We think nothing of making workplace accommodations for colleagues with a visible, physical disability so they can perform their work more ably. But can we say the same for mental illness and workplace stress? In both virtual teams and their co-located counterparts, a new report from research firm Morneau Shepell shows that 25% of workers say they have become ill due to workplace stress.
Common symptoms include:
• Mood swings
• Lack of focus
Without taking mental health and stress into account, virtual managers run the risk of encountering lower productivity, weaker performance and higher absenteeism.
Why mental health matters in virtual teams
In addition to typical stressors such as workload and deadlines, a sense of isolation is especially common in virtual teams. The lack of face-to-face interaction makes it difficult to build trusted relationships, and miscommunication is more common without nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and body language. Add in the stigma people naturally feel about disclosing mental health issues or stress, and employees often feel as though they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.
The tips below will help you to increase productivity, deepen interpersonal relationships, and boost resilience within your virtual team.
Top mental health tips for virtual managers:
Minimize social distance
In the virtual environment there is a tendency to over-focus on tasks and under-focus on relationships. This can worsen the sense of isolation that naturally comes with working apart from others and contribute to workplace stress. In contrast, one recent study found that colleagues who spend just 15 minutes socializing have a 20% increase in performance vs. those who don’t.
Unsurprisingly, co-located teams spend roughly 8% of their time socializing in physical locations like hallways or a nearby café. While these are not options for virtual teams, there are a number of excellent virtual equivalents including:
• Group chats or virtual meeting rooms for coffee breaks and team lunches.
• Instant messaging for fun, impromptu discussions about the latest show to binge-watch, upcoming vacations, or any other non-work topic.
• Start team meetings with an open invitation for anyone to share a recent success or challenge, tips they found, useful articles or other resources, etc. Showcasing team members in this manner is another way to foster trusting interpersonal relationships.
Make it about people, not technology
Success in the virtual world is 90% people and 10% technology – and mental health suffers when we place too much emphasis on the collaboration tools we use rather than the people using them. Virtual managers seeking to minimize mental health issues on their team should focus on the tone and nature of team communications, such as:
• When facing setbacks, focus on the path forward and lessons learned, not personal blame
• Encourage your team to ask for assistance when needed and not bear their burden alone
• Openly share information and project updates so everyone feels looped in and part of the team
Bridge gaps with language
Language is a powerful tool that can create a feeling of safety and trust, making it easier for employees to disclose their concerns and work with you to resolve issues. Non-judgmental language is especially important in virtual teams, where social distance can make it harder to come forward with any difficulties.
There are many ways to build relationships, communicate effectively, and address mental health in the workplace without the benefit of face-to-face interaction. Learn more about Virtual Team Builders team training solutions as well as one-on-one mentoring for virtual team leads to drive resilience and good mental health in your organization.