Figuring out how best to support remote staff emotionally during these weird and trying times is something we all pretty much have to think about now. How do you relieve stress and build camaraderie from a distance? There’s not an immediately clear and straightforward answer. What works for some, won’t for others. Many companies are leaning heavily on events like virtual happy hours, team games on Slack or Zoom and endless mental-health check-ins. Pub quizzes, anonymous questionnaires, Skype check-ins, endless email updates, mental health information packs, WhatsApp COVID memes and humour, ‘buddy systems’ pairing you with colleagues with ‘similar interests’ - the list is endless. Whilst these are all well-meaning, many employees report they actually increase their stress - and they’re finding it exhausting. It’s not only the sheer number of activities thrown at staff - it’s the fact that they often feel more intrusive than supportive. Even when initiatives are presented as voluntary, many feel that there is nothing they would like to partake in less. Worse, managers - and manager’s managers - are subtly pressuring their team into taking up the activities by constantly asking whether they’d like to get involved.
What oftentimes-overwhelmed staff would appreciate at the very least is for activities to genuinely be voluntary and optional. People complain of having more meetings now than they ever had when they were full-time office-based - whilst also still needing to juggle a full workload. While some people want this kind of support at work and others feel overwhelmed and stressed by it, the key to balancing these different needs is making it optional. And that means genuinely optional. Go ahead and offer virtual happy hours and Zoom team games and all the rest, but do not pressure people to participate - and make sure people can opt-out without penalty. This means not looking at people sideways when they don’t join in - or telling them repeatedly how much they were missed.
Line managers can also be seen to be overstepping the mark with constant ‘mental health check-ins’. Many people feel uncomfortable discussing their most personal feelings with near-strangers who aren’t paid professionals. The level of trust needed is often missing and many would prefer to interact only on work-based topics. Companies truly concerned about employees’ mental health should rather consider offering and promoting an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) and strong health insurance. These will allow staff access to trained professionals, rather than expecting managers to act as therapists - a role that they can’t fill without it conflicting with their primary role.
As the FT points out another smart and increasingly popular way to help staff feel connected and truly supported is to help them upgrade their skills. The online course options are endless and if companies are prepared to pay for training where staff can gain externally accredited qualifications in anything from blockchain to AI to project management, a genuine feeling of support will be engendered.
Harvard Business Review suggests staying ahead of the game by inviting problems, not just solutions. With the world as it is, previous rules of engagement have fallen by the wayside. If managers invite their teams to come to them with issues, even if they don’t yet have the answers, this will enable a wider and more all-round view of budding problems and access to a broader set of potential solutions. It’s changing up the way things have traditionally been done and demonstrating that the company really does give a damn about the challenges of a world in which no one yet might have definitive answers.
Other things that would be far more helpful to many than quizzes and happy hours include:-
Though these are a lot harder to provide, these are the things employees really want. Rather than just paying lip service to supporting staff, offer support in ways that carry real weight and would actually help.
If you need help finding super-smart tech talent to help you scale quickly and cost-effectively, working with a remote team in a developing country could be the answer. For more detail around tapping into the best global talent with remote teams, download our eBook, ‘30 Hints & Tips To Get The Most Out Of Your Remote Team’. It will ensure you're informed and have the right questions to ask when considering the next step.