We are currently living through the largest global experiment in remote working. Despite it being hailed as the ‘future of work’ for years, COVID-19 has made working from home the new norm.

However, with concerns around mental health during lockdown, the onus is on employers to ensure adequate support is provided to their remote colleagues even if they are not visibly struggling.

Consider these 5 things to ensure you foster a healthy, engaged and productive remote team.

COVID-19 and Mental Wellbeing
Image: Ipsos MORI

Be flexible with working hours

Parents continue to have demands placed on their time that go well beyond work. Caregivers and volunteers need to have the freedom and support to take time to fulfill those roles, while everyone on the team needs to take regular breaks to go outside.

Range, a workplace platform, has turned to ‘windowed work’ to accommodate the different schedules of its employees. Colour-coded calendars are implemented to communicate various levels of availability on an individual's behalf.

Take inspiration from their example and empower your employees to own their time and to communicate that schedule so expectations are clear and even help boost productivity. Workloads will be managed more effectively and employees can carry on being their best selves at work and at home - even if those two places are the same.

Image: CultureGene

Maintain regular virtual contact

Social distancing has reduced the scope for interactions outside of the home. When all restrictions are lifted, months will have passed and we don’t yet know what post-COVID socialisation will look like. In the interim, create opportunities for virtual connections.

Punctuating the work day with social exchanges is the key to replicating workplace interactions and to providing a reliable support system that wards off loneliness. For employees who live alone, work interactions may be their main point of socialisation during lockdown.

Make virtual social hours optional but have them as regular features on your employee calendars. The Donut app, an integration available for Slack, randomly assigns social meetups between team members and can make this element of support semi-automated. That said, be mindful that excessive virtual meetings whether social or work-related can become overwhelming itself causing what’s being labelled as 'Zoom Fatigue'.

Listen and be agile

After seeking feedback, listening and reacting to the pain points of their employees, Buffer, a social network manager, has instituted a 4-day work week trial for the month of May. This is an action they’ll reevaluate and implement again when they seek and collect further feedback. They know that the only way they can act in their employees’ best interest is by listening.

As a manager or CEO, you need to listen to know what your people need. Whether it's more or less flexibility, social interactions, support or time alone to focus on deep work, it's your job to find out. You don’t need to guess and you shouldn’t assume; just ask and listen to the answer.

Preemptively ask for feedback but also be available to have those conversations when employees come to you unprompted. Follow feedback up with actions that address and contribute to the health of your remote office. It can be as simple as scheduling regular one-on-ones that are based on checking in, not on progress, but on wellbeing, sending periodic messages via your internal communications platform and orchestrating anonymous polls.

Sustain culture and recognition

If people are the foundation of your business, company culture is the cornerstone. Now is the true test of your values as a business and as a leader. Your employees will be looking to leaders to respond and if handled appropriately will engender long-term loyalty. Having a supportive culture can breed loyalty to the company and happiness within roles.

Cultures based on values should be accompanied by appropriate employee recognition. Small but meaningful actions to surprise and delight your colleagues such as sending a gift in the post can lift spirits and communicate to them that what they do matters, that they are always appreciated.

Some companies may be virtually onboarding new employees, who colleagues have never met in person. It becomes even more important for you to find ways to understand each other in remote times. At Learnerbly, every employee creates an Empathy Guide, which shares more about them, their working habits, fun facts and how they prefer to receive feedback. It's a small way to give greater insight into people while reinforcing our values.

Provide learning and development (L&D) opportunities

COVID-19 will result in the need for millions of people to upskill and reskill themselves to be prepared for the new world of work. With many of those employees currently furloughed, at risk of redundancy in the long-term, employers need to support their colleagues to transition and reinvent themselves by providing L&D opportunities.

Management consultant company McKinsey & Company recently authored an article that states, "Now is the time for companies to double down on their learning budgets and commit to reskilling."

At Learnerbly, we are playing our part by offering free support to employers who are furloughing employees to ensure that their employees get access to the best development opportunities during this period. For example, Tempo, a recruitment platform for high growth businesses, has gone above and beyond with their furloughed Temps, providing them with access to our Learnerbly platform along with a £100 per person budget to use on purchasable content. It gives them access to more than the already 40% free content on the platform and is a great example of employers investing in a part of the workforce — in this case temporary workers — who are significantly struggling in this climate.

By supporting your employees to use time on furlough productively upskilling themselves or encouraging broader personal development, you are not only future-proofing them but your own business so that when life returns to normal you will have a more skilled and motivated workforce.

As we all adjust to this global remote work experiment, we will adapt to new working norms. It is clear that remote work is here to stay and will become a bigger part of all our lives. By proactively supporting your employees in this transition you can ensure that both your employees and your business will thrive in the new world of work.