Managers guidance during coronavirus

Managers should keep in contact with staff and work with them as flexibly as possible during this time. Although there are many issues to be mindful of, the number one priority must be staff wellbeing. Managers are strongly encouraged to prioritise regular contact with their staff and to remember that for many this is a stressful time.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has highlighted the important need to support employees with their mental health. Many will be feeling anxious about their physical health and that of their families, and some may be experiencing heightened feelings of anxiety, isolation and/or loneliness. For those juggling work with childcare commitments and home-schooling, the added pressure can feel overwhelming.

Line managers have a key role to play. But the fact that managers may be at a distance from their teams can make it more difficult to identify whether or not an employee is struggling. Despite this, the employer still has a duty of care and it is vital that support is maintained wherever parties are located.

Managing a remote team in these difficult circumstances can be challenging and below we provide some tips and guidance together with FAQs and additional resources.

For further support and questions, please contact your link HR team

Managing workload and priorities

Individuals may need to change work routines/hours and perhaps reduce the number of hours which they are able to work due to caring responsibilities during this period and they may feel anxious and guilty. Managers should reassure staff that they can only do the best they can in the circumstances.

In discussion with your team member, establish a sustainable work pattern that best fits the individual's personal circumstances and the work priorities. Depending on the nature of the work, discuss realistic completion dates. This will help to give focus and a sense of achievement. It may also help to identify what can be left until a later date if necessary.

Depending on the nature of their role some team members will have a very high workload or conversely they may not have much to do. Consider how you can help to spread the load where possible and if an individual has insufficient work encourage them to undertake some online e-learning / staff development as appropriate.

Be mindful that if a number of your team are unable to work or have limited capacity due to caring responsibilities, this may impact on their colleagues and you need to ensure that this is managed carefully and that colleagues are taking adequate rest breaks and not working excessive hours.

Look after yourself first

It is always critical to prioritise your own health and safety and wellbeing first so that you are better equipped to help others. This includes setting clear boundaries for your own work and making clear when you are available via your google calendar or similar. This will provide a positive example for people in your team. Be open to sharing ways in which you are looking after your own well-being and your strategies for coping in team meetings etc.

We have launched a Brookes Buddy scheme through Faculties and Directorates for any member of staff, at any level, who may be feeling isolated and wishes to connect with a colleague for an informal chat and coffee. Buddies are being recruited on a voluntary basis by a local designated administrator who will match them with staff requests. The matching is being done within each faculty or directorate but with an option for staff to request a buddy from outside their department. Although this is a voluntary, informal arrangement, it is recognised that it may flush out mental health issues and there is guidance for Buddies on how to access support or to escalate any serious concerns. 

Communicate and then communicate some more

Communication is essential even when there is nothing to say. This will include team meetings and one-to-ones. You may find that members of your team would appreciate meeting more regularly during this time than would normally be the case. The greatest protective factor for our mental and emotional wellbeing is a sense of connectedness, that we matter, that others care about us. For many people their sense of identity is derived from the working environment.

Remember, communication is a two-way process and as well as passing on information and updating the team, it is important to listen carefully to what is not being said as well as what is being said. It might be hard for your team members to be honest about how they are feeling, especially if they feel like they might be letting the team down, so encourage use of the video chats so you will be better able to pick up on facial expressions and body language. Remember to update team members who are unable to attend a team meeting.

You may wish to discuss and agree with your team the best methods/platforms for communications, frequency and timing bearing in mind that some team members may be flexing their hours around caring responsibilities. 

Be kind

In some cases the extraordinary circumstances are prompting many people to question what really matters in life. Most are realising that relationships, kindness, compassion and care are more important than to-do lists. We are all facing our own challenges so listen to your team about what theirs are. Some may need more support than others but be careful that your support is not seen as micro-managing.

  • Be considerate and realistic when setting expectations.
  • Consider flexibility for staff with caring responsibilities.
  • Consider any requests for adjustments in duties, support needs, etc.
  • Some staff are likely to be feeling very anxious and may be feeling lonely, even though they may or may not be living alone.
  • Staff may suffer the loss of a loved one or significant other.
  • Encourage teams to support each other, and provide informal settings to meet eg, virtual lunch together, or organise a team quiz or similar. Humour can also be a great antidote to stress and anxiety.
  • Remind staff to have regular breaks from the screen and encourage them to move regularly - it doesn’t have to be formal exercise. Dancing to a favourite track or doing some gardening are all beneficial. 


Additional resources