How to protect mental health and boost morale for employees working in isolation

Despite many of us being glued to the headlines of when lockdown will ease, the government’s message of ‘work from home if you can’ still remains crystal clear.

Meanwhile, global giants Facebook and Google have set a trend by revealing they have no intention of sending their staff back to offices before October.

But sitting at your desk solo without any interaction from colleagues to bounce energies off can feel lonely and demoralising.

The main psychological impact of quarantine, reported by the World Health Organisation, is increased stress and anxiety, consequently triggering high levels of depression.

This prompted HR Manager at Cartridge Save, Melanie Astbury, to create five tips on how businesses can make sure they protect the mental health of their employees.

Speaking to Uspire, she said: “Like many businesses, our world transformed almost instantly. Within a few days, our in-house team was working from home and our warehouse staff were adapting operational output while adhering to distancing rules.

“We were launched into isolation and removed from our routines and colleagues.

“Combined with the fear and anxiety caused by COVID-19, it’s understandable that many people have found the adjustment difficult.”

She added: “Our aim is to ensure our team has help and support; that their worries and concerns are listened to, and that we help alleviate their fears where possible.

“As a management team, we have done all we can to create a culture of compassion and understanding. Our colleagues know we’re here for them if they need to talk and that we are doing all we can to create the safest working environment for them.”

Here, Melanie outlines her top tips for boosting morale while working remotely.

1) Stay in regular contact

At a time when quarantine is an unavoidable part of everyday life, we need to make sure we keep talking. These measures can help reduce feelings of isolation.

Keep regular meetings in the diary and switch to video chat. This will help maintain structure and is a great way to keep in touch and grab some face-time with the team.

One-to-ones are still important. It may feel like the world has stopped, but helping people achieve goals will help them stay focused on development.

It doesn’t always have to be about work. Giving someone a call to see how they’re doing on a personal level can really boost their mood.

We’re all missing daily connections that we have with workmates, so if the job allows, create an office atmosphere by keeping video chat running in the background all day.

2) Encourage fun

These are difficult times and, while it’s important to acknowledge that, a sense of humour is important for building solidarity and lifting people’s spirits.

So many businesses have taken to social media to show how to inject fun into the mundane, including fancy dress Zoom calls.

Holding your own fancy dress day is a great way to show you are willing to go the extra mile. Just make sure you don’t get your meetings confused and turn up for an important client call dressed as a Power Ranger!

You can also try dress-up Fridays. Dress-down Fridays don’t mean much when people are living in their pyjamas, so why not rebrand? You can don your most glamorous attire, end the week on a high, and even share a post-work drink together.

Quizzes are also a fantastic way to introduce some fun into the day, whether you’re having a lunchtime Kahoot session with your teammates or a full company quiz night. They’re super easy to organise and are perfect for bringing people together.

3) Rewards and downtime

Small gestures go a long way for improving people’s moods and reminding them they feel valued. Things like remembering people’s birthdays and hosting the occasional virtual party at the end of the week will ensure that all employees feel cared for.

It’s important to maintain a sense of community, friendship and support during this time. We may be apart, but we’re certainly in this together.

You can encourage everyone to take pictures having fun at home and create a photo album to share with the team.

Or, trial isolation garden parties. It’s a great way to spark laugher and conversation, and gives everyone something to look forward to and to stay connected during this time.

4) Recognise small wins

Having efforts noticed and appreciated by a manager will always boost morale.

It’s even more important when working remotely, as it can be less obvious to colleagues what their teammates have been working on. Without anyone there to say ‘thanks’ and ‘well done’, it can easily feel like hard work has gone unnoticed.

While you can applaud staff over email, they are sure to feel more appreciated if you take the time to give them a video call so you can say thanks face-to-face.

If you use communication platforms, such as Slack, shout out their achievements in a group so everyone can see what has been achieved. Not only will this boost the individual’s morale, but remind staff how valuable their work is to the business.

5) Prioritise flexibility

With many workers struggling with anxiety, motivation, and practicalities such as childcare, it is important to be flexible and let staff find ways to adapt to the new normal.

People are bound to have good days and bad days and no two people will experience lockdown in the same way. Making sure you are in tune with your team’s mental wellbeing will allow you to manage demands and expectations of them.

Remember, these are not ordinary circumstances, and everyone needs time to adjust. Make sure you work with people individually to find a way to schedule workloads and discover a way of working that sits you both.