The Cost of Isolation – Caring for the Mental Well-Being of Your Staff During COVID-19

At this point, it's difficult to say what the final death toll of coronavirus will be, save that most people who are infected will likely survive the experience. Trouble is, it's not just the virus that's dangerous. It's the social upheaval it's caused, particularly the isolation created by quarantines and shelter-in-place orders. Here's what you can do as an employer to help your staff through it all.

Weeks-long shelter-in-place advisories. Ankle monitors placed on patients by law enforcement. Grim predictions of overcrowded hospitals and overworked medical personnel.

These are the realities of the world created by the spread of novel coronavirus, known also as COVID-19. Highly infectious and potentially deadly, its final death toll may well climb into six figures. Yet the virus itself isn’t the only danger in these trying times.

Financial strain. Loneliness. The constant, pervasive fear that a vulnerable loved one may catch the virus and perish from it.

Together, these factors have created a perfect storm of stress and anxiety which, if left unchecked, could very well destroy the psyche of many of your remote staff.

If you’re reading this, then it’s likely that your organization isn’t fully remote. You may have flirted with distributed work in the past, offering flexible time and location options for your employees. Yet it’s unlikely you were prepared to support remote work on this scale.

Very few businesses could claim to have been.

We’ll discuss some of the technical challenges of distributed work in another piece. Today, we’re going to examine the human side of things. Most of your employees, even those who frequently work from home, likely aren’t used to this level of isolation. It falls to you as an employer to help them stay mentally and physically healthy.

In short, you need a formal plan in place to care for the mental health of remote staff, consisting, in broad strokes, of the following:

  • Check-ins. Plan for regular video calls and videoconferences. These don’t necessarily need to be formal meetings. You can simply get together with your team and chat while you work.
  • Distribution of information. There’s a lot of misinformation and fear floating around the web where COVID-19 is concerned. Do your part to cut through that chaff. Circulate announcements from reputable organizations like the WHO and CDC, and provide employees with regular updates and advice on staving off the virus.
  • Shift expectations. People are unlikely to be as productive as they usually are, and that’s okay. This is anything but business as usual, and you need to shift your expectations to match. 
  • Offer support. Reassure employees suffering from the stresses of COVID-19 that you’re there for them. Provide them with digital counseling and therapy resources as-necessary.
  • Provide encouragement.  Offer your employees multiple suggestions for self-care activities, and allow them to take regular breaks. 

The technological, personal, and professional challenges created by coronavirus are more or less unprecedented.  That’s why it’s forgivable that so many have forgotten that they need more than infrastructure to support such a massive shift in their workforce. They also need to consider the human cost, and the human challenges, of remote work.

Stress. Loneliness and isolation. As an employer, the most important thing to remember is that no one should have to face these things alone, yourself included. 

With the right policies for personal care, wellness, and communication in place, no one at your organization will have to.