Mental health within the virtual teams

Do you want to know how to become the hero of your colleagues? Read on and apply!

Managers have a tough job, managing a team and a company with a second wave of lockdown as icing. In the previous blog post on ‘’virtual teams and effective communication’’ there were a few points on the benefits of remote working but working remotely has its own cons:

  1. It can be stressful

One of the most important aspects to remember (as a manager or team leader) is to not give a member of staff a lot of tasks to accomplish in one day, if it is necessary make sure the load is not as heavy the next day, in order to maintain a balance.

  • It can feel dehumanizing

‘’How can the language you use when talking to remote workers make them feel better connected? Empathy might help your organization get there. When using such dehumanizing modes of communication as email, word choice becomes your only conduit for empathy. Choose your words with care. Belinda Parmar, CEO of London-based The Empathy Business, a global consultancy that specialises in the measurement of empathy, writes in a thoughtfully worded email: “Empathy is good for business and for employees—and in a remote office environment, empathy is key to survival.’’(Zendesk, 2020).

  • Higher risk of feeling/getting distracted

Each member of the team needs to have some sort of schedule or worksheet for the day ahead and know what goals they work towards; having a meeting every day at a certain time agreed with everyone either at the beginning or end of the day can help. Also, asking them to turn off mobiles will also help reduce distractions.

  • Higher risk of lacking community

When working remotely it can get robotic and lonely so it is important to remind them that they aren’t alone and that they can reach out whenever they need. Assigning a mentor to staffers, or hiring a Chief Happiness Officer will help create a team of people who feel like a family at work. Remember they are human, make them smile with a short message or email like Rebecca Longbottom does for her team, ‘’ find out what’s on their mind – what’s making them happy or troubled, what they’re looking forward to, and what they might dread’’ (PRWEEK, 2020). Don’t forget to have fun with games like the Pip Wilson’s Blob Tree(psycho-emotional test) or know how things are going with a ‘’fist check’’ where ‘’On Bryan’s team at BELAY, they use a “fist to five” system. When the team needs a quick read on how people are feeling about a topic, they ask participants to use their hand to put up a fist (a 0 on the comfort scale), or five fingers (a full-fledged approval) to show their acceptance. If most people are a five, you know things are going pretty well. Easy forms of feedback like this will help monitor morale even during periods of distance.’’(Forbes, 2020).

  • Higher risk of missunderstandings

For those staffers who aren’t native speakers in English it can be difficult to understand, the solution here could be assigning them to a person who speaks or understands their native language and sending them translated material, making messages clear, avoiding jargon. Another would be using a project management tool with clear tasks; using clear, empathetic language. Avoid direct harsh words, find a way to deliver a hard message softly when staff made a mistake. Everything can be fixed but trust.

  • Dealing with timezones is not impossible

Geographically-dispersed teams are indeed a thing. Know where everyone is timezone wise and set meetings, calls etc. at the same time for everyone. Divide the team in two, one part has a meeting in the morning, the other in the evening if it’s more convenient for their local time keeping in mind their preferences(sleep patterns, family commitments).

  • Holding colleagues accountable and productive

While anyone can understand if someone is a few minutes late to a meeting due to family commitments or technology issues, not the same can be said about slackers. Even in a remote working environment it is still easy to see who puts in the effort and who doesn’t, with or without a tool to track performance. Make clear what it is that they have to get done and in what timeframe and check in with everyone on how they’re getting on.

  • Online security and privacy

Have a written policy for remote working. Everyone, no matter how big or small, can use a password manager which come with premium features like LASTPASS. It stores all the passwords for you, generates strong ones to withstand hacking, and auto-fills them for you.

Using a different browser than the one used for personal things so that sharing anything personal is reduced to a minimum.

  • Disconnecting from work

Managers have to check that their colleagues don’t work more than the hours agreed on – ‘’remote workers think that they are very productive and keep doing work for long hours’’(Designhill, 2020). Remind all colleagues to set time aside for healthy eating, keeping hydrated, exercising, hobbies, family and rest because it’s easy to forget to eat or other personal needs when working from home(one example).

Was the above useful and interesting for you? If yes, have you discovered aspects you as a team member or manager can bring up to a team and improve? Managers who cannot afford a mentor or a Chief Happiness Officer like Rebecca, can become one themselves. You could:

  1. Develop a health and wellness committee that can focus on bringing wellness resources into the workplace.
  2. Review your company’s mental health resources for potential psychological safety practices, resources and tools to share with employees.
  3. Bring mental health experts into the workplace to host seminars on stress management, emotional intelligence and conflict resolution.
  4. Get trained in Mental Health First Aid at Work so your employees can recognize the signs and symptoms of a mental illness or substance use among colleagues and respond appropriately. Email our team at MHFAatWork@TheNationalCouncil.org for more information.
  5. Once these tips are put into practice will benefit employers and employees and build the community that business books talk about. You’ll be the hero/ine of the team and your company will thrive long-term!

References and further reading:

Designhill, 2020, Strategies For Managing Virtual Teams And Strengthening Virtual Communication For Businesses, Viewed on [5/11/2020], Available from https://www.designhill.com/design-blog/strategies-for-managing-virtual-teams-and-strengthening-virtual-communication-for-businesses/

Glenn Lim, The “BLOB TREE” Psycho-Emotional Test, Viewed on [11/11/2020], Available from: https://glennlimthots.wordpress.com/2016/03/11/the-blob-tree-psycho-emotional-test/

Rachel Go, 2018, 7 Disadvantages of Working from Home and How to Counter Them, Viewed on [11/11/2020], Available from: https://blog.hubstaff.com/disadvantages-of-working-from-home/

Rebecca Longbottom, 2020, Five ways you can support the mental health and happiness of your employees, Viewed on [11/11/2020], Available from: https://www.prweek.com/article/1699091/five-ways-support-mental-health-happiness-employees

Rubina Kapil, 2019, 10 Tips for Building a Resilient Workforce, Viewed on [11/11/2020], Available from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamvanderbloemen/2020/03/20/leading-teams-virtually/?sh=2626d5e35b8bhttps://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/2019/02/10-tips-for-building-a-resilient-workforce/

Sarah Stealey Reed, 2016, Leaders, use empathetic language when talking to remote workers, Viewed on [11/11/2020], Available from: https://www.zendesk.com/blog/use-empathetic-language-when-talking-to-remote-workers/

William Vanderbloemen, Best Practices On Running Virtual Teams From Founder Of Company With 1,000 Remote Employees, Viewed on [12/11/2020], Available from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamvanderbloemen/2020/03/20/leading-teams-virtually/?sh=67d5a745b8ba