A new look at how to support your remote team under Plan B

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The rise of the Omicron variant means that employees are being encouraged to work from home again. It's worth taking a new look at ways to support your remote team this time around, because what worked before may need updating.

Your team may have worked from home all along, or they may have started returning to the workplace before the new recommendations were introduced. Either way, research shows some employees will be experiencing new challenges from remote working.

So as your employees face the prospect of a longer period working from home, what should you bear in mind for WFH 2.0?

People may feel differently

Your organisation may have felt it knew how employees were coping during the first WFH period. But the news of this latest wave in cases can affect people differently, even if they seemed to be OK before. Many parents, for instance, may dread a return to home schooling and worry for their work-life balance and workload. Other employees who thrive on face-to-face interaction might despair these will be lacking in the new year.

The pandemic has exacerbated mental health problems, so watch for employees whose wellbeing has been hit. Anyone living on their own may face additional struggles caused by loneliness or increased social anxiety.

Beware Zoom fatigue

Video meetings have been a key tool for remote teams. But many spent so long on Zoom, Teams or Skype during the first lockdown that Zoom fatigue became a thing.

Savvy employers are now learning to combat digital exhaustion when need by employing one or more of the following approaches:

  • Holding ‘Zoom-free Fridays’
  • Not setting ‘video-on’ as the default
  • Choosing audio for a proportion of catch ups, one in three for example
  • Turning on video for the first few minutes of a meeting, then switching to audio for the rest
  • Restricting video calls to a maximum of 30 minutes

You can find more of our tips on how to prevent Zoom fatigue from our September 2020 blog.

Support your remote team by giving staff permission to switch off

Being able to access and respond to messages on phones and tablets is incredibly convenient. But at the start of the homeworking period, many employees struggled to switch off in the evening. This was particularly true if they were expected to be ‘always on’ and contactable.

A lack of boundaries impacts mental wellbeing and can lead to sleep problems, stress and burnout. So make it clear that everyone has a ‘right to switch off’, and that shouldn’t impact how they’re viewed or judged.

Get the right equipment

Only a lucky few enjoy home workspaces with chairs or tables designed for a full work-day's use. Many people are based at kitchen tables, on sofas or even on the edge of their beds. And that’s causing musculoskeletal problems.

Research by the Royal Society for Public Health shows that 48% of people who work from their sofa or bedroom now complain of issues. These range from neck, shoulder and back pain to the more serious carpal tunnel syndrome and even occasionally deep vein thrombosis.

The HSE advises that employers should ask employees to carry out a Display Screen Equipment (DSE) assessment at home. Its advice is to: “Make sure those working at home can achieve a comfortable, sustainable posture. They may not need office furniture or equipment at home to achieve this. But you should check if their own equipment is suitable.”

So, to better support your remote team would a separate keyboard or mouse for people who use a laptop be a good idea? How about height-adjustable desks to give staff the option to sit or stand for work?

As an employer you’re not legally obliged to provide office furniture for home workers. But poor home working set-ups can cause physical issues, impacting wellbeing and productivity too.

Keep people connected

The lack of social connection is hard for many employees. One recent Royal Society for Public Health study quizzed employees who switched to home working when the pandemic hit. It found that 67% felt less connected to colleagues.

For businesses, employees who feel isolated can be a red flag in terms of morale and engagement. And now home working is set to continue for many, social links are even more crucial. So, make sure you're asking the right questions when you check in with your team.

There are multiple ways to keep employees feeling part of a team. Talking to clients and candidates at HR GO, we’ve found that some of the most popular are:

  • Daily morning team meetings with chances to chat at the start
  • Quick virtual coffee breaks scheduled in during the day
  • Random 'potluck’ meetings that aim to replicate the spontaneous hallway or kitchen chats people enjoy in a physical workplace. Donut has this feature for Slack users and it’s a great way to connect team members who don’t usually work together
  • Live remote co-working which people can join in with at certain times of day
  • Virtual book clubs hosted by a different person every time
  • Online team games and quizzes, like virtual scavenger hunts where colleagues find items or fulfil challenges before time runs out. (We’ve also spotted this good list of other team building quiz ideas).

As we enter a new stage of the pandemic, how your company meets the needs of your remote workers will have a huge impact on its success. It could also influence how likely your employees are to stay with you long term. And in the current market, employee retention is essential.

Some employees may have felt they could cope with home working the first time around as it seemed a bit of a novelty. But WFH 2.0 may well be different. And keeping everyone feeling engaged, motivated, and connected from home as it becomes a longer-term reality has never been so crucial.

Read more of our mental health blogs for both clients and candidates.

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