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When COVID-19 spread across the globe, a lot of things changed. Suddenly, 67% of U.S. employees became remote for the first time and 42% are still remote. Many are also now trying to navigate being a remote worker while managing remote teams.

Before COVID-19, telecommuting seemed like the dream. Having ownership of your schedule, avoiding long commutes, and not having to visit the business-casual section of the closet sounded great. But working from home during a pandemic is a different experience, and it can cause some inevitable shifts in mental health.

While many report work-life balance has actually improved lately, employees are still struggling with increased anxiety and uncertainty

Why Working from Home During the Pandemic Affects Mental Health

Employees aren’t just learning to work from home. They’ve been doing almost everything from home. The kitchen table has become the conference table as well as the school desk for many parents who suddenly became teachers. The living room is now the gym. And their weekly game night is friends filling a computer screen instead of piling onto their couch.

All this change and social isolation is affecting people’s mental health:

  • 79% of people said that COVID-19 had deeply affected their lives.
  • 50% of Boomers are frustrated by feeling disconnected from colleagues.
  • 45% of people said they were “struggling with a lot of uncertainty around personal and family health, job status and workload, social isolation, and financial problems.”

When managers take an active role in recognizing their employees’ health and work to build deeper team connections, they improve employee retention because people stay at companies where they feel supported.

 

What Can Managers Do to Support Their Employees During These Challenging Times?

As it turns out, 45% of workers rated mental health and self-care training as one of the type of training they want most right now. In the videos below, we’ve provided helpful information to assist you in managing remote teams’ mental health. The topics we explore include the following:

  • Nonverbal communication cues to help identify behaviors that might indicate an employee needs support
  • Ways that leaders can communicate about the importance of time off without guilt, fear, or shame
  • Methods for reducing virtual meeting overload
  • Promotion of wellness and self-care

Each of these videos is available to use as a starter for your own training series. Learn about how to use Vyond templates here and click each of the template links in the article below to import them into Vyond Studio.

Use this video template

Let’s start by learning how nonverbal cues are an important part of your employees’ communication.

Clue into Your Remote Teams’ Nonverbal Cues

Open communication between managers and employees is important because research shows that only 7% of communication is based on the words we’re saying. The rest of our communication (gestures, eye movements, facial expressions, etc.) is equally, if not more, important.

The majority (93%) of communication comes from nonverbal cues, such as body language (55%) and tone of voice (7%). In the office, managers are exposed to all three aspects of an employee’s communication. In-person you might notice somebody exhibiting nervous behaviors like a leg shake or playing with their hands. But now, you’re limited to what you can hear over a conference call or see on their face through a video chat.

When technology limits our interactions, how can you tell if your employees may need support? Some people are highly skilled at interpreting nonverbal communication, while others could benefit from paying closer attention.

Use this video template

  1. Make sure you listen to tone of voice. Does their voice sound strained or stressed? Or do they sound monotone, indicating they may be disengaged?
  2. Pay attention to facial expressions. People express emotion in our faces. “Most people are unable to continuously control their facial expressions and frequently leak their emotions for others to read (Anderson).” By paying attention, managers can glean quite a bit of information that their direct reports aren’t explicitly sharing. Are they tightening their lips, indicating disapproval? Or are they biting their lip, which could mean they’re anxious?
  3. Finally, whatever you notice in their nonverbal cues, make sure you ask follow-up questions. For example: “You looked confused on the call. I wanted to see if you had any questions.”

A Gallup study found that the best managers “get to know their employees and help them feel comfortable talking about any subject.” Make sure to show your employees that you’re paying attention.

Encourage Employees to Take Time to Recharge with Vacation Days

Before COVID-19, over one in four people felt guilty about taking time off and 58% did not take their allotted vacation days due to feeling there was too much work to accomplish. Plus one in five (20%) of Americans say their company shames employees who take allotted vacation time. During any kind of stressful time, and now when people may feel lucky to have a job, employees might find it more difficult to request time away. But it’s important to take a break. Time away improves mental clarity, productivity, and focus.

Use this video template

How can managers encourage employees to take time off to rest and recharge?

  • Lead by example. Managers should tell employees how they are taking time away to recharge.
  • Communicate the company’s paid-time-off policy. Your organization has a PTO policy for a reason. Encourage employees to use it.
  • Activate your team. Let them know it’s more important than ever to rest and rejuvenate.
    When your employees are recharged, it leads to better outcomes for them and better outcomes for the company.

Reduce Virtual Meeting Overload

Pre-COVID, two in five American employees thought there were more meetings than necessary.

Now we’re having even more meetings and back-to-back video calls have replaced our daily in-person meetings. This is all on top of extra home responsibilities and increased stress.

This is leading to meeting fatigue and it’s draining employees’ energy. Video calls are important and have their place, but they also force us to focus more on conversations in order to absorb information. We have to try harder to not lose focus and exert more effort to process nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions and tone of voice.

Another factor causing meeting overload is that we’re constantly having to show that we’re paying attention by staring at the camera. This constant gaze makes employees uncomfortable and tired.

As a manager, reduce video-meeting fatigue by limiting the number of video meetings and by taking time to connect and chat before diving into work.

Use this video template

When video meetings are necessary, here are tips to help employees reduce meeting overload:

  • Avoid multitasking and stay present. Turn off distractions like Slack or text notifications.
  • Take breaks. Turn off the camera on occasion to spare your eyes.
  • Take the meeting on a walk. Grab your phone and meet while de-stressing.

Promote Wellness and Self-Care

Change takes time to process and right now there is a lot of change happening at once. Our work lives, home lives, and social lives are all different. When adjusting to change, it becomes even more important to practice self-care.

Use this video template

Managers should encourage employees to take time to take care of themselves:

  • Lead by example. Share your feelings and what you’re doing to take care of yourself.
  • Remind them of supportive company policies. Does your company have mental health days or wellness stipends? Are there therapy options you can suggest? Make sure you encourage employees to make use of all available company resources.
  • Check-in with employees one-on-one. When you’re out of the office and don’t have organic daily interactions, make sure to schedule one-on-one time to see how your employees are doing.

Managing Remote Teams’ Mental Health Keeps Them Engaged

With all the changes employees are dealing with, having managers who care is so valuable to improving employees’ well-being. Check for nonverbal cues to understand what they might not be saying. If you see signs of distress, encourage them to take a break or use PTO to recharge. Employees who feel supported are happier, more engaged, and more likely to stick around.

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