Looking after employee wellbeing is always important, and never more so than during the ongoing pandemic. COVID-19 has, at least temporarily, transformed the ways in which many people are working. With commercial offices now largely out of bounds until social distancing restrictions are eased, more of us than ever are working from home. But how are employees coping with this change?
To find out, we surveyed 1,000 UK workers who have recently had to make the transition. Here’s what they said, along with tips that could help your business to support your workers through this unusual and difficult time.
The majority of people we polled said their companies have been providing wellbeing support during lockdown. Just over two-fifths (42%) said enough support had been provided, while 13% said ‘a lot of support’ had been offered. However, a significant number of respondents suggested their employers had been falling short in this area. Nearly a third (32%) said some wellbeing support had been provided, but not enough, while 13% revealed that their companies hadn’t provided this support.
Working from home, away from colleagues, can pose a range of wellbeing challenges for employees. They might struggle with feelings of loneliness at work, and because of the lockdown measures, they might also be suffering the effects of isolation from friends and family, as well as a lack of exercise. This is why it’s more important than ever to have a strategy in place to support employee wellbeing. The type of strategy that works best for your business will depend on the specific needs of your personnel. It could include anything from arranging online exercise classes to creating a buddy scheme for mental health. It might also be useful to produce a good practice guide for remote working.
Understandably, many people are worried about the impact that COVID-19 may be having on the businesses they work for. Keeping employees in the dark about these effects can exacerbate concerns. Of the people we polled, 48% said their workplaces provided some communication about the impact of the pandemic on the business, while 34% said there was frequent communication on this topic. But some organisations appear to be falling short. Nearly one in six respondents (15%) said they had received little communication on this issue, while 3% had received no communication.
To give your employees a greater sense of awareness and control, consider sending regular updates to them on how the company is being impacted and what steps are being taken in response. You could do this through newsletters, online meetings or emails, for example.
On a related point, many people are worried that they may lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic. In fact, around two-fifths of those we surveyed reported an anxiety level of seven out of 10 or higher (with zero being not anxious at all and 10 being highly anxious).
If your employees’ jobs are at risk, you may wish to offer them access to remote counselling and advice services. It’s also important to ensure that managers are available to answer workers’ concerns about job uncertainties. This will help to ensure that personnel feel supported at what could be a very difficult and stressful time.
Eliminating the twice-daily commute to and from the office can give people more free time during the day, but working from home can also bring difficulties in terms of striking a healthy work-life balance. Nearly four in 10 of the people we polled (38%) said they were worried about achieving a good balance.
There are a range of traps people can fall into when working from home that make it difficult to balance work and relaxation effectively – but as an employer, you can help your staff members to avoid these mistakes. For example, encourage your employees to set up dedicated workspaces away from general living areas. Whether this involves turning a spare room into a home office or simply designating a corner of a living room as a work area, this can help employees to create a mental separation between work and rest. Another tip is to encourage staff members to stick to set working hours where possible.
Staying focussed can be tough for those who are new to home working. Two-fifths of the people we polled said they were worried they wouldn’t be able to keep their focus at work, while 37% revealed they were concerned their employer didn’t think they were working hard enough. Over a third (34%) stated they were worried they may end up working longer hours.
To help your employees stay focussed without putting them under pressure to do too much, it’s essential that you establish clear and reasonable targets for them. Also, make sure you set up regular manager check-ins so that progress can be monitored and any problems picked up early on.
Despite concerns about remaining focused, it seems as though many people are finding they can work more productively and manage their time better away from the distractions of the office. In fact, 100% of respondents said their time management had improved since they started working remotely, while 45% felt their personal productivity had increased.
To further boost the productivity of your employees, it’s important to make sure you provide them with all the training and technical support they need to do their jobs effectively remotely. As part of this, you should ensure they have access to and know how to use remote working tools that can help them perform their roles.
Missing the work environment
When asked how much they missed the office work environment on a scale of zero to 10 (with zero being not at all and 10 being very much), the most common response was a seven. Over 18% of people opted for this. The next most common response was eight, with over 13% of respondents picking this. People missed their colleagues most, followed by the work environment itself.
To help employees connect and give them a chance to chat to each other about non-work issues, you could encourage them to use communication tools like Slack or WhatsApp to keep in touch. These interactions can help to relieve stress and boost morale.
Remote working set up
Unlike in an office, there’s no tech support team on standby for people working at home who suffer problems like internet outages or software failures. Although over three-quarters (76%) of respondents said they already had stable internet at home before lockdown, and 20% said this was arranged after lockdown was announced, 4% of people revealed they didn’t have access to reliable internet. Our survey also found that 11% of people didn’t have all the relevant software for working at home.
Where possible, it’s important to ensure that your workers have the good quality, reliable equipment and software they need to perform their roles remotely. This may mean providing people with items such as laptops and computer monitors, and it’s also vital to make sure they have access to the relevant software and tools. This could include anything from communication apps like Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams to project management tracking tools such as Trello and Asana.
By being mindful of remote workers’ needs and taking action to address them, you can help to protect the wellbeing of your employees. This is beneficial not only for your personnel, but also for your business as a whole.