As working from home becomes the new norm for many of us, employers and employees are presented with a number of unforeseen challenges. Whilst we need to protect ourselves physically from COVID-19, it’s important for us to also maintain our wellbeing during this challenging time.

Social distancing can give rise to feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can cause great distress for people and negatively impact their mental and physical health. Strong social connections and positive relationships are a biological need, and the number one contributing factor to our wellbeing. As we engage with others, our bodies release the feel-good hormone, oxytocin, which immediately reduces any stress or anxiousness that we may be feeling, and improves our focus and concentration. The relationships we hold with those at work enable us to be energised, productive and engaged, and to experience positive emotions. Exactly what we need right now!

So how do we stay connected whilst physically apart?

We need to create new rituals to engage with our colleagues whilst away from the office. Teams should continue to hold their regular team meetings by leveraging the technology available to assist with this. Focus your discussions on what is going well, what the priorities are, and find opportunities to celebrate successes and acknowledge each other’s efforts. Seeing faces and smiles makes us feel good too so make sure the cameras are switched on!

Team leaders should also look to have virtual catch-ups with their direct reports on a regular basis to see how they are going, to discuss any sensitive or important issues, and to touch base on their progress towards their goals (which may need to be rescoped given the ever-changing circumstances we find ourselves in). Although we don’t want our days to become unproductive by spending a large amount of our time ‘checking-in’ with others, it’s important to regularly communicate and ask your team members if they are ok and to see where they may need help.

What’s more, learning and development opportunities should not cease whilst we are going through this challenging period. Look for opportunities for your team to build new skills or knowledge to keep them engaged.  

Positive emotions can help foster our relationships

There is no denying that we all need more positivity in our lives right now. Positive emotions enable us to forge strong connections with others too, despite the boundaries that may be physically separating us. With all the tragedy unfolding around us, it might seem odd to suggest that you inject some humour into your working day, yet laughing can help put the challenges we are facing into a different perspective and make us more resilient. Positive primers such as telling a joke, circulating a funny (and appropriate) YouTube clip or sharing a music playlist can boost good feelings, encourage us to think more clearly and be more optimistic, and can also help undo the effect of negative emotions like stress.

Expressing gratitude can also help us feel better about ourselves and the world we are currently living in. When your brain is in a state of appreciation, it’s impossible for it to be in a state of fear or anxiety at the same time. So the more you practise gratitude, the less negative emotions you will experience and the better equipped you will be to deal with stress. Being grateful is rare for us however, so we need to intentionally practise it. Over the next week, try to spend some time every day writing down three things you are grateful for and why you are grateful for them. These can be big things like good health or great relationships, or little things such as a take-away coffee or listening to your favourite song. This activity will make you feel happy, and over time, you will start to notice more the things in your life that you are grateful for.

In order to cope with this crisis, we need to be proactive about our wellbeing including whilst working in a new environment. By prioritising our relationships and fostering positive emotions we will be able to respond better to our ever-changing landscape and more easily overcome the challenges that we will ultimately face in the weeks to come.