I’ve been working from home for 23 years so why should now feel any different?
I love working from home. I love the freedom, the solitude, and having limited outside distractions. But things have changed.
What freedom I used to have is limited in this era of social distancing and so many businesses shuttered. I used to take an hour out of my day to go to the gym. Now that my gym is closed, at least I have an elliptical and some weights at home, enabling me to do an abbreviated workout. But I still miss the change of scenery of going to the gym. My significant other is now working from home, so whatever solitude I used to have during the day is gone. Nothing personal Mary, but I loved that eight to ten hours a day of solitude. Fortunately, we each have our own offices where we can shut our doors and retreat into our own worlds. I realize a lot of people working from home don’t have that luxury.
During the past three weeks the distractions have multiplied thanks to a persistent need to track what is happening in the world, in the U.S., in my state (New Jersey), and in my community. Incidentally, I have the distinction of living in Ewing Township, which some of you may have read about on the national news after the police shut down a coronavirus party attended by 47 people a couple of weeks ago. What surprised me about that story was not that there was a nitwit in town who decided to host a party with a live DJ amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, but that there were 46 other nitwits who thought it was a good idea to go to this party.
These distractions, seeing friends, family members, and colleagues out of work, and the uncertainty of what’s next or how long this will last has made working from a huge challenge where it wasn’t before.
I know I’m not the only who feels this way. Today, I took a stroll through on the internet, searching “working from home and workplace mental health” and discovered an article titled “Working Remotely During COVID-19: Your Health and Well Being” on the website for The Center for Workplace Mental Health. This organization helps employers create a more supportive workplace environment for their employees and advance mental health policies at their organizations.
The article offered advice on how employees can maintain their health and wellness while working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also offered suggestions, which I’m sharing below, as to how employers and HR professionals can support employees during this time.
- Show empathy and be available: Understand that employees are likely feeling overwhelmed and anxious about circumstances related to the virus. Make yourself available to your staff to talk about fears, to answer questions and to reassure them about work and other issues that might come up.
- Stay connected with communication and meeting tools: Use virtual meeting options with video, like Zoom or JoinMe, for regular check-ins and to allow teams to connect with one another “face-to-face.
- Recognize the impact of isolation and loneliness: Working remotely can cause people to feel isolated, making it more important to routinely check in with your team, not only about their work product, but also to see how they are doing. Loneliness can lead to depression and other mental health issues. Be aware of significant changes you may see in your team member’s personality or work product, because it may be a sign that a person is struggling.
- Encourage online training: This is a great time to encourage employees to sharpen their skills with online training. It is also a good distraction to focus on learning rather than worrying about other issues. Find online training and new learning opportunities to recommend to employees.
- Check in with your EAP and Health Plan: Check in with your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to confirm their availability and to coordinate support for employees. Remind the staff that the EAP is there if they need support and can connect employees with behavioral health support, if needed. Also, connect with the organization’s health plan(s) to learn what they are offering to support plan members and pass that information onto employees. Be sure to include all relevant website links and phone numbers for both the EAP and health plan in communicating with employees.
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