Create a strong remote workforce by changing what ‘strong’ means

Emma Mainoo, head of culture change business Utopia’s mental health practice

Laptop and coffee cup, remote workforce, working from home, computer, flexible workingChanges in life structures are going to be an inevitable hindrance on day-to-day work. More than anything else, COVID 19 has given birth to new pressures for every employee, and unquestionably for every employer.

This ‘new norm’ is one in which employers need to demonstrate genuine and dedicated support. As the pressures of work and home become intertwined, managers are mindful of protecting their own well-being, yet acutely aware that it’s their job to help people deal with the issues that contribute to poor mental health. And that list isn’t short: feelings of guilt and worthlessness, cabin fever, anxiety, loneliness, hopelessness, amplified financial worries…ptop

The angst brought on by isolation has been amplified, and what’s imperative now is the need to get better at understanding how we tick – employers, employees, friends, colleagues. If businesses can get this right, they’ll create a unified and strengthened workforce for the long haul. I use that word ‘strength’ advisedly: it doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it does.

Unless I’m missing something, there are no quick fixes to this; but there are three habits we can all adopt to help create strong workforces – remote and otherwise.

Accept that we don’t have to ‘keep calm and carry on’ – resilience doesn’t equal endurance

The ‘new normal’ comes with a flurry of DIY-this, Joe Wicks-that. Social media posts promoting ‘good vibes only’ suggest there’s only one way to get through this, that there’s a wealth of easy solutions. I’d suggest otherwise.

While some people are using it as an opportunity to indulge in time they never had before, expecting everyone to ‘just think positive’ is to not only deny a connection with your base human emotions, but also brings pressure in itself. Sure, some people might be able to tune out all the negativity and just focus on the sunshine, but the reality is that most of us can’t. Nor should we be expected to.

And for a lot of workers, those ‘coulds’ and ‘shoulds’ just aren’t attainable, particularly for those carrying unique responsibilities – carers, parents, low-income workers, emergency workers.

True strength comes from tapping into how you’re really feeling, and finding acceptance in it. Be empathetic and vulnerable with your colleagues, and urge them – and your employers – to do the same. Talk about what’s upsetting you. If you have the space and means, listen to someone – some people have to know how to take care of themselves before helping others. These open conversations make it easier to gauge how others are feeling on a day-to-day basis, where pain points might be and how they can be approached.

This human connection – with ourselves and with those we can help – is today’s definition of strong. Resilience isn’t about being indestructible – it’s about accepting when you’re not OK, then finding a way forward.

Presenteeism isn’t pragmatic, so be fluid

Fears over job security and the decline in face-to-face feedback means workers have understandably swapped their commutes with overtime, in attempts to prove their unwavering productivity. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach – or a quick Zoom chat – that deals with this.

Each employee faces unique challenges that require tailored, empathetic approaches. As we navigate our way through this, strength can come in the form of recognising that coronavirus-driven anxiety will make certain days less productive. I know people who just can’t work in the late afternoon, as they’re too nervous about Downing Street’s briefings – if it’s not business critical that they stay until 5:30pm, it would make sense to let them start (and finish) early.

Look at it as an investment in the long game. Workplace retention post-COVID carries a big question mark, so businesses that demonstrate flexibility and empathy to their talent’s sensitivities now; businesses that show strong, helpful, genuine leadership through crisis, are more likely to come through this with a fully motivated, better connected workforce.

Apply all this to business as usual

For too long, businesses have prioritised inclusion and diversity statistics with little heed to whether they actually make people feel like they belong.

 As we think on ways to increase employee engagement in a remote structure, the key is to make it inclusive for staff across the board by listening and adjusting for differences. Ironically, there’s never been a better time to rejig the strategy to foster this culture – and to connect with employees.

With due focus on the challenges people are facing, both personally and within the business, they will naturally curate an environment that invites a more transparent conversation. Look at Tesco – it’s provided its 300,000-strong workforce with free access to digital wellness platforms for a year. That’s a real show of strength, not just in looking after its people, but giving them the tools to look after themselves.

Life under lockdown is hard work. But hard work shouldn’t take over your life. If the C-Suite can show staff how much they’re valued, particularly as they balance working with uncertainties of the future, they’re guaranteed to create a healthier, stronger workplace that benefits everyone.

About the author

Emma MainooEmma Mainoo is a marketing consultant who has spent the past 20 years working in both brand and creative agency worlds. She currently works with culture change business Utopia, spearheading its bespoke mental health practice to help businesses create healthier, more inclusive cultures. For a number of years this work saw her working at senior level in her work with global brands which brought great professional reward, but at the same time Emma was hiding in plain sight as she battled with anxiety and depression.

In 2012 Emma began a healing journey through therapy, self care practices and alternative healing and in 2018, she decided to share her story of hope and survival through the creation of Surviving Sundays, a storytelling platform that offers hope and inspiration to anyone who is experiencing poor mental health. Surviving Sundays has now become a space where anyone in the world can share their story of ‘self love and survival’ and the topics covered include addiction, grief, trauma, self harm, child-loss, ADHD and loneliness. Today the blog has extended to an events series with Soho House and a podcast.

Following the launch in 2018, Emma has been invited to speak and educate others on the signs of depression and anxiety through her own lived experience at companies such as Saatchi, Facebook, Warner Music and Coca Cola European Partners. In 2019 Emma became a qualified Mental Health First Aid Instructor, and now trains others to become Mental Health First Aiders using the MHFA program and her own lived experience to offer rich learning, that enables course delegates to spot the signs of poor mental health and offer solutions within the workplace and community at large.

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