Tech Republic, May 29, 2020, with comments by Willy Leichter
Companies are constantly looking for new ways to help their employees handle the drastic changes to how we all work.
The month of May was Mental Health Awareness Month and the timing was apropos as the country has faced many challenges, including a major shift in working from home during COVID-19. During this transition, pros and cons have surfaced. Studies show some people who work have not taken to telecommuting, and others have done well with their mental health improved.
In late March, Keio University in Tokyo took a survey of close to 8,500 people. Thirty five percent of employees working from home felt their mental health was worse off since working from home. It was noted that IT teams have experienced notable stress in these times. Another survey from SurveyMonkey done by CNBC of over 9,000 people in May reported 27% aid they wished to continue working from home full time and 36% said they wished to continue working from home more than they did before.
A professor at two universities – University of Rochester and Institute for Positive Psychology & Education at the Australian Catholic University – stated employers must be willing to meet their employee’s basic psychological needs. He stated strategies amidst this current climate should not be about control or micromanaging but about equipping employees to succeed with greater autonomy.
Some employees have experienced frustration going from Zoom call to call, finding it a subpar replacement for face-to-face interactions. Others have appreciated the ability to casual connecting calls and at least see their co-workers. Some have even said the circumstances have allowed them to get to know colleagues better, with attribution to their companies for supporting those digital connections.
Practical issues remain though. Many workers have kids to care for who are at home now 24x7. Children not only need help with school but are dealing with struggles of their own with not being able to see friends or carry on a normal routine of school and activities.
For employees who are struggling, some companies feel seeing their colleagues’ faces matters. Acknowledging it’s not the same as being in the same room together, it’s quite a few levels up from email or regular phone calls. So many companies support and encourage the use of webcams in meetings.
Companies are making efforts to coordinate sessions that are not focused on work, but simply for non-work conversation – virtual hangouts and happy hours. Employees have shared playlists and photos to brighten the experience.
Willy Leichter, vice president of marketing at cybersecurity company Virsec, said that since the company moved to teleworking, the company has held weekly lunch Zoom meetings that intentionally prohibit any discussion of work.
Leichter said the company has always used conference calls but have recently pushed people to use video as a way to stay connected with their co-workers. He has also gotten closer to remote employees with whom he now communicates more frequently than before.
He noted that the changes have been difficult for the sales team, which is used to traveling extensively.
"The need to communicate more reminds you how much we communicate face-to-face with our colleagues. It is hard to find productive time, and the days just go by incredibly fast, which I've heard from many people. It seems like you just get started and then it's late in the day. It takes some discipline to test some separation," Leichter said.
"I probably have more facetime through Zoom with people I work with than I used to. So in a way, I'm making better connections with some people and having more in-depth conversations."
One problem people have reported with working from home is the process of separating. With no literal leaving the literal office and driving home to separate the work day from home life, turning off work has been tough.
Employees are finding themselves unable to detach from email or work-enabled apps and they wind up working longer hours. This is leading to higher levels of burnout, according to a Monster survey. No clock is determining the work day anymore so people can find themselves working all day and all evening.
Leichter added that he encouraged employees to set normal work hours and avoid working at all hours of the night or on weekends. But despite their best efforts, the general uncertainty of the situation was definitely wearing people down.
"There are no good answers except that we have to keep talking about it and keep being as close as we can to people virtually," he said.
Structure is important and it’s usually set by the company or by managers. When it’s left up to the individual, structure looks different for everyone, or maybe is lacking altogether. This is an area employers can offer ideas and support as well. Especially as workers face unusual levels of stressors and pressure.
Employers bringing in outside help, such as a Mental Wellbeing Club, helps bring mental health into the workforce.