With lockdown restrictions easing in the UK, many workers will finally be returning to the workplace after months of working from home.
For some, working remotely has been a challenge. Few people have a home office and have had to make do with working on the sofa or hunched over the kitchen table. Parents have had to juggle homeschooling with Zoom meetings, and lots of us have had to get used to spending all our time with partners and housemates.
For others, though, home-working has been a welcome change from the stress of commuting to the office. And while some people can’t wait to return, many people hope that they will be offered the option of flexible working post-COVID-19.
According to research by CIPD, employers expect the proportion of people working from home on a regular basis to increase to 37% after the pandemic, compared to 18% before.
Working from home comes with many benefits, but it can be easy for staff to become disengaged and feel unsupported when they aren’t in the workplace. So what can you do to keep everyone happy and motivated?
“In line with the government’s recent move to give employers more control over their return to work, many offices are choosing to stay closed and employees continue to work remotely,” Dr says Nick Taylor, co-founder and CEO of the workplace mental health platform Unmind. “Without the social aspect of the office creating variety and creativity, employees may feel that their days have become monotonous, which could lead to dissatisfaction and disengagement with work.”
At a time when disengagement may be on the rise, it’s essential to show employees that you appreciate them and their efforts. Equally, finding ways to connect people to the purpose in their work is crucial to helping them feel motivated.
“This is especially pertinent now as many may feel disconnected from their work, or disheartened by the traumatic period we’ve lived through,” Taylor says. “Employee engagement should be a key focus for any company — and it’s never been more important than it is now. While teams are separated, people might feel isolated, so boosting morale across the organisation is crucial for building staff engagement.”
There are a number of different ways that employers can do this — from creating social events to giving their employees a wellbeing budget. “At Unmind, for example, we’ve enjoyed a long-standing virtual run once a week, which has really helped our team to maintain a sense of connection,” he says.
“Recognition is also central to keeping up employee morale — giving genuine praise for a job well done and getting the wider team to recognise achievements is a great way to boost engagement and motivation.”
Another way to keep remote employees engaged and connected is to use technology. In the last few months, we’ve seen the role technology can play in helping businesses adapt and operate remotely — despite many of us getting fed up with Zoom meetings.
“We’ve also seen the fundamental role digital services play in supporting employee wellbeing — from helping staff better manage their own mental health, to enabling employers to identify specific areas within their wellbeing strategies that need improvement,” Taylor says.
Communication is also key to keeping people engaged and supporting good mental health among remote workers.
“Frequent face-to-face check-ins are important — even if virtual — to gauge how employees are coping and to proactively offer them the support they need,” Taylor says. “These check-ins shouldn’t just cover work projects either, they should also focus on wellbeing more broadly. This should build trust and destigmatise conversations around mental health at a very stressful time.”
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Beyond this dialogue, employers need to empower employees to learn about and look after their own mental health too. This might mean encouraging people to take regular breaks, do exercise and take adequate time off.
“Finally, it’s also important to be flexible and understand that COVID-19 will have put additional pressures on many people across all levels within the workforce,” Taylor adds. “Simply being kind and compassionate when speaking to your employees and ensuring they understand that you have their safety and wellbeing at the centre of your internal employee strategy can go a very long way.”