Business leaders should consider the emotional impact COVID-19 is having on their employees.

As we all become used to self-isolating, social distancing, and working from home, there’s one important thing we need to remember: though we may be physically distancing ourselves from others – mentally and emotionally, it’s never been more important to stay connected and attuned to both our own mental well-being and that of those around us.

The proven medical impact of social isolation is not new or unique to the situation we find ourselves in – depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive functions to name but a few. That’s enough to deal with – but if we’re not careful, compounded by the fact that people are scared – not only by the thought of loved ones succumbing to COVID-19 but the longer terms impact this will have on their own health, business and, in fact, life as we know it.

So, as business leaders (or indeed as family or community members), we should be aware of these impacts, and ask ourselves what actions we can take to help the people around us while effectively managing remote employees.

Who needs more support?

Fact. Some of your team may need more support than others.

Whether you’re an introvert (and by this I don’t mean someone who’s quiet – I mean someone who is energised and refuelled by spending time alone) or an extrovert (one who is energised by the company of others), we’re all going to be reliant on others to keep our spirits high whilst compelled to keep up to date with the dreadful news on the impact COVID-19 is having on people, businesses and communities all over the world.

Ask yourself: Who are the people in your team/community that by default may feel the impact more?

  • Do your colleagues have medical conditions or loved ones with medical conditions that could be in the higher risk category that is causing them additional emotional concern?
  • Maybe you just have some natural worriers amongst your team that may need an extra bit of help?
  • Is working from home amongst family members or roommates doing the same creating additional challenges and stress for them?

If you understand your team’s concerns, you can respond to them with empathy, compassion and appropriate support – in the processes nipping in the bud any unfounded concerns that exacerbate a lack of emotional connection with their colleagues/business.

Set your business apart from many others that do not take the time to do so. In times of crisis, these small acts of concern and kindness are rarely forgotten.

Be present for others

As I speak at events all around the word on the subject of employee engagement, I share one thing – you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that order. Never has this phrase had more resonance.

Simply be ‘present’ when interacting with your colleagues. Clearly, you won’t be a physical presence, but actively listen to their concerns, ideas and stories. Keep an extra eye on people’s reactions (their tone of voice, or facial expressions and contribution during online meetings) so you can spot a small problem before it becomes a bigger one. You may be surprised at how well body language and expression are communicated via videoconferencing – if you’re paying attention.

“Simply giving someone the room to express their anxieties is an act of compassion, especially if you can do it without judgment and without making someone worry they have violated some kind of professional boundary,” writes Alexandra Samuel in a Wall Street Journal article entitled, “How to Bond With Colleagues in the Crisis.

Consider this an opportunity to be more focused on people’s reactions than when immersed in a busy office environment, working to your usual routine and rushing to get the next task ticked off your list before you face the journey home.

Keep communication with managers open (this is leadership’s chance to shine) – and reinforce to your team that no concern is too small and that no question is a silly one.

By truly listening, you and your leaders will likely learn more about your team than ever, gain new insights, and indeed get some nice surprises. As a consequence, you have the opportunity to strengthen your working relationships with others rather than risk them being weakened by self-isolation and social distancing.

Discover more ways to drive innovation and improve business performance while working remote.

Be proactive and help others adjust to this ‘new normal’

  • New ways of working require new structures. At Engagement Multiplier, we’ve instigated team connection Zoom meetings twice daily with a simple agenda:
    First, all share something that’s making them each feel great right now
  • Next, everyone discusses three things they’re focusing on today (in the a.m) or three wins they had today (p.m.)
  • To close, we ask everyone to share something positive they’re taking away from the meeting

As you can see, the agenda is focused on forward thinking and support. These meetings aren’t there to make people feel that big brother is watching over them – quite the opposite. They are deliberately run to be upbeat, providing the team the opportunity to chat and connect that they’d normally have in the office. The results are profound: these daily meetings are universally energising and are instrumental in keeping everyone connected, enthusiastic and productive.

The simple act of asking everyone to speak at the start of the meeting about something positive sets the tone for an energising meeting. We’ve already seen collaboration and ideas that would not have previously occurred if we’d all been working from the office. Don’t let process overtake personalities – in fact, encourage them to shine!

Structure also doesn’t replace spontaneity. There’s nothing stopping any one of our team members from picking up the phone or hopping on a Zoom just to simply talk or lift spirits. In fact, I actively encourage it. If someone is having a dip because they’re getting a little stir crazy, we’re all ready to talk, have a few smiles, pick them back up and carry on. We’ve even given it a codename: SMS – Save My Sanity! Our team is totally engaged – but they are after all human! So, giving them permission to admit a dip means others will pick them up and support them. It’s totally authentic.

Sharing good news, wins or uplifting stories along the way (however big or small) creates a collective energy, belonging and feeling of being as one emotionally – even though we are geographically separated.

It’s almost unfortunate the phrase “social distancing” has become popular vernacular for what really is “physical distancing,” as the pandemic crisis unfolds: as vital as physical distance unquestionably is at this moment, maintaining strong social ties has also become vitally important. By concentrating on finding ways to keep (or re-create) the moments and interactions that create bonds in the office, we’ve ended up building more connection, conversation and collaboration within our team, and are confident you’ll be able to do the same when you pause, observe and act to strengthen your newly remote team.

A free offer for our readers:

To help your business navigate its way through this period of change and emerge stronger than ever, Engagement Multiplier is providing free access to its Working From Home & Winning survey, as well as other tools and resources. Here are the details.
Current clients can access the Working From Home and Winning survey on-demand within their Engagement Multiplier dashboards.