June 4, 2020
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Recent weeks have seen a sudden surge in the number of people working from home. For many people this will be the first time they have worked from home on a continuous basis.

The sudden move to homeworking may mean that it has not been possible to consult with those involved and plan for what can be quite a significant move as well as you would normally want to when introducing such a change. No one is infallible, it may be that mistakes have been made, that people don’t have all the training or equipment they need to work from home, that workloads have become unbalanced, that information has been miscommunicated, that systems which worked well in the office don’t work as well remotely.

Combined with events in the outside world this could result in unhealthy levels of stress affecting people’s mental health at a time when it may be harder to get proper support as they are separated from their normal colleagues and managers.

Good communication and keeping in touch are key factors in managing stress. There is an often repeated quote “The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place” that is relevant here. In terms of caring for the mental health of homeworkers it is important that people feel they are being listened to as well as being talked to.

Exactly what good communication looks like will depend on individual circumstances but as a general rule you should make sure procedures are put in place to keep in direct contact with home workers. This could involve:
• Regular team meetings using online conference tools
• Scheduling regular times for one to one conversations
• Encouraging people to stick to their normal work times, take breaks and maintain a work-life balance
• Encouraging people to identify when they are at full capacity so that work can be fairly distributed and individuals are not overloaded
• Taking action when problems are identified, even if it is not possible to solve the problem immediately at least clearly explaining why and exploring alternatives
• Not relying on a single means of communication but choosing the most appropriate for both the issue and the individual e.g. email, video conferencing, phone calls etc.

It is also important that recognise signs that someone may be suffering stress and know when to offer support. Some common signs that someone maybe suffering stress can include changes in behaviour such as:
• Mood swings
• Being withdrawn
• Loss of motivation, commitment and confidence
• Increased emotional reactions – being more tearful, sensitive or aggressive

Finally it is important that people know who to contact if they need help in an emergency and that this information is shared.

Please speak to your normal PIB Risk Management contact or get in touch using Email: [email protected] if you have any questions or would like assistance with developing training materials, policies and procedures.