COVID-19 has derailed global business operations and forced many employees to pivot to online remote work. While it's a glaring reality that all of these precautions are in the name of health, it's quite clear that even as we attempt to keep this nefarious pathogen at bay, we must take care of day-to-day mental health and wellness. While many companies already had robust employee wellness programs, it's likely that lots of them are not intended to serve a remote workforce. With the pandemic heightening normal stressors, it's never been more important to foster the wellbeing of your employees.
Here are some easy ways to put remote wellness programs in place quickly:
1. Encourage openness about mental illness. When a person in leadership speaks about personal experience with a mental health issue, it makes everyone more comfortable talking about it - and more aware of the issues. Even if team members choose to keep anxiety and depression to themselves, it can still help to know they are not alone. No one should be forced to tell their story, but if there is a person in leadership who has a story to tell, it's likely to be beneficial to a good percentage of your employees.
2. Offer proven stress-relief techniques. Provide your people with links to useful resources such as online meditations or yoga sessions. Whether you hire someone to conduct live sessions for your workforce or promote popular apps like Headspace for Meditation & Sleep, Ten Percent Happier for Mindfulness, Insight & Sleep, you're helping set your people up for healthy mind and body, which will make them that much more effective at navigating stress and uncertainty.
Related: How to Encourage Mental Health During Uncertain Work Conditions
3. Create a mental health toolkit. Curate a list of resources to support people with mental health issues and share it with your teams. Include links to websites for employee assistance programs, mental health support, benefits information guides, plus details about disability coverage and family leave.
4. Provide counseling support. Consider offering a healthcare package available that includes cover for psychologists, counsellors and a host of alternative medical treatments. Services like this often include a confidential 24-hour support line that covers mental health and wellbeing support.
5. Subsidise healthy activities. Healthy activities are different for different people. Not everyone wants to do yoga in their living room or participate in a daily plank challenge. For this reason, offering employees an annual wellbeing bonus to put towards anything to do with promoting their health is a great way to address a multitude of needs. People could choose to use this allotment for gym memberships, meditation apps and even learning a foreign language.
6. Welcome visitors to virtual meetings. There is loads of scientific evidence showing that being around pets improves mental health, from anxiety to depression and PTSD. And while remote workers can't bring pets into the office, there's a lot to be said for knowing one another's furry friends. Animals have a way of disarming all of us, and making us seem even more human and bolstering connections. Having a quick visit from your pet during a casual team check-in is a great way to kick off some lighthearted bonding, or consider surprising your team with a visit from a goat or a llama. Animal sanctuaries and local farms are offering cameo appearances for a small fee.
7. Offer online learning sessions. When every day can feel like Groundhog Day, it's even more important than ever to ensure that your workforce is keeping their minds sharp and their appetite for personal growth strong. To this end, consider offering online learning sessions designed to complement or bolster the work team members do each day. Quarantined or not, career-minded colleagues need to feel like they're continuing to fuel their future potential.
Related: How to Manage Teams When Working Remotely
8. Set up virtual connection circles. Remember that not everyone working remotely has a lot of social interaction. Many people who work from home greatly value the opportunity to connect with others about their experience and emotions - especially during the pandemic when there is so much uncertainty and loneliness. Consider setting up small virtual groups of between six and eight people that employees can join for regular interaction and a safe space to process changes in your company, their lives and the current global reality. You can even hire a professional facilitator with experience in mindfulness and personal development to run the sessions.
9. Initiate community Slack channels. For those employees who don't need the personal interaction of connection circles, but still might benefit from the opportunity to talk about hobbies and interests or and anything other* than COVID-19, consider creating specialised community conversation threads in team collaboration apps like Slack. Having a go-to outlet for sharing recipes, book recommendations, movie banter or commiseration with other working-from-home parents can be hugely beneficial.
10. Encourage taking a day off. Especially when there is nowhere to go because of sheltering in place, it can be easy to feel like you have to slog it out at work day after day with no end in sight. But we all need mental health days. Encourage team members to choose a day in the next few weeks or month to just take a day off to recharge - even if it's just to take a long walk or watch Masterclass. One day off might very well mean that productivity is higher for a solid week.
Glassdoor's Resources for Employers During COVID-19