These are challenging times for everyone. As we hear about the spread of COVID-19 across the world, it is important to assess not only the physical and health ramifications of the pandemic but to anticipate the subsequent emotional impact it will have on the overall wellbeing of individuals.
Humans are naturally oriented toward other humans and are inherently built for social connection. Socialization plays a key role in both, individual and societal learning, development and even survival. In times like these, traditional workplaces have been substituted with virtual ones, triggering anxiety and emotional isolation for many. Working from home over a prolonged period brings its own unique challenges, whether you’re a caregiver or simply because we are all used to being around others during the work day, it is unsettling and overwhelming, to say the least.
It becomes imperative for organizations to prioritize the health and safety of its employees during these times. Not many of us have lived through a global pandemic and while physical distancing is the need of the hour, social isolation is not. Organizations must ensure employees feel connected, supported and informed during this difficult phase of remote work. Uber has been ahead of the curve on remote working and given that we are a global technology company we have been working in virtual environments from the very start. Some initiatives that we have seen to improve employee engagement during extended periods of remote work include the following.
Share all the information you can
The need for information is even higher due to the fear and uncertainty right now. Business leaders need to focus on opening communication channels to regularly share ways for employees to cope, build resilience and care for themselves and their families. Regular updates and virtual meetings for leadership to apprise employees of the company’s crisis mitigation plans, along with guidelines of what is being done to support various stakeholders is even more important.
Leverage communication and social media channels
Technology today allows us to be in constant touch with employees and support them. Using internal communication channels and social media platforms allow the workforce to keep connected with team members while working remotely. A response mechanism for employees where all their queries can be answered can also provide a robust support system.
Ask employees what they need and implement policies that reflect those needs
Engaging in an honest dialogue with employees to understand the support they need is key. Employee surveys and regular interactions with managers to talk about non-work related issues can help identify the emotional and social needs of your team, which need to be then implemented into concrete yet effective policies.
Encourage employees to find work-life balance
Finding the right work-life balance when working from home can be difficult. Struggling to switch context and juggle work and home roles simultaneously have their own challenges. For example, we knew employees are likely to face challenges to separate work and home routines during WFH and therefore, to support employees fulfill both personal and professional priorities during these times, we have provided a ‘No meeting block’ on employee calendars daily to help them schedule their day based on their needs, professional and personal.
Remind employees they have resources available
Assuring employees they have the necessary resources at their disposal to help them through such periods builds trust. Regular reminders to reinforce that you care for their physical and emotional wellbeing will reinforce that. Sometimes it’s not easy to reach out for help, organizations can have regular webinars with specialists to help employees navigate WFH transition, cope with uncertainty, and address any other issues they might be facing.
Organize regular activities
Fun activities, games such as videos of how others are coping with remote working helps others feel a sense of community. We organize mission-driven games such as #IStayAtHome to encourage employees to come together to overcome a common challenge. Regular talks by experts and motivational coaches, activities like virtual Yoga Sessions to help employees stay calm, focused, and feel connected while they WFH can be great activities.
Train managers to be more empathetic
Managing people remotely means managers need to be sensitized to be more empathetic to the needs of employees, while also ensuring productivity. At Uber, we have initiated virtual training for managers to help support their teams in such times of ambiguity and change, encouraging them to use visual formats like Zoom rather than phone calls to have regular team check-ins, non-agenda meetings to ensure they are adjusting to the new rhythm of WFH.
Crowdsource ideas to achieve a common goal
Employees have a vested interest in the success of the organization and working through times of a global pandemic gives them a common goal. This is specifically true for mission-driven companies whereby empowering employees to take part in the decision making process and crowdsourcing innovative solutions to overcome challenges will ensure they feel valued and connected to the mission of the company.
The health and well-being of our employees are our greatest assets and in times like these, we must focus on social connection and engagement. Technology might not be the ideal substitute for social interaction but it is our only way to fight this pandemic together without isolating our workforce.