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How to reach out to your WFH colleagues during a global pandemic

There’s no doubt that we live in somewhat unsettling times, and it’s taking its toll on our mental health. But when we’re all in separate spaces, it becomes even harder for managers to check in and keep track of how people are doing.

It’s easy to let something like this fall by the wayside, when we’re dealing with work, childcare and homeschooling on top of our usual stresses, but it’s important that it stays a key part of your management technique. In fact, it should become an even more important one.

Beth Lang, Head of Operations at User Conversion, explains the best ways to reach out to your colleagues when they’re working from home, and how you can show them that their mental health is one of your top priorities…

Start by creating a safe space

Having an open culture within your office is an essential part of good mental health, especially when we’re all in lockdown and so cut off. After all, if you don’t have people who champion mental health and talk about it openly, how are your employees going to know it’s ok to come to you.

If you don’t already have this in place, then it’s not too late to start. It might be more difficult to create a safe mental health space in lockdown, but there’s plenty you can do to encourage it.

Start by regularly checking in with those you manage, ask how they are and how they are coping with the workload and the lockdown. Share resources, tips and advice on how to stay well during these times, and actively encourage engagement and trying new things; like different working hours, longer lunch breaks, etc. Try setting up an active Slack channel where you talk about things other than work, and encourage engagement in well being-focused things, like sharing what you get up to on evenings and weekends, pictures from your walk, baking or recipes.

Once people know that you care more than just about the work someone produces, they’ll find it easier to approach you when things aren’t going so well.

Encouraging people to open up

Opening up can be hard, especially to your colleagues or manager, and especially over Zoom. But as with anything, especially something as complex as reaching out for help, it’s incredibly important that the leadership team lead by example. Nothing sends a more powerful message about it being ok to open up, than the leaders doing it first.

Like most companies, we also offer 1-2-1 sessions between employees and their line managers. These have started happening more frequently over video chat during lockdown, but we try not to focus just on work and career progression. We have extended sessions where the time is dedicated to really talking about how they are doing. It means that managers can start spending proper time finding out how they are coping, asking the right questions about their wellness, motivation levels and productivity, whether or not they are taking proper breaks and getting out and about if/when they can. It’s not a grilling, but an open and honest conversation.

Be on the lookout for signs of struggling

As part of our Wellness Action Plans, we have a number of questions that cover looking after mental health when remote working. Two of these questions are; ‘Are there any early warning signs that we might notice when you are starting to experience poor mental health?’ and ‘If we notice early warning signs that you are experiencing poor mental health – what should we do?’

Employees fill out these plans and share them with their manager (confidentially) and any other team members they may be more comfortable with, and they’re invaluable to a manager in helping them to understand both how to proactively support good mental wellbeing in their teams. Because they’re created on an individual level, they are tailored to that person’s own needs and nothing else. The act of creating this plan also gets the individual thinking about what keeps them mentally healthy – and so prompts them to take steps to ensure they are proactively looking after themselves too.

During our extended 1-2-1s, it’s not just important that people talk, it’s also vital that managers listen. We encourage staff not to just say they are ‘fine’ and then move on. We use coaching questions a lot here at User Conversion, which are focused on encouraging the individual to think about what they can do – so asking what they’re doing to look after themselves is a great starter.