Back in February, the business world was operating in much the same way it had for decades. Sure, there was some added leeway (occasional remote working, flexible hours, and greater awareness of mental health issues), but the basic model of spending a third of each weekday in an office was providing very difficult to dislodge.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, countries throughout the world started going into lockdown, and everything changed. Some companies went out of business, unable to cope with the lack of foot traffic, while many others struggled to handle the transition to remote working. People who were used to seeing each other almost every day were suddenly kept apart.
As I write this, weeks have passed since lockdown began, but there’s still no clear indication of when things will start moving towards normality. If your company is to bear this indefinite crisis, you must remember that your employees are your greatest assets, and look after them accordingly. Here are five tips for keeping your employees healthy during this pandemic:
Offer free financial advice
Many people are struggling financially at the moment due to the broad consequences of the pandemic, and the fact that your employees still have their jobs doesn’t entirely shield them. They may have partners or family members who aren’t so fortunate, for instance, or simply be deeply worried about how they might cope with future changes.
As a business owner, you’ll have learned a lot about how to manage finances in your career, so offer up any advice you can to anyone who’s interested. You can talk about investment if that’s something you’re comfortable discussing. Don’t make any promises about how much can be made, but a site like Nutmeg can make things fairly straightforward, so anyone with savings they want to invest should consider trying that option.
Alternatively, if someone’s worried about protecting what they have, you can make relevant suggestions. They might want to safeguard their possessions with insurance, in which case you could explain the different types of insurance they could pursue. If they’re worried about making house payments (perhaps their partner is out of work and they can no longer afford their rates), you could suggest that they use a mortgage broker like Breezeful to look for better deals, as they might be able to renegotiate their terms enough to cover their expenses.
Fund comfortable home offices
Traditional offices are generally set up to maximize productivity, featuring comfortable chairs, finely-honed light levels, good airflow, and other such conveniences. Now that people are working from home, you should do what you can to make their home offices similarly comfortable: it’s an investment, but one that will pay off.
Not only will it help them enjoy their work with minimal stress, improving their longevity, but it will also bolster their productivity significantly. It’s a classic win-win. As for what you should prioritize, well, start with a low-impact keyboard (to avoid RSI and other such issues), an ergonomic chair, and an easy-to-read display (a big external monitor should help).
Encourage team communication
We’re social creatures by nature, and our moods typically suffer when we’re left to our own devices for too long. You can’t do much about your employees’ personal lives — or rather, you shouldn’t — but you can encourage them to communicate with one another and help one another out during this tough time.
Suggest out-of-work social events, albeit virtual. Plenty of people are enjoying virtual quizzes, online board games (Mental Floss has some suggestions) or card games, or they can just talk about how they feel. If you feel alright about getting involved — and you can find the time — then you should participate (assuming everyone is comfortable with that).
The more you all talk about what’s going on, the higher morale will be, the easier it will be to get through the lonely times and deal with the obstacles that will inevitably arrive.
Lower your productivity demand
Remote working often raises productivity instead of lowering it, but these are exceptional circumstances, and it isn’t fair to expect people to get as much done as they normally would. Everyone’s on edge, worrying about what might happen and how they’re going to get by, and adding to that worry by pushing people to work harder will only make things worse.
Let people know that it’s alright if they relax somewhat provided they get enough work done. If they can do more, then great, but their jobs aren’t at risk and you’re not going to fire someone for having a relatively-unproductive week. Employees who feel supported want to reward that support by working hard, so they don’t need to be forced into anything.
Allow mental health days
As I noted earlier, awareness of mental health issues has risen significantly in recent years, but it’s even more important now that you understand how to deal with them. Imagine that one of your employees tells you that they’re feeling incredibly burned out and just can’t focus on work: what should you do?
You could invite them to use some of their annual leave to take a day or two off, but is that the best suggestion? Annual leave should generally be for enjoyment, not for rest, and they might be reluctant to use it to get some energy back. Alternatively, you could tell them to take a day or two off with no further questions asked and no annual leave used.
As with the productivity matter, if you trust your employees and you treat them well then they won’t exploit this to get free time off. Someone who takes a couple of mental health days to get better will probably return to work feeling refreshed and getting things done, making it the practical move as well as the ethical one.