This week, May 4 -10 2020, doesn’t just include Star Wars Day and Cinco de Mayo; it’s also the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) annual Mental Health Week. The theme this year is “social connection” and during this week, the CMHA is encouraging people to #GetReal about how they feel. Looking after your mental health and reaching out is very important when working remotely, especially in the current climate.
Disclaimer: We are not mental health professionals. The following article shares some ideas, practices, and resources that we’ve found helpful for supporting our team’s mental health. Please consult a mental health professional if you need help.
Remote Work & Feeling Isolated
Although there are many benefits to remote work, as Amir Salihefendic, CEO of Doist says, “we need to acknowledge that isolation, anxiety, and depression are significant problems when working remotely, and we must figure out ways and systems to resolve these complex issues.”
Remote workers often report feeling disconnected from their team and that they miss the general energy or “vibe” of being in an office where, even if they’re interacting minimally with colleagues, they still have a sense of belonging and the ability to have casual conversations outside of work topics. These feelings of isolation can be hard to combat with a remote team, especially in these current times of a global pandemic, but at PathWise Solutions, we believe that it starts with creating a culture of support and trust.
Creating a Culture of Support & Trust
At PathWise, we’ve taken many steps to create a supportive, collaborative team, with our Creative Director and other senior staff leading by example in being open and responsive, discussing challenges and triumphs with the team and focusing on trust and transparency. Knowing we are trusted to do our work also makes us feel more comfortable to reach out when or if we’re struggling, as we know that management will be there without judgement. As soon as one or two team members open up, it can also help set the tone for the rest of the team to feel safe to do the same.
Recognizing Milestones & Accomplishments
We foster collaboration and connection by taking time to recognize team milestones like birthdays by sending out snail mail cards, we post regular kudos for jobs well done to the whole group, and we use our remote work tools to help us stay in touch for both formal and informal contact.
Using Remote Work Tools
In our day to day, the team feels connected by making use of our team chat app, Slack. Outside of using it for work topics, we’ve set up a channel called Healthy Living where team members can post tips, ideas, or how they’re feeling around their mental and physical health, with no pressure or obligation to share or participate. We also have a non-work topic related channel called Flim Flam, where team members can post photos, memes, jokes, and anything else they want to discuss that isn’t related to work.
Our regular staff meetings also allow us to check in with each other and our Project Manager also regularly checks in one-on-one with staff. We ask questions, get to know new staff, and chat just like we would if we were face to face. We also try to encourage the use of video calls, voice calls, private messaging, and group messaging as ways to connect and communicate with each other. Learn more about the specific tools we use in our processes.
Getting Mental Health Help
If you’re looking for mental health resources, there are a lot of useful articles, tips, and more on the CMHA website. It also includes a helpful checklist, an informal tool, to help you evaluate where you’re at in terms of your mental health. We also encourage you to participate in Mental Health Week!
The Government of Canada also has some useful information for supporting your mental health while working from home, as does the American Psychiatric Association. We also encourage those who can to look for counselling support (there are many online options available and it’s worth noting that many therapists offer sliding scales or cheaper rates with practicum students) and explore local community support, too.
Other Tips for Better Mental Health While Working Remotely
To ensure better mental health for our team, we also encourage taking breaks, rest, “switching off” at the end of the work day, and taking vacations. Fresh air, exercise, time with friends and family (at a safe social distance, currently), and mental health days are all encouraged and supported. We also have flexible work schedules, so although we have a set work day to a certain extent for client work, employees can also create their own schedules and work when they’re able. This is another part of our culture of support and trust.
Above all, we believe it’s important to reach out if you aren’t coping – whether that’s to a colleague, a manager, family, friends, or mental health professionals, because even if it can feel like it, you are not alone.