The COVID-19 pandemic has forced tens of millions of employees across the U.S. to work from home. While this has afforded many employees with children less stress when it comes to finding childcare during a pandemic, and the safety measures of social distancing helps reduce the transmission of COVID-19, it also poses significant challenges for employee productivity and overall well-being.

Many companies are learning how they can best support their employees as they work from home. Many individuals are experiencing a learning curve, either through challenges with technology or time management, as a vast majority of our workforce has never worked from home. 

How can companies offer support to their employees, encouraging them to stay productive and on task while also ensuring they are maintaining their own personal health and wellbeing? Here are some important ways companies can support their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Be flexible

One of the best ways businesses can support their employees during the pandemic is by allowing them to work flexible schedules. Many employees are at home with their families, struggling to find quiet space to work, helping children with remote learning, and dealing with the stress of life during a global health pandemic. Offering employees to work flexible schedules helps them manage their time and allows them to attend to certain family obligations that are now front and center as a result of being at home. 

Setting clear expectations regarding employee outputs and goals is key in this transition. Try to limit team meetings so employees can maximize their workday. Finally, let your employees know that it is ok to disconnect at the end of the day. Employees who feel trusted and empowered to get their work done allow them to be productive, happier, and committed.   

Be transparent

Many businesses are struggling financially as the COVID-19 pandemic has hit our economy hard. Whether your organization is considering layoffs, reducing certain benefits, or restructuring 2020 goals, it is important to share tough organizational information with your employees. Often, employees will sympathize with your decisions if they understand the scope of the problem. 

If you must lay off your employees, be compassionate. Provide assistance to those employees, either through offering a severance package or extended coverage of medical benefits. 

Of course, there will be some negative feelings and blowback along the way. But being transparent with decisions that affect your entire team will gain you and your organization respect and credibility, and you will feel less stress. 

Encourage social time

One of the many benefits of working in an office setting includes down time within the office to socialize and get to know fellow colleagues. Socialization within the office space is a major factor in establishing long-term, committed employees. It also allows employees to take a break from their workload, often being more productive when they return to their desk or project. 

Research shows that having supportive, personal interactions with colleagues is linked to employee well-being. Now that your organization has shifted to a remote work environment, personal interactions and social engagement does not need to stop. Schedule time for both individual teams and the entire organization to connect via weekly virtual happy hours. 

Support employee wellbeing

Most importantly, all organizations are encouraged to take a hard look at their current employee wellbeing programs. While many programs offer comprehensive medical and dental, gym reimbursements, and employee assistance programs (EAPs), ask yourself if you can be doing more during this time to provide extra support to your employees’ mental wellbeing. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased our fear and stress levels, which can lead to uncontrolled depression and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Encouraging your employees to utilize the services offered through your company EAP, and providing additional support groups can help alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. 

Practicing mindfulness has been a fantastic tool used within the office space to ease stress and increase productivity. Take time out of your weekly staff meetings or your social happy hours and bring in a mindfulness and meditation expert to lead the team through a guided practice. There are also plenty of mindfulness apps that you can offer to your employees to practice on their own time.

Providing your employees with consistent and clear communication about the current state of your business, certain health risks and preventive measures, and sharing available resources are some of the best way for leaders to keep their employees safe, connected, and foster wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.