Having difficulty sleeping? Worry constantly? Or just have no energy? You’re not alone. Symptoms of depression and anxiety have more than tripled since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Dealing with COVID-19 is taking a toll on people’s mental health, even for those who are fortunate enough to still be employed and healthy. For many of us who work every day in an office, being at home all the time––instead of in a workplace with the hustle and bustle of colleagues and customers––is a blow to the emotional need we all have to be part of a community.  

While work from home once sounded ideal, people are starting to miss the small, daily interactions with co-workers, and many are finding they’re less creative and less engaged in their work. The biggest struggles for people working remotely are communication and loneliness. And while collaboration tools like video conferencing allow colleagues to connect and communicate, they also take a toll on employees’ well-being. People are more likely to feel exhausted from the hours of eye-contact that video meetings entail and miss the spontaneous interactions and water cooler chats of the pre-COVID workplace.

As this pandemic stretches on and continues to require many to work from home, it’s important for leaders to keep the mental health of employees top of mind. Remote workers not only need better ways to collaborate and innovate, but they also need to feel a sense of community and the emotional support that is crucial to maintaining a thriving and productive work environment. 

Here’s what managers and leaders should be thinking about when it comes to managing morale remotely:

Recreate the office community and in-person camaraderies online 

As the weeks of working from home have turned into months, maintaining community is critical to workers’ well-being. Daily laughs and friendly chatter are motivators that can energize a group and create a common bond. While it requires a little more creativity to recreate these impromptu moments during a pandemic, leaders should find time for activities that promote dynamic interactions and help employees stay connected. 

As we’ve all seen (and might be a little bit tired of by now), virtual happy hours can maintain a cadence of social interaction, and team workout sessions can help employees balance their mental and physical health. But it’s also time to find activities that promote more spontaneous interactions. Scheduling times for virtual coffee meetings or watercooler chats can help satisfy the need for unscripted human connection––replicating the types of small talk that employees might have in-person. Even a Slack channel for good news or non-work related topics can go a long way in helping employees maintain office relationships during this time. 

Embrace the flexibility that remote work offers 

Before the pandemic, workers often rated flexibility as one of the biggest benefits of working remotely. It’s important to reinforce the benefits that remote work provides. Company policies that support flexibility help employees find the solutions that are going to give them the best work-from-home experience. 

For example, the mental impact of video calls, which has quickly been dubbed ‘Zoom fatigue,’ has shown that some work-from-home solutions come with negative consequences. An easy way to provide flexibility is to let employees choose whether or not they are on camera, allowing them to focus on listening and engaging, not how they appear on video. Phone calls are also a great option for smaller meetings and allow employees the flexibility to take calls where they want, rather than being tied to a desk all day. It’s important for managers to talk about this type of flexibility with their teams. Suggest taking a call outside or having a walking one-on-one with someone. Encouraging employees to get away from the screen will go a long way for their mental well-being.

Find new ways to make sure your employees are heard and seen  

As a manager, you are likely doing your best to keep track of who is doing what, but it’s easy for some workers to feel unseen or unheard when working remotely. 62 percent of U.S adults say they feel less connected to their team since remote-working rules have been put in place.

Frequent communication and scheduled check-ins can help employees feel valued. Another idea is to try  new engagement tools. Watch a movie with your team using Netflix Party or other tools that connect people in a moment. Or experiment with virtual environments that help employees feel like part of a community despite physical distance. You can “see” your teammates in a virtual workspace, drop into a colleague’s office or schedule a group dance party without the pressure of having a camera on. 

No one truly knows when the pandemic will be behind us. Until then, nearly 42 percent of the U.S. will remain working from home full-time. For leaders, building community and supporting employees during these challenging times is critical to helping employees thrive in a new, remote environment.