implications for remote teams.
That is why effective support of your remote team’s wellbeing is essential. How can you take care of the mental health of your development team? There are several strategies and actions you can introduce to support the mental health of your remote team, let’s look at them.
Introduce more empathy into your leadership
The reason why empathy is number one on this list is that people are struggling, and data suggests that empathy is the best strategy to support them and their productivity (isn’t it a win-win situation for your business?). A global study by Qualtrics found 42% of people have experienced a decline in mental health. Specifically, 67% of people are experiencing more stress while 57% have increased anxiety, and 54% are emotionally exhausted. 53% of surveyed people are sad, 50% are irritable, 28% are having trouble concentrating. Moreover, 20% of people are taking longer to finish tasks, 15% are having trouble thinking and 12% are challenged to juggle their responsibilities. That is why we should care about it!
The research conducted by Catalyst found out that empathy in your leadership can have a more positive impact than we thought:
- When it comes to innovation – people who reported that their leaders were empathetic, were more likely to report they were able to be innovative (61% compared to 13% employees with less empathetic managers).
- 76% of workers whose leader was empathetic reported they were engaged compared with only 32% of employees who experienced less empathy at the workplace.
- 57% of white women and 62% of women of color claimed that they were not thinking of leaving their companies when they felt their life circumstances were respected and valued by the employers. On the other hand, when they did not feel that level of respect or value, only 14% and 30% of white women and women of color stated that they were unlikely to consider changing jobs.
- 50% of people with empathetic leaders reported their workplace was inclusive. Only 17% of people with less empathetic managers stated the same.
- 86% of people who felt their leaders were more empathetic reported that they are capable of navigating the demands of their work and life – juggling their personal, family, work obligations with a success. Compared to only 60% of those who experienced less empathy at the workplace. Work-life balance is easier when your boss shows some empathy – simple as that!
What is more, a study at Carleton University found when people experience incivility at work, they tend to feel less capable in their parenting.
How can you be a more empathetic leader?
First, consider someone else’s thoughts and put yourself in their shoes – if I were in her/his position, what would I be thinking, feeling right now? This can give you a different, wider perspective on the situation. But most importantly, express your concerns and inquire about the situation or a challenge directly. Then listen carefully to your team’s responses. You don’t have to be an expert in mental health, just show your human side and truly present to your employees that you care and pay attention to their needs and feelings. It’s often enough to check-in, ask questions and take cues from the remote team about how much they want to share. All that understanding of someone else’s situation should turn into compassion and… action. Empathy in action is seeing an employee’s struggles and offering to help. Wise leaders appreciate a person’s point of view and engage in a debate that builds to a smarter solution, sometimes for the whole organization. As the popular saying goes, people may not remember what you say, but they will remember how you made them feel.
2. Maintain a positive work-life balance and encourage your remote team to do the same
For many remote employees working off-site usually means an improved work-life balance, and time savings. however, remote work can push some of your team members into overworking. Since work and leisure are in the same physical space, some of your developers may find it difficult to switch off or take a break. That is why it is crucial for you to show your team that you are trying to maintain a positive work-life balance and mental health at work is important. Tell your team that you value your time outside of work, that you are not going to be reachable for some specific time, that you are taking a few days off, or that you really enjoyed your last long walk in the park after work. It is crucial to look after ourselves, so lead by example.
3. Check-in with remote team members on a regular basis
Your remote team’s mental health may suffer if the feeling of isolation lasts for too long. Going days without communication with their teammates may make them feel worried about their performance, confused and even disconnected. To keep them in the loop, managers should check in with their remote workers regularly. This helps in preventing mental health problems. Leaders can start with a daily check-in with each employee. This can be perceived as a “say hi” morning routine. I must admit that this works great at Applover. When we switched to remote-first at the beginning of the global pandemic, we introduced daily meetings for all teams, even non-technical and we maintain this practice to this day.
What we have noticed is that even a short interaction reduces feelings of being forgotten, as well as ensures remote employees stay on track with their workload. Moreover, each employee at Applover has 1:1 meetings with their leaders from time to time which often serves as extra time to discuss accomplishments, challenges, goals and other important issues that come our way.
This is also the perfect time for leaders to get to know their employees’ personalities. We highly encourage small talk and personal conversations during these meetings. A well-integrated team works just better.
4. Take advantage of technology in your workplace
As a CEO of an IT company, I cannot mention the technology we can use to stay connected with each other. Make good use of available tools. Slack, Google Hangouts and even Discord, which we introduced at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic can really help your team. Listening to colleagues during a typical day at work can make you feel like in the office. What we also encourage at Applover is turning on a camera during the video calls, it really helps when you can see the body language of a person you talk to. Encourage your team to do the same and normalize that you don’t always have to look your best. We are all humans after all and realizing this can have a great effect on the work environment.
5. Socialize and have fun even remotely
Encouraging employees to communicate even if what they have to say is not work-related is one thing but another is organizing online integration for your team. Create a separate channel on your instant messaging platform (e.g. Slack) to help employees share pictures, recipes, podcasts or funny stories, just like how they would at work. At Applover, we have various Slack channels dedicated to memes, sport, zero-waste tips, and much more!
To shrink the distance, conduct virtual activities! To help to integrate our team, we introduced Donut, it is a Slack app that matches people with the least interactions on Slack for a 30 minutes chat. It allowed us to get to know each other better, especially when someone new joins our team, which happens really often as we are constantly hiring people for new open positions.
We have organized several online Pub Quizzes and gaming tournaments. All it needs is a bit of research and planning, you can read more about our remote work on our blog.
6. Reward good work
When employees work remotely, they’re often disconnected. They don’t get feedback as often and can struggle to understand where their tasks fit in with the overall work of their team. Therefore, remote employees can feel confused, lack confidence in their performance and lose motivation. If they don’t know if the quality and quantity of their work are acceptable, they don’t know how to progress. Furthermore, off-site employees could feel left out of the group and their coworkers are taking credit for their work. To combat this and support your remote team’s mental wellbeing, as well as help your team to feel integrated, recognize and reward good work. Shout out top performers in a monthly company-wide email or Slack announcements, mention the new project you are working on right now. Moreover, you can ask managers to provide regular feedback to remote employees and share their successes with the whole team. People work better together if they know their work is valued.
Do you want to find out more about remote team support?
Take care of the mental health in the workplace
As an employer, it’s up to you to create a workplace that supports every employee’s well-being, inside and out. A healthy, happy staff boosts efficiency and also shows potential hires that your company is a great place to work and that you care about your teammates’ wellbeing. It just pays off. Transparent communication and encouraged empathetic behavior can really change how your remote team performs. But remember to also look after your mental health and wellbeing.