The need for support and connection between staff and management is greater than ever with so many people suddenly working from home during this challenging time. While the benefits for community safety are real, the negative impacts can include feelings of disconnection, social and professional isolation. The role of leaders is critical at this time to reach out to staff and create pathways for connection.
We are all experiencing increased stress due to the impacts of COVID-19, plus for many there are added complexities of working at home – especially for those with children. There is also a reported tendency for staff to be spending long hours at their computer without taking breaks. To add to that challenge, complaint handling professionals are faced with an escalation in calls and customers with various forms of vulnerability.
The recent SOCAP webinar on ‘Coronavirus and Complaint Handling’ on 26 March found our panellists: Dini Soulio, SA Consumer and Business Services; Juliette Mansted, Suncorp; and Justin Tsuei; addressing a range of issues including the vital role of managers in supporting and connecting with staff. They all stressed the importance of proactively reaching out to provide support to individuals and keep teams strong and resilient. Staff need to feel an ongoing connection to their organisation and to their managers and teams to cope with the remote arrangements and increased pressures.
Panellists agreed that main role of the leader at this time is to adapt and prioritise in order to look after staff, keep them connected and have strategies to support mental health. Be proactive, in reaching out to staff first, have conversations to understand individual concerns and challenges, and be there for them when they are responding to those difficult calls - which are on the rise. If this situation continues for a protracted period of time, people need to practice self-care and pace themselves to avoid burnout.
Telstra and Suncorp panellists explained how they had implemented simple yet targeted strategies to support team connection, including:
It is also important to talk with colleagues about their working from home set-up and discuss most suitable working and meeting times. We need to be mindful people have suddenly been faced with new ways of working, and we need to accept that children and pets are likely to feature in digital meetings, or colleagues may become distracted. To support staff in this unusual situation our panellists believed that organisations and management need to be flexible with staff and their working hours.
Our panellists reported that productivity was going well, with a greater concern for staff not taking breaks and sitting at their computer for prolonged periods of time throughout the day. Rather than the potential risk of lower levels of productivity, the concern is that such behaviours can lead to unhealthy and unsustainable habits.
It is worthwhile checking in with staff about their workplan for the day including planned lunch and other breaks such as physical activity, and mindfulness breaks. Managers need to determine if employees working from home are overworking and consider whether policies such as shutting down technology after hours are necessary.
A key message from SOCAP webinar panellists was to trust staff and be proactive in staying connected with them. We are in an environment where we need to trust people and relax our specific requirements and be flexible and realistic about the changes as people adapt as best they can.