Remote working has contributed to the depleting level of mental health that many have already been forced to endure, thanks to the arguably disastrous year of 2020. Whilst many have thrived in a home working setting, others have truly struggled - a struggle that may have been reflected in their output. Having said this, it’s worth noting that poor mental health doesn’t always equal a poor quality of work - but it can certainly be a leading factor. With this in mind, every employer should consider it their duty to do what they can to ensure their team’s mental state is conducive to a productive work environment.
Kevin Ashley, CEO of the learning management system, myAko, has provided his insight into how any employer can be more hands-on in the way they broach the topic of mental health with their team. Whilst Kevin has, in the past, managed teams of 500+ - his current team at myAko is comprised of just 4 full-time employees (and several freelancers). Kevin acknowledges that - although the mental health of any workforce should always be a priority, regardless of size - it’s easier to explore the broad spectrum of ideas, outlooks and practices that can help anyone flourish in a remote working situation, with a smaller team.
Reach Out For Help
Any struggling employee reading this should take this advice to heart, but employers should also make it clear that they are open to discussing any difficulties and willing to provide assistance.
Kevin tells us, “there have been times in my life where the challenges I faced at home and at work just felt too difficult. It was at these points where I should have reached out for help, but I didn’t, because I wrongly perceived this as a sign of weakness. I implore you, do not repeat my mistake - if you need help, please reach out.”
It is part of an employer’s job to be proactive in providing ongoing, effective support. Kevin has offered a variety of suggestions, which he has found to bolster both his team’s, and his own, mental health at work:
It’s easy to take such things as seeing someone’s face, or hearing their voice, for granted. Regular communication through phone and video calls is advisable as it can help us to see, hear and understand how the team is getting on - this is something that can be easily lost, or hidden, through text-based communication. That’s not to say text-based communication shouldn’t be utilised, of course. It can be incredibly useful for quick updates, as well as ensuring the existence of a paper trail - but the benefits of face-to-face communication (or as close as we can get to it) can’t be understated.
Kevin tells us, “We hold short team calls, of up to around 30 minutes, three times a week. These calls are an excellent opportunity for everyone to stay up to date with different aspects of the business, address certain queries and discuss their focus over the next few days. Further to this, the calls do, of course, provide the opportunity for any team member to request a little support in a safe and considerate space.”
On top of regular team calls, Kevin also suggests a morale-boosting call as each week draws to a close - perhaps with a fun theme. This can provide the opportunity for a team to relax and unwind in preparation for the weekend, whilst connecting to their colleagues and creating a positive and hope-instilling work environment.
Switch Off, Take Regular Breaks and Exercise
When your workspace and your living space are brought together, it can be increasingly difficult to switch off from work. This may feel productive at first, but in reality it can be just as bad for your mental health as the stress associated with falling behind in your duties.
We are, of course, expected to switch off at the end of the working day - and not a moment before - but it’s definitely important to take little breaks throughout. Remaining hunched over your desk; eyes fixed on the screen; and showing very little signs of movement for hours at a time is a terrible practice. Be sure to get up and stretch your legs every now and then, and give your eyes a much-needed rest to reduce eye strain. Physical aches and pains can easily put a damper on our mental health, without us even realising.
When it comes to exercise, a simple walk around the local area can be more than enough to revitalise and refresh you either before or after work, or perhaps on your lunch break. Kevin believes that, “the fresh air plays a big part in providing you with a different, brighter, often inspired perspective. Simply immersing yourself in different surroundings can really help with your mental health whilst confined to a remote working set up.”
Kevin goes on to say, “As an employer, it’s very important to make your team aware that you do not expect them to be rooted to their desk through every minute of the working day. A natural expectancy for your team to be dedicated to their position is one thing, but similarly, as an employer, you must be dedicated to ensuring your team is doing at least the bare minimum to stay healthy and comfortable.”
Make Lists and Stay Organised
Keeping lists is arguably the best way to stay on top of the day’s jobs, and prioritise tasks. Different people will have different, preferred methods, of course, but Kevin has always encouraged his team to make lists and consider the following when noting important jobs:
· Is it for a current customer/client?
· Is it for a prospective customer/client?
· Will it help my team?
· Will it help my business?
Kevin explains, “I, like many others, find it exceedingly easy to gravitate towards the job you enjoy, rather than the one that needs doing. That’s why I take note of [the above] when creating my to-do list, and start on the most important task first.”
This final point is important for both the employer, and each member of the team. Achievements deserve to be recognised. This is often necessary in order for each member of the team to appreciate their own worth, and when a little praise comes from the employer, this can really help to boost morale.
Offering overwhelming praise to an employee for simply doing their job would, of course, erase the significance of the praise - but it’s worth noting that just because someone has done their job, as expected, that’s not to say they haven’t done it to an excellent standard. Kevin recommends, “If a piece of work, a mindset, an idea, or anything an employee has done, stands out to you as significant or impressive, let them know! A certain balance must be found here, in order to make the praise meaningful, but it’s undeniable that everyone’s confidence and morale could do with a boost in these difficult times.”
Kevin goes on to discuss several other methods of maintaining a good level of mental health, that he, himself, has found useful: “Some people may find music distracting, but I find it incredibly soothing to listen to my favourite tunes as I work. This is something many people may not have the freedom to do in an office space, but as long as you know it won’t lead to the neglect of your duties, I see no reason not to listen to some music whilst you work. Further to this, staying up to date with news is without doubt a constant habit for many (and a good one!), but these constant, often miserable, updates can result in a lot of stress and distraction. I find it much easier to work through the day with any news notifications muted, until I’m ready to switch off and take a look.”
Ultimately, anything you can do to remove negativity and anxiety from your daily life is ideal in staying on top of your mental health and, correspondingly, maintaining a steady output whilst working from home. This is, of course, easier said than done. Whilst employers can in no way take full responsibility for this, they can certainly extend a helpful and reassuring hand; offer warm and regular communication; and recommend healthy and productive practices to help their team through the working day.