One of my colleagues (Liz Luya) has been in social isolation in Hong Kong for more than two months as a result of Coronavirus (COVID-19). She’s been working at home as have her three teenage children whose school closed at the end of January.
Mentally and emotionally the experience of social distancing is tough. We both had some idea of how this might pan out, as we worked together on the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong in 2003. We learnt some things that we thought would be useful to share – we are doing so in three blog posts: one for business leaders, one for managers and this one for anyone who is working from home.
In this post, we talk about how to support our employees and help them to help keep themselves emotionally resilient in this time of fear and social isolation. We hope you find this insight and advice helpful.
Some people initially respond positively to being able to work from home and be removed from the world around them, especially if they’re sensitive to picking up others’ anxieties at difficult times like this. Some like the flexibility of no commute, the lack of business attire, and more freedom to manage themselves. These positive feelings can be replaced over time with feelings of being imprisoned, stressed, isolated, depressed, anxious and demotivated. It’s even harder for people who also have children or others to care for. With social media swirling around, the distraction of the negative press can also bear heavily on some.
Maintain structure to your day. This is important to maintain a sense of normality as well as helping you keep a boundary between work and personal life. For example, get up at the same time each day, have a proper lunch break, go out for a walk if possible and shut down your computer at your usual finishing time.
Move. Staying at home probably means moving less. Try incorporating a regular bit of exercise (stretching, yoga, a walk) each day for the sake of your wellbeing.
Build in social contact. People can start to feel very isolated and down very quickly without contact with others. Schedule time to speak to others a few times a day. Perhaps also make sure you have at least one call with a friend in the evening. We tend to think that face-to-face contact is superior to virtual contact. There is some research that says otherwise, at least when it comes to being able to empathise: you could take a look at this article from Psychology Today.
Protect yourself against panic. Panic is understandable but not useful. Nor is a cavalier attitude. We found in the early days of the SARS outbreak that people definitely took their cues from their managers as to how to respond. As managers ourselves, we tried to stay calm and factual. For example, we kept in mind that whilst our colleagues were mostly fit and healthy, some of them were living in the same house as elderly or other vulnerable people.
Act for the greater good. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do. Do you waste that expensive theatre ticket or stay at home? Our golden rule is to be cautious and always try to act for the greater good, while heeding the latest Government advice.
Social Media and News. Find a source you like, trust and can easily relate to and stick to following that one source for information. We are being bombarded with very conflicting advice, over which we have no control. Limit what you read or consume to ensure the news isn’t overwhelming.
Framing. We might not have a choice about having to work from home but we can choose our response. Try and see it as an opportunity to do more, save on commuting costs and time, spend more time with the kids. Whatever benefits exist for you. Framing the situation as positively as possible will be better for your mental health and outlook.
Manage your emotions to stay resilient. Becoming frustrated, feeling imprisoned, missing contact with colleagues; all of these things are normal responses. Try to catch yourself before you spiral into negative thought patterns by writing down ten things you’re grateful for. This can shift your mood very quickly.
Remind yourself of your strengths. When things are tough it’s worth taking a bit of time out to remind what you’re really good at and thinking about how those things can help you. For example if you’re a naturally calm person this will help you and your loved ones, perhaps you’re determined, creative, positive. Focusing on your strengths will help you stay resilient.
We’ve put together some options (see below) to help organisations through the COVID-19 crisis. If you’d like to know more about any of them email or call us. We’d love to support you if we can.