In this overwhelming time, support for vulnerable employees can sometimes be forgotten. We've collated 3 tips to help you get them through Coronavirus (COVID 19).

Coronavirus (COVID 19) is unlike anything we’ve known in our lifetime, shifting how we live and work for the foreseeable. Now what? 

It’s vital that businesses continue with their good intentions, but most importantly, track and adapt their approach regularly.

Here are some top tips for supporting your most vulnerable employees remotely:

1. Flexible as a yogi

For many, they will be settling into remote working and forming new daily routines whilst others are still navigating the commute to the office or have perhaps been placed on furlough. Whatever situation they find themselves in, keeping employee engagement high, anxiety low and productivity stable will be crucial in getting your organisation and workforce through the coming months.

Let’s take Reframe as our example here. This week our Chief Operations Officer has communicated two ways in which Reframe can support: flexible working hours and expensing office equipment to use in the home and ensure the physical wellbeing of employees.

“We don’t know how long we will be working this way so everyone must be set up to work effectively from home both from a mental and physical wellbeing perspective. Some of us have the luxury of an office space at home and can distance ourselves from distractions but the reality is that many do not have the space and are having to manage.”

Andrew Gueterbock, Chief Operating Officer, Reframe.

Reframe is permitting adapted working patterns (e.g. doing 4 hours from 9am to 1pm and 3.5 hours in the evening from 5pm) or, the option to reduce overall weekly hours with pro-rata pay reduction and annual leave adjustments.

These ideas may not work for your organisation but it gives you something to think about. Without sounding too gloomy, we are living in a distressing time and it's down to management and business owners to help employees take control where they can.

Altering working patterns can give room for necessary breaks (the reason for which they may not want to share with you). Does a teammate need to check in on someone or have a call with their own Clinician? The recent and sudden closure of GP practices mean some will need to administer medicines or change a loved one’s dressings and bathe them. If your employee is undergoing treatment, does an earlier start and finish work better for them as they may become easily fatigued in the afternoon? They may for instance be struggling with Chemo brain.

Encourage work warriors, not worriers.

2. Physically distant but socially connected

It sounds simple but do you hold an up to date list of your colleagues’ personal and emergency contact details? Do they know how to reach you out of hours? Communication will be fundamental over the coming weeks more so than ever previously (regardless of how important your last project was), so make sure your team is armed with the basics.  

Social interaction is a hugely important part of the workplace and before the recent lockdown, people didn’t realise how vital this was for wellbeing. Employees with a critical illness or who are caring for others will be missing this exponentially. A community spirit and collective effort will help ease the stress, burden and loneliness that individuals will feel. Carers will probably be feeling helpless. The type of help they had been giving may have changed from weekly outings, daily chats and trips to the shops to simply dropping off a food delivery to someone’s door and a phone call. Focusing on team communications will help them feel less mentally isolated than they physically are.

During this time it’s easy to forget about other illnesses that exist. As the risks to most of these people are heightened, many will remain in isolation for several months. The ensuing lack of social contact is not healthy for their mental wellbeing. They may have additional anxieties and questions about their treatment or vulnerability that need to be addressed and on top of that, it’s not always possible to give their family a hug - resulting in a multitude of emotions.

Use this time to be innovative in your socialising. A few things which could work for you include:

  • Virtual team quizzes
  • Exercise challenges – say holding a 3-minute plank, or the highest number of squats within 1 minute (all the rage on Instagram stories at the moment)
  • Coffee and chat
  • Thirsty Thursday - bring your beer or bubbles (or squash) to the laptop and have a catch-up
  • Newsletter reminding employees of the resources and support they have available to them
  • Can you include links to cancer or carer forums? A different arm to lean on will be extremely impactful and positive on their mental wellbeing

Keep check on how your team is coping, revisit your processes fortnightly and ask your employees which tools are working for them.

Test, monitor and adapt.

3. The mental and physical benefits of a work-life balance  

People have different responsibilities and projects but if they’re staying online longer than usual do ask them why. Do they need their workload reduced? Are they struggling to split their time?

There will be a lot of changes and disruptions to the working day, from dogs popping up on a video call to children wanting to be fed. You get it. Calm their nerves and let them know you don’t mind this and in fact, would probably find it odd if they had a seamless day.

If they’ve booked annual leave ask them if they still want to take it. They will still need downtime, regardless of whether they’re staying at home anyway. Remind them that taking time out isn’t selfish, it’s necessary in order to stay well and motivated, especially if they are also handling caring responsibilities or dealing with an altered routine.

Keep communication varied. Don’t keep filling diaries with meetings. Everything seems serious but you can make the best of a difficult or challenging situation. Keeping morale high will be paramount. How about having everyone set themselves a personal objective? There could be a photographer lurking within your team, start an online course they’ve been putting off or even, just pick up a book. Having a positive attitude will ripple throughout the organisation, as well as providing a distraction.

People living with an underlying health condition such as cancer need to take extra measures to look after their wellbeing. Some will be classed as extremely vulnerable. This will include those undergoing active chemo, or people with lung cancer receiving radiotherapy and they’ve been advised to stay at home at all times and avoid face to face contact for a period of 12 weeks (they will have received a letter from their GP telling them to do so).

Are your colleagues taking regular breaks? Using their daily outdoor allowance in a way that is appropriate for their level of vulnerability to take in some fresh air, stretch their legs and give their mind a rest? They may be advised not be go outside in a public place because they are at higher risk and may not have a garden to sit in. Can you point them in the direction of online exercises or a yoga platform? Muscle immobility is one of the most common reasons for muscle aches which result from working at the computer. Nobody wants to log off feeling like they’ve aged 10 years.

Be prepared to respond if you are asked for help. Now you can’t offer support from the office you need to have resources up your sleeve. Is there a Facebook group for remote workers with cancer? One resource Reframe have found useful for clients who may want to ensure they have all relevant personal information to hand in the event of an emergency  is the Lifebook by Age UK.  A simple tool and small piece of comfort, especially for carers. It’s helping them feel more in control by having important information in one place when it’s needed (helpful for when they’re feeling mentally exhausted). Let them know they need to put their health and wellbeing first.

We're all in this together

We can’t confirm its going to be ok, but there are things you can do to help make this time easier. Regardless of how small you might deem the above points, every little bit will help.

Leadership skills will become apparent. Crises don’t build characters, they show them.

Supporting your people will give you and your organisation the best chance of bouncing back when this is over. 

Find out the business cycles of Coronavirus (COVID 19) with our employer guide