Man walking with cellphone
Man walking with cellphone Andreas Klassen on Unsplash

The percentage of people working from home doubled only three weeks after the COVID-19 outbreak swept through the United States. The pandemic prompted social distancing policies that challenged traditional office environments by creating the immediate need to work remotely. For some employees, telecommuting is business as usual, but for others, this revolutionary and unexpected shift introduces unique perks and significant pain points to routine and productivity.

Managers and business owners have been tasked with the burden of leading their teams and maintaining employee morale, while forging a new normal. According to a recent Gallup poll, large-scale events like pandemics and recessions don't alter employee engagement on an individual level; rather, it’s how organizations respond to the crisis as a whole that has a significant impact on employees at a macro-level.

In adjusting to the pandemic, it is clear that there are certain factors outside of employers’ control; however, there are opportunities in which organizations and leaders can show their employees that they prioritize with, and genuinely care about their team as individuals, that will lead to greater output and morale.

Now more than ever, it is important that managers are equipped with the right skills, social cues, and strategies, to coach their remote-working teams and lead them to a place of productivity, connectedness, and well-being.

Employee Engagement is Key During Hard Times

Employee engagement refers to the employees who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and their workplace. It is determined by factors such as feeling clear about a job role, being equipped to perform a task, having a strong commitment to a team, and working together with a common purpose.

Managers can directly influence those facets in a collaborative work environment. If employees are not equipped to do their job, if they do not feel valued, seen, have a clearly defined role, or if they feel isolated, they are less likely to connect or maintain their motivation.

In early May 2020, the percentage of "engaged" workers in the U.S. reached 38%. This percentage is the highest since Gallup began tracking that metric in 2000. The reason for the drastic increase at the start of the COVID-19 spread, relates directly to employer response to the crisis.

Team members that work under clear leadership, defined roles, and supportive management show higher levels of engagement. More connectedness and involvement mean employees are more likely to remain with their organization, they are less likely to experience burnout, and they produce substantially better products and outcomes for customers and their coworkers.

Strategy Meets Authenticity

Innovation is born only when an idea receives action. Having a passionate team that’s connected and maintains a shared vision is the most impactful way to execute a vision. Executive involvement, manager education, communication and accountability all have a direct impact on productivity.

The common core of each of those morale-boosting management moves is human relationships. Fostering a positive communication and collaboration environment is essential in keeping teams connected and excited about building something together.

Create A Crisis Communication Strategy

A crisis communication strategy is essential for businesses that wish to maintain momentum, regardless of external events. Crisis communication plans address the company’s plan for response in how it will communicate within the company, to the public, and to its stakeholders. Having a crisis communication strategy will connect employees to the information they need in order for them to do their jobs.

Don’t catch employees off-guard. Sharing news on social media platforms, newsletters, and a company website can be effective, but needs to be disseminated in a strategic manner. Creating a hierarchy of needs that starts with informing all employees is key in bolstering morale and in laying a solid foundation for crisis management.

Managers that provide information to their employees build better teams that in turn, look better-equipped to handle unexpected events. Organizations that have a management plan that is communication-based and ready to set in action are setting their employees and their business up for success.

Encourage Self-Care with Online Therapy

Burnout is inevitable when employees go unnoticed or feel disconnected. Without genuine connection, the most air-tight communication strategy can still leave some employees basking in the strain of professionalism. In today’s COVID-19, socially distanced workforce, mental health needs to be on every manager’s mind, and should be addressed in a universal and courteous manner. Management should keep a sharp eye out for red flags such as previously passionate team members growing more brash or withdrawn, or quality of work drastically declining.

After months of quarantine and a drastic shift in routine, it’s safe to say that every employee can benefit from online therapy. Encourage employees to share their needs and concerns. If they are not comfortable with doing so in a team or professional environment, make online therapy an option for all remote workers.

In an ideal world, online therapy should be made available to every employee. It’s a gesture that reminds employees that the brand is on their side, in every context - mental, emotional, and financial.

One online therapy program that has proven success for remote workers during COVID-19 is Better Help. Better Help is an online therapy platform that provides affordable access to private, licensed therapists. It’s currently the largest online therapy platform, trusted by businesses and individuals alike.

You could encourage employees to follow Better Help on their Facebook and Twitter platforms for a daily dose of online therapy and wholesome advice that’s delivered directly to their social media. It’s a hands-off approach and subtle introduction to the concept of online therapy that’s unobtrusive and welcoming.

Online therapy provides anonymous and instant access to therapists that are equipped to spot and work through issues that come with regular life, but also, living through a pandemic.

Business owners should ensure that all employees are aware of where and how they can access online therapy services and psychosocial support. Managers and team leaders are facing similar stresses to their staff members and may experience additional pressure relating to the responsibilities of their role.

It is important for business owners and upper-level management to acknowledge the new stressors that other leaders and managers may be experiencing. Online therapy can benefit all employees, regardless of status or hierarchy within the business. Managers must be role-models for self-care and be able to successfully mitigate stress.

Create an incentive system in the business

Positive reinforcement and mental support with online therapy are proven ways for employers to increase employee output, but it never hurts to sweeten the deal with an incentive. A bit of friendly competition during times of chaos, creates normalcy and purpose for teams.

A daily sales incentive or monthly customer service competition are engaging, fun, and productive ways to reward employees for great work and stellar behavior, despite the cloud of COVID-19.

Extinguishing Employee Burnout with Empathy

Challenges present themselves daily, sometimes hourly, to managers and business leaders, but significant crises should be managed in a human-centric manner. Employee engagement in the form of communication, online therapy, connectedness, incentives, and mental health is key in maintaining a healthy work environment, regardless of external events.