Ask the Expert: How do I recognise and manage stress in remote team members
Specialist trainer, Sue Butterfield offers practical advice and tips in answer to our latest Ask the Expert question.
“I and my team are all working from home due to the current Covid-19 restrictions. Our work is as busy as ever and, although my team seem to have adjusted to homeworking and digital communication, I am finding it challenging to ensure I’m fulfilling all aspects of my duty of care to them as a manager while we’re not in the office environment. Could you offer some advice about how I recognise and manage stress in my team members whilst we are remote working?”
Whether people are used to working at home or have been doing it for the first time, the challenges of the past few months are new to everyone and will have impacted us all differently. I have listed six areas that you might like to consider and offered tips within each of them.
And please remember, managing stress in teams can be stressful! It is important to remember to manage your own stress and well-being – this will make supporting and managing your team much easier.
Offer encouragement and emotional support:
- Give clear messages that ‘it is OK not to be OK’ – acknowledge that stress, anxieties and concerns are very real and understandable given the sudden change in working. If a member of the team is experiencing stress and anxiety – openly discuss how you can support them, perhaps consider minor ‘workplace’ adjustments and suggest other sources of support. This can be Occupational Health, EAP (if you have one) and trained Mental Health First Aiders (if you have them) who will listen, support and signpost.
- Openly ask the team how they are doing. Encourage open conversation about feelings and emotions as a result of the new way of working.
- If a member of the team is struggling, but not communicating stress or anxiety – ask them how they are doing – acknowledge that the change in the way of working can be stressful and uncertain.
- Introduce the concept of a daily virtual huddle/buzz meeting to explore how individuals are feeling, what challenges they face, what support they might need, and … celebrate success!
Foster relationships and social interaction:
Make time for social interaction and conversation. This will build and maintain rapport and reduce isolation. Remember to have fun, for example a daily team Popmaster quiz during morning coffee break.
Introduce a standard agenda item for team meetings to discuss: How was your weekend? How are you feeling about remote working? As a team is there anything we can do better, or differently?
Introduce a weekly virtual themed lunch break with each team member taking it in turns to set the theme.
Establish workplace boundaries
Consider the following:
- How and when you will communicate?
- How you will support each other and keep everyone informed of challenges and successes?
- Working hours – are they flexible or within the usual ‘office based’ hours?
- Put an agreement in place for open and honest communication, particularly around concerns, stress or anxiety
- How and when you will celebrate success?
Further reading – “Tops tips for setting boundaries at work”
Open, honest and flexible communication
Be flexible with feedback and communications. Team members can be more sensitive if they are feeling isolated, or are experiencing stress/anxiety and it is important to take this into account in meetings and, in particular, electronic communication. The written word (electronic communication) represents 7% of information in the message – leaving plenty of scope for misinterpretation and stress!
Listen closely and remember to ‘read between the lines’. Look out for people repeatedly not being able to log on to meetings, or regularly muting camera and microphone functions. This may indicate they are showing signs of withdrawal – one of the key signs of stress.
Encourage the team to be open about their stress and well-being. A great way to do this is for each person to share four key facts about themselves:
(1) Why I come to work
(2) What motivates me
(3) What makes me feel stressed or anxious
(4) How you will know when I am feeling stressed or anxious. This is what I need – this is what will help me
This is a great way to take the ‘guess work’ out of identifying and managing stress in teams – particularly for remote teams.
Assess risk to stress in the new virtual working environment
The HSE have developed a set of management standards which detail sources of pressure in organisations and are a really useful tool for managers. Identifying and managing stress in the workplace is much easier if we take a proactive approach.
It is great to get the team involved in this – then together you can develop a plan to reduce risk and ensure the new virtual way of working is stress free and enjoyable!
Attending a training course can also be a helpful way for managers to learn how to manage stress in their teams and for teams to learn some useful strategies to take away. Courses can be delivered in live online versions and can be tailored in both content and length to fulfill exact requirements.