We know the pandemic has been hard on all of us, but recent surveys show just how deep the impact is. More than that, though, the numbers are getting worse. Canadians reported more anxiety, more depression, and less optimism now than just a couple of months ago.

Renewed lockdowns and the ongoing pandemic are driving these feelings. Winter hasn’t helped, reinforcing a sense of loneliness and isolation. Almost half of employees surveyed said they were concerned about a co-worker, and most supervisors said productivity had dropped from 2019.

Employers may feel a bit stuck. An end to the pandemic is still unknown. On top of that, you’ve likely given your team the best tools to help them work from home, as well as what you feel is top-notch emotional support. What more can you do?

These tips can help you as you and your team members continue to navigate this trying time.

Focus on the Future

The pandemic has been going on for almost a year, and renewed lockdowns and high caseloads have reinforced a sense of despair. Even with vaccination programs beginning, it seems like things are going in the wrong direction.

You might find it’s tough to focus on the future. Why make plans for reopening when you have no idea when or if you’ll be able to reopen? It may even feel pointless, to a degree.

A focus on the future can help your employees begin to find meaning again. Reassure them that, even if it feels like it, the pandemic isn’t going to last forever. Ask them to set longer-term goals that they can focus on now, but that they could also achieve on a flexible timeline.

You can also focus on what the business will do when reopening happens. Ask team members to brainstorm new ideas. What do they want to see at the office when they get back? Are there new products or services they’d like to work on developing for a post-pandemic market?

Focus on the Here and Now

Another tactic is to focus on what employees can control right now. They cannot control the future. None of us can decide when the pandemic ends or even when lockdown lifts. So, even if we can imagine a bright future, there could also be a sense of helplessness because we don’t know when we’ll get there.

Ask employees to instead focus on what they can control, like the work they’re doing. That could mean taking a bit of extra time to put the finishing touches on a project or taking on tasks that always get neglected. Is now a time to “get caught up” or rekindle customer relationships that they were neglecting before?

Employees could also take their productivity in hand. What would give them a sense of purpose and accomplishment? Maybe it’s learning a new skill or maybe it’s mapping out a new passion project. It might even be getting caught up on the (digital) filing. Whatever it happens to be, look for tasks and goals that employees can conquer right now.

Don’t forget mood and mental health here either. Employees may not recognize it, but they are in charge of their feelings. Give them the tools to help them manage their mood, and ask them to take control. They can’t end the pandemic, but they can take charge of how they feel about it.

Stay Flexible and Emphasize Compassion

Part of dealing with this event is recognizing how profoundly it has affected everyone. Some people may struggle more visibly, and some might have very obvious challenges, such as looking after kids or elderly parents. Even the person who lives alone and works remotely could be struggling more than they’re letting on.

One thing you can do to support people is to remain flexible. Can you give employees access to mental health, sick, or personal days? What about flexible schedules and hours that emphasize productivity versus time-in-chair? Some people might put in the 9-to-5 if that’s what you demand, but they could get more done in less time if you let them work split shifts in the morning and evening.

Also, ask your team to think critically about their mental health and wellness when they come to work. Are they in the headspace to do this task right now? Would taking a break help them clear their heads and refocus? Giving them flexibility in arranging their workday and their schedule can help a lot.

Emphasize compassion for each other. If someone needs to take a break and clear their head, that’s okay. If someone needs an afternoon off to recharge their batteries, that’s okay too. We should be focused on productivity right now, not necessarily time-in-chair or time-on-task. Quality of work and completeness should be the emphasis, with plenty of understanding that we might not be able to work our “usual” schedules or at our normal capacities.

These things only become a problem if they’re happening on a very regular basis—an employee who misses two or three meetings in a row; someone repeatedly misses deadlines; employees who take multiple “mental health” days in a row out of the blue, due to crises. These are signs people are really struggling. Here again, compassion is important. It’s easy to be upset that someone isn’t pulling their weight, but what they actually need is more assistance to help them get back to work in a good way. Offer to meet with these employees and stress that you’re concerned, not that they’re “in trouble” or on the chopping block if they don’t “smarten up.” Help them seek out tools that could assist them, such as meeting with a counsellor or a doctor. They’re likely upset they’re not being able to work like they usually do too, so focus on helping them get back to “their usual self” and productivity will soon follow.

Policies and Technology Together

Writing policies that emphasize future-focus, being in the moment, and taking care of oneself and each other are the first step. Finding the technology that lets you deliver what your employees need, from goal tracking to regular check-ins with co-workers, to meetings with mental health professionals, is the next.

Once you have the policies, get in touch with our expert team to discover the tools to help deliver exactly what your team needs right now.