Helping your team beat the 'iso blues'

Once the novelty of working from home starts to fade, there is a very real possibility that working remotely may take its toll on your team members. Here's what you can do about it.

Marty Drill

By Marty Drill, 5 minute read

Working from home is critical right now as literally billions of people around the world are being asked to stay home. Many businesses have failed and many people have lost their jobs. Businesses that can continue to operate with people working from home face a new set of challenges. People who can work from home are doing their best to make it all work, while their kids also study from home.

With the global death toll surpassing 100,000 and millions out of work, our problems with working from home and isolation can seem insignificant. There are so many people who are dealing with much bigger issues that the feeling of guilt can mount. 

“Shouldn’t I just be grateful that I am healthy and in a job?”

However, after weeks of lockdown, it can be easy to lose sight of what we are grateful for. Another video call being interrupted; your husband getting on your nerves; being the kids' teacher while trying to work; not being able to walk over to a colleague and ask them to fix your computer or complete the task they promised; missing your colleagues, or simply your local coffee shop not making your coffee in the same way as the cafe near work. For some, the absence of the daily commute to work makes a massive difference to their wellbeing. While for others the separation between home and work is paramount.

Work from home can be really rewarding at times and quite challenging for many different reasons. And the need to work from home to reduce the spread of coronavirus, will likely mean that people in many countries will work from home for over three months.

The feeling of uncertainty is high. People are worried about their jobs, their kids' education, their teenage daughter who lost her job, their elderly parents, their neighbours, the economy, their sister who is a doctor, their cousin’s business, their superannuation, the prospect of not being able to go to Grandma’s funeral, the kids they support in developing countries, and finding a way to tell their four-year-old child that their birthday party is cancelled.

People often have a list of worries. At this time that list can be an essay.

We don’t know the extent of what people are dealing with. As leaders, our role is to provide stability and, where possible, a sense of normality.

What do people need from their company?

Life has changed so much in the last month. And there is so much uncertainty about the future. Our role is to provide:

  • Clear information (If you don’t know, then say you don’t know and tell people what you do know)
  • Regular communication
  • A clear schedule of work and work hours
  • A sense that people are not alone
  • A clear indication that they are needed and wanted
  • The feeling that they are part of something bigger
  • Acknowledgement (Find a way to do it. Even if it is a simple note in the mail.)
  • Trust (Trust should be something that is freely given, rather than earnt. Treat people like adults and they will behave like adults.)
  • Flexibility (Measure output, not hours — discuss the need for flexibility with kids at home.)

Boost connection through a sense of belonging

Try to make things as ‘normal’ as possible. This includes what people are wearing while working from home. If you do not have a company t-shirt and you can afford it, get one printed and send it to the team. At our core, people want to belong and at times like this a t-shirt that says they are part of something can actually make a massive difference.

Accessing the office (where possible)

There is a very real threat of relationships breaking down. Team members having the option of having a break from their family can prove to have a major positive impact on their mental health and relationships. While some may live on their own and they may have no human interaction other than online.

Having a break from working from home is critical. Giving people the option allows them to not feel trapped. This may not be possible in all locations around the world, but where people have freedom of movement, organise a roster where individuals can attend an office. Ensure that if there are more than two people in an office area that they sit well apart.

For those really missing the office, provide them with this link that provides an office noise generator! https://imisstheoffice.eu/

The Luminary team on our 20th birthday

Suggested actions for trying to make working from home, a little like being at work

  • Get the team together on a video call at least once a week.
  • Send out a survey asking people how they are coping with the situation. Use it as an opportunity to confirm their home address and their emergency contact.
  • Send an update to the whole team every day that includes acknowledgements, opportunities and anything positive to share.
  • Send a company cap or t-shirt. This is not about branding, it is about belonging.
  • Put a skipping rope in the mail to every team member.
  • Send a printed photo of the team if you have one. You will be surprised how many people put it on the wall in their home office.
  • Send each team member a printed copy of your values and mission. It may sound corny, but it will remind the team of who you are, what you stand for, and why their job is important.
Luminary values poster

While the audience for this article is mainly small to medium businesses, imagine if large businesses like Telstra were able to put together a care pack for their 20,000 staff that are working from home. This is not about being seen to be a ‘good employer’. This is about fulfilling a basic human need for connection and belonging.

People are resilient and adaptable. However, isolation can be isolating! Humans are social creatures and they require interaction. Where this is stunted, connection, belonging and signals that indicate that they are important and not alone are critical. People and Culture Leaders need to continue to provide support, clarity and direction. You are needed more than ever.

There is a Buddhist saying:

You need:

  • Someone to love
  • Something to do
  • Something to hope for

Give people something to hope for, which in this case is getting back to the office!


Main image: Easter care packs were sent to Luminary team members with all the iso-sentials, including chocolate, wine, toilet paper and a photo of the team to remind us that we're all in this together!