Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are continuing to experience stress related to living and working in this strange time. For those who are fortunate enough to be able to work from home, the challenge becomes adapting to the dual role our homes must now serve in functioning as environments for both work and family life.
It’s widely expected that these conditions aren’t temporary, which means managers and team leaders need to be prepared to help employees make longer-term adjustments. They can start by encouraging greater balance.
By now, we’ve been in the thick of this situation for several months. Let’s just acknowledge that this is a strange and stressful place we find ourselves occupying. Pretending otherwise isn’t productive or realistic. We also must accept that when human beings are under stress, they may need more support.
As managers and even as fellow humans, we owe it to each other to be mindful in our interactions. As a rule, make it a point to think about how you can dial up kindness and compassion. With that serving as the basis for how you engage with people, there are some additional, concrete ways managers can support employees.
The New Blended Life
The pandemic has affected many facets of our lives and fundamentally changed how we’re interfacing with others in our community. With kids homeschooled and multiple family members working from home, we’re living what I call a “blended life.” Throughout the day, we’re moving in and out of personal and professional roles.
Many of us were moving in this direction even before COVID-19. With remote workers and flexible work arrangements on the rise, the traditional expectation of an employee sitting at his or her desk in the office 40 hours a week is from a bygone era.
In recent years, we’ve increasingly moved away from this and down the path toward segmentation of work, gig work, and younger workers entering the workforce who are more interested in project-based stints and shorter “bursts” of work.
This fluid in-and-out movement of professional and personal roles requires an integrated approach to nurturing the mind and body. Our old routines are gone, and yet we still have to find a way to create balance—making time for physical movement and exercise, nourishing our bodies, and treating others around us well.
5 Tips for Managers
As we go deeper into this blended life, it calls for re-architecting from an employment perspective. Policies, processes, and systems need to change. How they need to change is grist for many more discussions. For the moment, here are five simple tips for supporting employees through the current transition, offering comfort in the midst of chaos.
1. Lead with empathy. Unhealthy stress can wreak havoc on individuals and doesn’t encourage productivity, which is why it’s vitally important for managers to demonstrate empathy toward any member of the team who is struggling.
It’s important to connect with employees and really lean into the concerns and fears they’re expressing to better understand how to alleviate those who are within your sphere of control.
2. Be present. My favorite saying is “carpe diem,” as it emphasizes the importance of today. As things change by the minute, managers must remind themselves to stay focused on the issues at hand and not what the issues may be in the next day, week, or month.
There is still a lot we can’t predict about what’s coming next. Ask yourself, “What do my employees need now that will ease their concerns today?”
3. Encourage self-awareness. There’s a certain level of self-awareness and emotional intelligence that’s needed to balance work, life, and wellness. While many employees’ work environments have drastically changed, it’s important for managers to empower them to become more self-aware of any limitations.
Do they need more time in the morning to get their kids settled? Do they need periodic breaks throughout the day to stretch and take a breather? Those check-ins are important, as our work-from-home status remains unknown.
4. Ergonomics matter. Workers may be spending 8–12 hours a day in their new work-from-home configuration, so they need to pay attention to how it’s set up. The wrong ergonomics can wreak havoc on your body; work-related musculoskeletal disorders are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The right chair, desk, and computer are critical to supporting employees in being productive and comfortable in their new working environment. Managers should connect with employees to ensure they have the optimal work setup to support their bodies.
5. Create the ideal space with the right tools. Many of us are now sharing close quarters with spouses, kids, and pets. Despite distractions, our challenge is to create a space that’s conducive to maximum productivity. One advantage of working from home is that you can surround yourself with the things that inspire you—color, music, artwork, etc.
In addition to creating the ideal physical space, employees need the right technology tools to be effective, such as an all-in-one collaboration platform that puts everything they need at their fingertips. By understanding what employees need, in terms of both physical space and technology, managers can enable them to work more effectively in their home environment.
Looking for the silver lining in the current situation, it does appear to be a tipping point for more organizations to embrace employees working from anywhere. It’s also a time when all of us are becoming more aware of how we spend our time. As managers and employees, we need to remember that what matters more than effort is our desired outcome. Have compassion for yourself and others, and don’t exhaust yourself doing things that don’t lead to the results you want.
Billie Hartless is the Chief Human Resources Officer at Mitel. As CHRO, Hartless leads Mitel’s HR function globally, overseeing talent management, HR business partnerships, leadership and organizational development, compensation and benefits, diversity and inclusion, and corporate responsibility.
A key member of Mitel’s executive leadership team, Hartless is focused on continuing to build and foster a high-performance culture by attracting, retaining and developing top talent while also ensuring Mitel’s people strategies are aligned with its strategic transformation and growth initiatives.