Staying connected – inclusive working from home practices and supporting mental health and wellbeing

Setting your employees up for success in this current way of working 

For many organisations the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the introduction of remote working arrangements for  their employees. The need to adapt to this sudden change in routine – potentially less movement or exercise, a workspace that may include a lot more distractions (partners, children, pets!), or an increase in isolation – may cause people to feel lonely, apprehensive or stressed. These are unique circumstances that we are living in and everyone’s situation will be different.

The environment that we find ourselves in each day impacts our mental health and wellbeing. 45% of people will experience a mental illness in their lifetime [1]. Mental illness can be caused by social triggers and events which impact on our state of mind. In this time of increased uncertainty and stress, the prevalence of poor mental health may increase in our workforce. This could be due to  

  • Not being able to see loved ones 
  • Increased time at home 
  • Mixing personal and professional lives 
  • Fear of not being supported in a new environment 
  • Inaccessible communication 
  • Not having required adjustments 
  • Assumptions – including the assumption that everyone can work the same way with the same tools and resources 

For some, this may be the first time they have experienced an episode of poor mental health. 

In discussion with our members we have gathered the following suggestions and strategies to assist you and your teamThis is an unprecedented time we find ourselves in and, with the support of family, friends, and colleagues, we will all get through this together.  

Key learnings from AND’s Member Discussion Forum 

“Life often doesn’t go in a linear fashion…how do we become aware of our own resilience and strategies?” – Sanne Rasmussen, Neami National 

Sanne Rasmussen and Hannah Roeschlein, Neami National, and John Gerloff, IAG, shared their knowledge and experience at the second of AND's Discussion Forums  Staying connected – inclusive working from home practices and supporting mental health and wellbeing”. The session highlighted the importance of:  

  • Acknowledging that there is a heightened feeling of uncertainty right now with professional and personal boundaries being blurred – people (employees and managers) may be experiencing heightened anxiety and different emotionsAs Hannah Roeschlein, Neami National,  quoted from social media – “We’re not working from home; we’re at home during a crisis trying to work”.  
  • Making time to check in which yourself, your colleagues, your manager – ensure that you are getting the support that you need.
  • Re-evaluating and adapting our selfcare strategies  redefining what this looks like right now (while there are limitations and restrictions in place) and coming back to what is important for youSanne Rasmussen, Neami National, encouraged using the Wellbeing Wheel tool, and offered three questions to consider 
    • What matters to me?  
    • What do I need?  
    • What’s important to me? 
  • Developing a selfcare plan. Black Dog Institute has information and templates for selfcare planning available on their website.
  • Maintaining a routine and ensuring that your workspace is set up as well as it can be (e.g. with required equipment and any adjustments).
  • Taking care of ourselves to take care of others – as colleagues we are able to support each other only if we are also supporting our own mental wellbeing.
  • Considering the way that training/learning opportunities are approached – with people experiencing fatigue or extra pressures at the moment how can we support readiness for learning? Is there an option to cut a full day session into four 2-hour sessions across two days?  
  • Asking for feedback – are the systems and practices that the organisation has implemented working?  

Neami National has put together an information sheet about self-care strategies during this time.

Please find below 3 alternate formats of Neami's Wellbeing Wheel tool: 

Setting your staff up for success 

  • Keep in touch: regular, simple, informal conversations help build a sense of belonging and connectedness which has been shown to promote wellbeing.  
  • Ask all your employees if they require any adjustments to enable them to participate.  
  • Set up accessible and inclusive work from home practices for employees. Implement the requested adjustments and/or deliver equipment to employees working from home to make sure they have access to their workplace adjustments. 
  • Consider accessibility when introducing new ICT collaborative platforms.
  • Team Huddles can make it easier for everyone to be open about how they are feeling.
  • Focus on setting clear tasks and outputs rather than dictating how the work should get done and during what hours. 

Practical tips for Employers 

  • Create a hub of resources for managers and employees which includes: 
    • Workplace adjustment policy and procedures 
    • Self-care template (Word, 62KB)
    • Employee Assistance Program (EAP) contact details 
    • Mental health resources 
    • Inclusive communication guide 
    • Accessible communication guide 
    • Refresh your Workplace Adjustment Policy to ensure relevance to COVID-19
  • Consider ‘peer support’ buddying so individuals can have ‘social isolation wellbeing checks’.
  • Encourage confident conversations to maintain good mental health in the workplace:  
    • Encourage open dialogue, but understand that they might not want to speak right now.
    • Listen and show that you’re listening – try not to jump in with a solution. 
    • Find out if they’re ready to look for help and if you can help them do that.
    • Check in after a few days and see how they’re going.

Support networks 

  • Disability Employee Networks: Ask your Disability Employee Network (DEN) how to keep connected. DENs

     can play an important role in connecting with employees with disability and to discuss challenges and solutions to new ways of working. DENs are the voice of people with disability and carers in your organisation, and will be able to share with leadership about what is working well and what needs improving. From our friends at PurpleSpace, they are reminding their DENs that “A Little Is Enough” in your Network as you juggle your priorities.  

  • Mental Health First AidersIf your organisation has trained Mental Health First Aiders, make sure they are visible to the team. Create a hub where people can identify which coworkers have the training and resources to help them through a challenging time. Work together with the First Aiders to identify what their role is in this new environment and how they can adapt to offer support virtually.  
  • Diversity and Inclusion Practitioners and Human Resources: Provide clear contact details in multiple formats (email and phone numbers) for people to reach out to Diversity and Inclusion Practitioners and Human Resources to gain support in these challenging times. 
  • Management: Equip managers with the right resources to have confident conversations with team members with disability. Refer to AND’s resources and factsheets to build the confidence of your people leaders. 

Useful factsheets and information: 

Sources: 

[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4326.0 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, viewed 24 April 2020.