Employee Wellness in the Virtual Workplace
If your team has been working remotely for the past year or so, you’ve perhaps experienced challenges maintaining any wellness practices or strategies that were once fully integrated into your physical workplace. How can your organization support the wellness of its team members when everyone’s working remotely? Here a few simple, ready-to-implement ideas to get you started:
1. Create healthy norms
Initiate a Step Challenge among your team to encourage a bit of physical activity amidst what, for many of us, is a more sedentary lifestyle than what life looked like pre-pandemic. Meeting virtually? Take fresh air breaks regularly, prompting people to grab a jacket and stand outside for a couple of minutes. Discuss barriers and brainstorm solutions together. A client I’ve been working with recently translated the traditional Step Challenge to a Screen Time Reduction Challenge: in this particular workplace employees are issued company iPhones when they’re onboarded; participants in the Challenge shared their “screen time report” (generated by an app on Apple devices) weekly and the employee with the lowest amount of screen time outside of working hours at the end of the quarter wins a gift card. An initiative like this supports social connection as a bonus to the positive impact of the Challenge itself.
2. Respect boundaries
Working from your kitchen table makes it more challenging than ever to separate work from personal life. If a colleague or my manager sends me an email outside of regular working hours, is there an expectation for me to respond right away? Is it appropriate for team members to be getting in touch with one another about work items via text? Clearly define and discuss expectations and any additional points you can think of that might impact work-life balance. Once these boundaries are defined make sure you’re practicing what you preach. Come back to reassess periodically, gathering input from employees about how things are going and addressing any challenges.
3. Consider mid-week “pick-me-ups”
Wellness Wednesday, anyone? Research shows that in many organizations productivity tends to slump mid-week. What can you do to motivate your team, helping them stay mentally engaged and productive all week long? This is a great example of how an organization should see employee wellness as an investment. Giving up a half hour of company time on Wednesday afternoons might exponentially boost productivity for the rest of the week. For many of us life is pretty mundane right now: no travel, restrictions related to seeing family and friends, our access to social activities like eating in restaurants, playing team sports, etc. has been reduced. Monotony – whether in our personal lives, at work or both – equates to prime conditions for disengagement. The impact of disengagement can include poor morale, low productivity, high absenteeism and turnover rates and more, and those things carry sky-high costs. Investing in a fun team-building activity on a regular basis (bi-weekly or weekly) that will break up the week. Brainstorm for ideas that address the various determinants of our wellbeing: physical health (promoting physical activity/exercise, well-balanced diet, adequate rest), mental health (work-life balance, stress management, cognitive stimulation like opportunities to develop new skills) and social health (building and maintaining human connections with colleagues, taking time for meaningful hobbies and leisure activities). Invite a virtual guest speaker or try out a virtual yoga class a week from right now – you just might be surprised by the impact!
4. Check in
Make it a point to touch base with your team members periodically with your cameras on. I know many of us are enjoying some of the perks of working from home (I don’t know how I’m going to revert back to wearing “real” work clothes every day post-pandemic – how I’ll miss my sweats and slippers!) but not laying eyes on one another for long periods may well mean we’re missing visual cues that a person’s struggling. Tune in to non-verbal cues like body language, physical appearance and facial expressions as possible indicators of how an employee is faring. Encourage open discussion of mental health and validate, commend and take seriously any employee who has the courage to share with you and/or their colleagues that they could use some extra support. Empower employees to check in on one another, too, ideally arming them with concrete strategies to take on this role safely and effectively by having them trained in Mental Health First Aid.
5. Ask for input
Leaders need to remember that they don’t have to have all the answers. In fact, one of the most valuable things you can do to come up with wellness strategies that are likely to be practical, effective and appeal to your team is to solicit feedback. Hold an open forum asking for ideas. Encourage employees to be vocal about their needs, things they’ve done personally to stay well during the pandemic and initiatives they’ve heard about in other workplaces (like their spouse, a friend, etc.). Why reinvent the wheel? A smart leader is the facilitator, not always necessarily the inventor, of good ideas.
Is your workplace thinking outside the box when it comes to employee wellness during the pandemic? We’d love to hear about it! Drop your examples and ideas in the Comments section below.
Have a great week, my friends!
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.