By Justin Kearney, Logicalis SVP Human Resources
Remote working had already begun to become more mainstream in recent years. However, no one could have predicted the impact of the pandemic on the future remote working. According to recent US technology research, globally the number of employees permanently working remotely is set to double in 2021 from 16.4% to 34.4% In fact, a report from Cardiff University and the University of Southampton showed that 88% of employees who worked at home during lockdown would like to continue in some capacity even once restrictions lift.
Remote working is here to stay, and employees have learnt how to stay productive and proactive. However, the sudden transition to working from home has not been an easy one.
While businesses overcame technical and administrative challenges quite quickly, the unexpected shift to remote working is taking its toll on mental health for employees. Whilst many enjoyed the novelty of working remotely early in the pandemic, a significant number of workers have suffered from isolation. Spending prolonged periods of time in the same environment during one of the most challenging and uncertain times of our generation is difficult. To combat the negative mental health implications, organisations and business leaders have had to step up and consider the wider aspects of keeping employees engaged, motivated and positive.
Focus on wellbeing
Most employees were not used to working from home full-time before lockdown. In-person meetings were changed to video or phone calls, and to keep teams in touch, collaboration platforms were implemented. The adoption of these tools enabled workforces to work effectively and deliver the same level of service that they would if they were working from the office, continuing to create innovative solutions.
However, these same collaboration tools can exhaust employees. Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face meeting. We are constantly having to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, tone of voice, pitch and body language and many of us are on several video calls a day.
Lockdown has its own set of challenges for employers. Summer lockdowns were tough enough for employees, but cold and dark winter days are further affecting employee wellbeing. Many business leaders have been charged with creating initiatives to connect with employees, encourage teamwork and digitally replicate the collaborative culture of the office. Virtual cocktail hours, bring your pets to virtual work meetings and Logicalis’ Global Innovation Challenge, are just some of the ways we have been engaging with our global colleagues, beyond their day-to-day responsibilities to ensure our teams feel connected and supported.
Business leaders must be constantly communicating with all employees to keep them motivated and engaged. You cannot communicate enough, especially with so much uncertainty about the future.
At Logicalis, we have been sending out regular communications to team leaders and employees around the world to keep them engaged, optimistic, and positive about the future. In fact, last year our US CEO was reading bedtime stories to employees’ children via Zoom, while Group HR were sharing weekly wellbeing initiatives across the group and our CFO kept everyone aware on Logicalis’ trading performance. These varied communication methods meant our employees were fully informed and motivated, allowing them to continue to provide best in class service to our customers.
How leaders communicate can make or break employee commitment to their organisation. When people are exposed to bad news and negativity, largely within circumstances beyond their control, leaders need to remember to highlight the positives. Reassuring your employees and reiterating your support will ensure your employees feel safe through the unpredictability. The more committed you are to your employees, the more committed they will be in return.
Preparing for the future
Given these extraordinary circumstances it isn’t surprising that employees are anxious about the future and they are looking to leaders for cues. People need leaders who can help them navigate uncertainty through a commitment to well-being and mental health, constant communication and preparation for the future. Sharing upcoming plans and strategy, alongside what is going well for the organisation helps bring employees along the journey and alleviate their concerns.
Moving forward, businesses must remember that despite the circumstances and the pressure on mental health, employees have demonstrated agility and adaptability to help support business continuity.
Employees deserve company support as they helped drive businesses forward through a trying year. They have been under immense strain so now is the time for businesses to practice empathetic leadership and take a more humanistic approach. What leaders say, how they convey it, and the commitment they make to employees will directly correlate to their success during, and beyond the pandemic.