D.Despite the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, many employees have enjoyed the benefits of remote working. Commuting has all but disappeared and many workers have been able to spend more time with their families while feeling productive at work. Indeed a new one KPMG survey From a distance, it can be seen that nearly 70% of employees say their productivity has increased since working remotely, and 71% would like to work remotely at least part-time at least after returning to the office.
And now that nearly half of all Americans have received the Covid-19 vaccine at least once, organizations are looking forward to see what’s next at work. For many employers, this likely means a hybrid approach, with employees being able to work in the office some days and from home or elsewhere on other days. Companies like Ford, Target, Citigroup and TIAA have already announced hybrid work arrangements for most office workers.
However, offering a hybrid solution presents a number of problems and complexities. This includes additional video conferencing technologies that make personal and remote workers feel equal, and more sophisticated logistics functions to ensure that office buildings are used intelligently. Also not to be overlooked is the ability of companies to assess the mental health of workers.
Turn houses into offices
The pandemic forced millions of people around the world to suddenly turn their homes into their offices. This transition happened almost overnight and, as a result, sparked a wave of serious and persistent mental health effects. Studies carried out by the Kaiser Family Foundation Throughout the pandemic, Covid-19 and the resulting economic crisis have resulted in around 4 in 10 adults in the US reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression – a four-fold increase from pre-pandemic levels.
The ability of companies to monitor and respond to mental health issues in a hybrid work environment will be an important component in the success of these agreements, says Dr. Robin Smith, a licensed psychologist who has worked with Fortune 500 companies on performance issues and who has been therapist-in-residence for the Oprah Winfrey Show for many years.
On the heels of trauma
While working with companies embarking on hybrid formats, it is important for executives to recognize that this new way of working comes from trauma. “All the plans that companies want to implement now do not come from a good or easy time,” she says. “You are following a collective trauma that the US went through.” This is important to recognize as employees can believe that their company’s executives are “aware of the hell that employees have been through,” she adds.
When the pandemic first hit, most employees believed that remote working and widespread plant shutdowns were temporary. But as the months passed and the offices stayed closed, it became clear that a new playbook was being written. “We’re not going to resume life the way it was,” says Dr. Smith. “Hybrid work is another change that employees have to adapt to, and this is more permanent.”
The good news is that companies can take steps to minimize the potential mental health impact of a hybrid work arrangement. She describes this as a three-part process called recognition, instrument and co-creation. The first piece just involves the manager realizing that this new hybrid agreement is not what anyone expected and that it is another change for the employees (the recognition).
The tool is a weekly personal check-in (virtual or in person) to see how employees are doing, where they need help and how they are managing this new way of working. Dr. Smith says she advises managers to first share their own feelings of vulnerability with workers so that individuals can feel safe opening up. “People are a little shaky these days. If a manager can tell their story first, the more likely an employee will be honest about what they’re going through, ”she adds.
Joint creation occurs when managers work with employees to find effective solutions to all problems. “There is no point in giving feedback if no action is taken afterwards,” says Dr. Smith.
For example, when employees are brought back to the office, meetings are held where some employees are present in person and others have to join through Zoom or another online platform. “There is a real risk that some of the employees who are still at home will feel somehow disenfranchised, especially if they want to be in the office but haven’t been given that chance yet,” says Dr. Smith.
If a co-worker is expressing this frustration, her advice is: don’t fire her. “Telling someone that we are all a team and that no one should feel left out will only add to the frustration. Instead, acknowledge the feedback and use it to inform how people will be brought back to the office or how to conduct Zoom meetings in the future.
“There will be a lot of problems as we all adjust to a hybrid workplace,” says Dr. Smith. “But research has shown for years that an employee who feels cared for makes the difference worldwide, how they contribute, how they adjust themselves and how they endure. There are so many benefits to taking care of people not only physically but also emotionally. “
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.