Here’s how to help your remote team avoid feeling isolated because of COVID-19
For those who are used to the connectedness brought about from working together in an office, doing your job virtually can be jolting and isolating. Combine that with the stay-at-home orders many are experiencing and those feelings get exacerbated. Every remote team member is unique and how they experience this kind of impact varies dramatically.
I was reminded recently by a favorite author Shawn Achor who wrote The Happiness Advantage, how happiness is defined as “the joy one feels striving for one's potential." Perhaps we can pursue moments of joy with our teams as we strive to get through this pandemic together. These practices add advantages that are not negligible. According to studies, 82% of remote workers reported lower stress levels! And that’s not all; 51% admitted that they spend more time with their significant others, 48% report getting more sleep, and 44% have a more positive attitude. This all contributes to better life satisfaction.
How do we implement these ideas with our team working remotely? The answer is simple: through very intentional leadership actions. Yes, virtual happy hours are nice. I think I’ve attended more than I should. But real support comes in the form of information, training and access to support when needed.
Here are a few of our top recommendations.
- The Science Behind Video - We’ve spoken many times about the use of video. We happen to use Microsoft Teams (because we use Office 365), but the world is familiar with Zoom and Hangouts for their office and personal video sessions. What we didn’t know is the science behind video calls. According to a Bustle article, even when you see people on screen, your brain activates the same way as seeing them in person. A daily habit that includes connecting with your team and encouraging them to do the same with family and friends can substantially help them lessen the feelings of isolation. In a recent study from Microsoft, “89 percent of remote employees said video (such as Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime) helps them feel more connected to their colleagues.” However, there is caution that comes with this as well. If you have team members nervous about being on camera, that anxiety can raise their adrenaline making them feel worse. In this case, we encourage our employees working remotely to talk with their manager and have one-on-one conversations to lessen their feelings of anxiety.
- Incorporate Daily Habits with your Team - There are endless articles about daily healthy habits. My favorite short list comes from author Shawn Achor. We’ve tried to implement a few of these within the company to help the team practice daily habits as a matter of course during the business day. These 5 habits are outlined in his book, but also available through a Master Class you can listen to on the Calm meditation app.
- Practice Gratitude Daily - Describe three things you are grateful for and why. We incorporated gratitude into our daily meetings. We start each morning meeting by asking our team members to share their gratitude along with their why. This is a nice uplifting way to start a meeting and it actually helps them set their intention for a positive meeting to follow.
- Journal Each Day - Take two minutes to journal about a single positive event along with three details. This reinforces the team member’s positive experience and magnifies the experience for all your team. We sent out gratitude journals so that our team would have a place for journaling. Every week we also share a five minute weekly status report across teams. We always highlight accomplishments, roadblocks, and goals for the week ahead. Now we are adding a journal-like component to once again help the team reinforce this positive habit.
- Exercise 15 minutes - Taking just 15 minutes for vigorous exercise is extremely helpful. There are many online fitness courses and we share tips, resources, and fitness ideas in our Wellness Chat Room throughout the day.
- Breath two minutes – Take two minutes each day to practice breathing. We have offered a morning group meditation for our team to dial into. The Calm meditation app and other resources are available for guided meditations. However, working into a meeting a pause for everyone that includes a two minute breathing exercise brings positive results for everyone.
- Email for two minutes thanking another person - Taking a moment to send a quick “thank you” to someone each day is easy and contributes to overall happiness. We also have a Cheers-for-Peers chat room. This is where we thank our teammates for their support on a project or initiative or for helping in some way. It’s quick, easy and by far the most loved experience by all.
- Bring in Guest Speakers - There is a real opportunity right now to bring in guest speakers for your team. The right mix of speakers can offer uplifting practices, information, and resources. You could bring in a happiness expert, a financial planner, a nutritionist, a meditation specialist, etc. Make the focus on mental health and wellness. Team members can participate by submitting questions for the Q&A portion of a presentation. The amount of information available to everyone right now is overwhelming to many. You can help your team by bringing in vetted experts and then allow the team to interact with them.
- Remind Your Team About Their Employee Assistance Program - Despite all your efforts, some team members will struggle with the current Coronavirus pandemic. In this case, you can typically offer them the support of an EAP. An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a voluntary program that offers free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, and referrals to employees who have personal and/or work-related issues. Most companies offer an EAP program as part of the health benefit offering. Typically, the only time anyone hears about them is during open enrollment. Now is the time to remind your team of this resource available to them. EAPs address a broad and complex body of issues affecting mental and emotional well-being, such as alcohol and other substance abuse, stress, grief, family problems, and psychological disorders. Many EAPs offer 24/7 phone access to counselors, access to educational information as well as financial & legal consultations.
- Allow Team Members to Share Hidden Talents - Many team members have hidden talents outside of work. We’ve discovered that if you can get them to share their talent, it sparks joy for them and for those that get to experience it. Even through video. Some talents that could be shared on a video call include playing an instrument, singing, stand-up comedy, painting/art work, poetry reading, etc. We recommend a talent show evening. I guarantee the team will talk about this for months to come.
- Create Forums within Your Company - One compelling idea is to form Peer Groups within your company. This allows team members to participate in a smaller 8-10 member employee group. This is typically a standing monthly forum meeting that follows a specific protocol and practice. More to come on this in an upcoming guest blog with Mo Fathelbab, Author of The Friendship Advantage. Mo has had experience running over 2,000 forums. These forums are designed to provide a foundation to establishing group communication models whereby each member can learn and grow. These forums allow your members to reaffirm their commitment to each other, build trust and address conflicts within the group.
Please share with us your tips to ensure your team doesn’t feel lonely and isolated.
We also want you to know that we’ve published a whole series on work from home tips. If you find these blog tips of value to you and your remote workforce, here are some other helpful ideas: