Resetting the relationship between local and national government. Read our Local Government White Paper

Remote working | Top Tips

It’s fair to say we’ve never experienced a time like this and it can feel overwhelming but there are some things that managers can do to support and promote good wellbeing during these exceptional circumstances.

The coronavirus outbreak has come with a tidal wave of communications, fears, behaviours, new ways of working and mental health matters that many of us will never have had to deal with.  Many managers are trying to react, cope and plan across a range of issues and at a pace that is new to many of us.

It’s fair to say we’ve never experienced a time like this and it can feel overwhelming but there are some things that managers can do to support and promote good wellbeing during these exceptional circumstances.

1. Stay connected

Managers need to ensure that they give enough time to talking, listening and engaging with their staff.  Make sure all staff are receiving corporate communications and make time to talk about the implications of these on your staff’s jobs or work priorities.  And be responsive and available to talk to staff – you may want to set aside particular times of the day, or you may want to schedule more 1:1 meetings.  However, be careful not rely too much on email. It is estimated that 60% of all communication is non-verbal so you could miss or misinterpret a lot in an email, especially if communicating about an emotional issue.  Sensitive issues are best dealt with in a phone call or a video conversation.    

2. Support good team working

Working in and feeling part of a team is important to most people in their jobs and is the main way most of us get work done. Therefore supporting team communication has always been a big part of a manager’s job, but now with teams dispersed and priorities changing it is more important than ever. There are many ways we can feel part of a team: by taking part in meetings, by contributing to work on projects, etc.  And this sense of belonging is an important to staff morale. You can support team working by building more and new ways of communicating and seeking more opportunities for staff to be creative and offer solutions to problems and agree new ways of working.  And don’t forget to allow time for small talk for teams. People may be feeling stressed and lonely after a few weeks of self-isolation and for many people homeworking may be stressful because children will be at home or because they have concerns and worries about health. Making time at the start of a team meeting for time to talk about things that are not related to work will not only be good for your team but will probably result in a more productive meeting.

3. Agree boundaries and set expectations about the new ways of working – and don’t forget to be flexible

It's important to react to the different phases of the virus and different people’s reactions to it.  In the initial crisis phase it may be that priorities and workloads will be unpredictable and variable but it is important to discuss this with staff, individually and as a team and agree how to respond to this.  Allocating resources and agreeing who is available and when and how work will be delivered will be critical in managing stress and wellbeing.  Remember, as well as working from home, some staff who are parents may also be juggling the added pressures of keeping the whole family mentally and physically healthy and making sure everyone gets fed. Be realistic about how much work parents who are looking after and home-schooling children can do and when they can do it. 

It may help to set contactable times when you will be available to talk to staff, or to talk in 1:1s and team meetings about how things will work to help staff achieve the balance of getting work done and managing home life or feelings of stress.

Try to focus on goals and outcomes, not activity or time spent on activities. Employers need to create a balance between maintaining business as usual for getting work done while also recognising that the fact things are actually far from normal and this might affect our employees’ ability to get that work done.  

4. Providing additional support

At an individual level, organisations can provide access to online information and advice to support employees with ways to positively managing their physical and mental health and also provide access to additional levels of support for staff who may need it.

Managers should ensure that mechanisms are in place to be in regular contact with individuals and teams with the particular purpose of discussing physical and mental health issues or worries about work that may impact. it is important for managers to acknowledge and encourage staff to talk about the stress of our unusual working circumstances, listen to employees’ anxieties and concerns, and empathise with their struggles. Ask staff how they are doing. Even a general question such as “How is this remote work situation working out for you so far?” can generate important information that might not otherwise come up. Its important to be mindful that certain groups or individuals may be more affected by ongoing events and may require extra support and ensure resources are made available to them

Organisations should have centralised and appropriate communication cascades and put in place additional support for staff who may be suffering from stress and anxiety because of the new working arrangements. Any plan of support should be dynamic and able to respond to the different needs of different workers.

Employers should be taking steps now to make sure their workforce has the necessary tools to work at home effectively, is trained in how to use this and can access technical support if needed. It wasn’t possible to carry out a health and safety workplace assessment in advance of the requirement for home working during coronavirus, but clear advice about working at home safely and healthily should be available. 

And crucially, ensure that employees are aware of where they can get help or information (internally and externally) if they are concerned about their physical and/or mental health.  Promote the resources you have available to support people’s health and well-being generally, including those through an employee assistance programme. If large numbers of people are now working from home in line with government advice, provide ongoing support and communications.

5. Adopt and promote a positive work/life balance

Managers should try to maintain a positive work/life balance and encourage their teams to do the same. It’s easy to work longer hours and take fewer breaks while trying to react to the uncertainty of the emerging situations of this pandemic. But there are small things you can do to manage this. Why not put a reminder in your diary when you plan to finish working? You can also make sure you take at least a 30-minute lunch break. Where possible, try to get some fresh air and go for a short walk.  It’s important for managers to look after their own wellbeing so they can also be there to support their team.   And encourage people to take annual leave where possible. Due to the current situation, holiday plans will have undoubtedly changed however taking some time away from work over the coming weeks and months (even if people are still confined to their homes) is important.