Teleworking and Managing Work Relationships during Isolation

Teleworking and Managing Work Relationships during Isolation

The pandemic due to the virus Covid-19 has affected everyone globally. While managing personal lives and relationships has become difficult for many, some of us have had to “work from home” (WFH) which has added strain on our relationships with our colleagues and employers as well. In normal circumstances, the freedom to work from home can be beneficial. Many people can balance their professional and personal lives better while working from the comfort of their homes. Some developed countries have also made significant progress in legislating teleworking and making it socially acceptable over the past couple of decades.

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WFH during the lock down, however, comes with its set of problems. People are now experiencing social isolation as their interactions with other human beings have become significantly restricted. Communication achieved via technology instead of face-to-face interactions is making it difficult for teams to stay engaged and focused. Those who enjoyed in-person interactions with their colleagues during coffee and lunch breaks are now feeling deprived of opportunities to socialise at the workplace. Working parents and spouses in difficult marriages also have nowhere left to escape to for a few hours every day. Then there are those households that have been directly affected by the pandemic. Whether they have had to arrange care for an ageing relative or have had to grieve the loss of a loved one, there is a lot of suffering and stress all around. According to the World Economic Forum, burn-out and stress related absenteeism could significantly increase in the second half of 2020.

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This however, is no one’s fault as we are just stuck in a challenging situation. Many people, who had never worked from home before or were not tech-savvy, have had to learn to use new software. Employers and employees have had to face a steep learning curve while struggling to manage change at organisational level. Change, that would have normally taken many months to plan and many more months to implement, has had to be communicated and adopted within a span of weeks, if not days. During these uncertain times, an organisation’s success has become dependent more on its ability to adapt and flex within teams, rather than to reproduce an exact work environment at home. By nature, humans are resistant to change. Faced with such a brutal transformation of work habits, it is natural to expect teething problems, and hence, lower productivity, increased stress and an overall risk to the mental health of everyone involved.

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While employees are scrambling to maintain a semblance of normalcy in their lives, employers also have a responsibility towards the people they have entrusted the success of their organisation to. Below are some of the ways that employers can help provide structure and ease mental pressure:

  • Define policies and regulate working hours and modes of communication to ensure that personal time is not invaded and workers get a break in the evenings.
  • Bring clarity to roles and responsibilities of all team members, revisit short term Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) and manage expectations.
  • Communicate the state of the business and adjusted future strategies regularly via employee briefings etc so that the employees feel empowered and remain motivated and engaged.
  • Do not underestimate the potential of the “happy hour” we used to have before the pandemic. What better way to foster social engagement than to invite everyone to an online social chat at a pre-determined time?
  • Consider setting up a helpline or provision of psychological care. Reach out to a mental health professional or outsource to specialised organisations such as Ed-Watch, who can assess the mental health needs of all employees via email and can then invite certain individuals for a follow up session, if needed.

After all, positive attitude of the employer and the sense of stability and certainty in the work environment are essential in avoiding long term mental health problems among the staff that has otherwise always risen up to expectations and played a vital role in the progress of the company. We are all experiencing collective trauma and it is only by working together and supporting each other that we will overcome and, perhaps, even reverse the psychological damage that we have all suffered.

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