The COVID-19 outbreak of 2020 and the resulting lockdown has made remote working a reality for many organisations even still. But for most businesses, it was born out of necessity, not something they had planned.
Remote working has huge benefits, including saving businesses money on physical office costs. It can also improve productivity and give employees a better work/life balance. However, it comes with its own issues.
One of the things that people struggle with most when working remotely is isolation. In Buffer’s ‘State of Remote Work,’ 2019 report, 19% of survey respondents said that loneliness and isolation was a big problem for them, second only to the inability to switch off from work. Add to this all the physical and emotional disruption of the coronavirus pandemic and it becomes an even bigger problem which can have serious ramifications for productivity and mental health.
When leading a remote team, you need to be the human face, not just ‘the boss.’ Remember that some employees’ living situations and personalities will be more suited to remote working than others. Whilst some may thrive, others will need help. Taking these steps below as advised by Northern Powerhouse Consulting founder Sharon Pegg, can help you reduce isolation anxiety in your remote team as we go into the new year of 2021.
Stay in touch
Feeling disconnected contributes to isolation. The in-person team meetings, the shared lunch and coffee breaks and the after-work drinks on a Friday may be a distant memory but you need to stay in touch with your team as much as you can. Video calls are a great way to help reduce feelings of isolation as you can physically see each other, as you would do in a face-to-face meeting. Have your regular team meetings and 1-2-1 catch-ups but also make time for virtual coffee breaks, after-work cocktails and catch-up chats that aren’t just about work. Social interaction is still really important.
Make good use of technology to stay connected
Platforms like Slack and Trello are great for managing work tasks and collaborating. They are also useful places to have a group chat and share interesting articles or anything else that builds and maintains that sense of being a team.
Reassure your people that you know that they are doing their best
Working from home is not ideal for everyone. On a practical level, some may have less space than others, as well as other distractions to deal with. Let them know your door is always open (even if it is virtually) and keep the lines of communication open. If a team member is struggling, just knowing that someone is a message or call away can really help. Reassure your team members that they are not alone.
Keep employees up to date
When working remotely people can feel disconnected from their team and the organisation. As well as communicating about work tasks and checking up on wellbeing, you should also update them on any changes that are on the horizon in the organisation. From celebrating birthdays and new arrivals to being aware of business challenges, being open and honest can help employees feel connected despite being physically apart.
Watch out for signs of poor mental health
It can be harder to spot the signs that someone in your team is struggling when you are working remotely. But working from home can create a perfect storm of mental health issues, including isolation, lack of social interaction, lack of separation between work and life and the risk of burnout. Watch out for team members who seem withdrawn or distracted in virtual meetings and look out for noticeable drops in performance. If you suspect someone is experiencing poor mental health, the first step is to have a 1-to-1 chat with them. Remember not to assume anything and be considerate and empathetic. Even if they don’t feel comfortable completely opening up, sometimes just knowing they can talk to you is enough.
Isolation negatively impacts productivity and mental health. But when working remotely, loneliness and isolation isn’t inevitable. If you go back to basics and focus on connection and the human side of management, you can reduce feelings of isolation in your team and enable them to thrive.