In the early days of this pandemic, what frightened you the most? The virus, or the idea of isolation?
For me, a healthy young (ish) man with an active social life and a young family, it was the latter. How would our family cope without our support network? How would I balance all my responsibilities and look after myself? Could we make the business work while following stringent social distancing guidelines?
From a technical perspective, we knew we could continue to offer customers a ‘business as usual’ service. As a data centre, we specialise in being resilient in the face of a crisis. But truth be told it wasn’t customers I was worried about – it was my team. I knew that they would have questions and worries of their own. How could we look after each other when we weren’t able to be together?
The statistics on mental health are frightening. One in four people will suffer with a mental health issue and yet just 13% of people would feel comfortable reporting it to their workplace. You have to wonder how the strain of hiding something so significant from a line manager would add to the already oppressive weight of a mental health issue.
Determined to do better, we devised a strategy: ways to support remote working staff. Our top tips include:
- Regular all-staff video conferences. This is a bit like the government’s daily briefing (though we wouldn’t advise you do it daily), giving leadership the chance to share the state of the business and employees the opportunity to ask questions.
- One-to-one calls from line managers – not to discuss work, but to check in. Circumstances at home can change rapidly so it’s important to keep these lines of communication open.
- Fun, non-work activities. Among our more social events are ‘Silly hat Fridays’ and daily ‘Cuppa clubs’ to keep morale up.
- Set goals. Working alone can be demoralising; setting team goals can help give everyone a boost.
- Be flexible. This is not working from home. This is working from home in a crisis.
These – and other – coping strategies have helped preserve our team spirit. But these things alone won’t keep people from experiencing the depressive side effects of extended isolation. That’s why we’ve also been working on mental health tips for home working.
The growth and ferocity of the virus has been staggering, but for many people the legacy of this pandemic will be the other health impacts of social isolation. It’s really important that we, across the UK tech industry, take the opportunity to prioritise mental health – both while lockdown is ongoing and into the future.
If you have tips and coping strategies to share, we’d love to hear them.