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Virtual Team Building: The Ultimate Manager Guide

Everything you need to know about building trust for remote/hybrid teams.

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Chapter 7

Defend: Supporting Your Team’s Mental Health

One of the most concerning takeaways from our 2021 Remote Manager Report involved burnout. Over 70% of remote managers reported struggling with burnout and/or mental health issues during the pandemic.

We’re facing a health crisis that will continue well beyond the vaccine. If team building is truly about encouraging a person’s best work, they have to be able to bring their entire self to work. We can no longer pretend that work has nothing to do with employee mental health.

There are a few ways managers can prioritize their employee’s mental health:

1. Include mental health in your team values.

This may feel ambiguous at first, but including mental health in your company values sets the tone for employee wellness. Of course, this decision only works if this value is lived: as a manager you must put mental health first and use this standard to make the right choices for employees.

One good example is Buffer. They’ve been prioritizing their employee’s experience during lockdown by trialing a four-day workweek. After six months, happiness and stress improved without a dip in productivity. Buffer prioritized mental health and used this value to guide a major shift in processes.

2. Understand how teammates are doing outside of work.

Remote work has an all-too-common pitfall: when you don’t see coworkers in person every day, it’s easy to assume everything is okay.

As Brené Brown often says, the story we tell ourselves often leads to trouble. Coworkers may spiral into arguments because a curt message is taken as an annoyance rather than tiredness from the sender. A teammate may avoid asking for help because everyone else seems too busy.

It’s crucial to lean into vulnerability and normalize non-work conversations at work. Whether a teammate is struggling with homeschooling their child or a loved one is sick, managers should know what’s going on so they can support them holistically.

3. Mandate breaks and flexibility.

Flexibility is one of the biggest benefits of remote work. Without an in-person office, teammates can work in the comfort of their own space and at a pace that works for them. This flexibility allows for errands, family time, and self-care.

Unfortunately, many managers aren’t allowing for any flexibility. A report by OnePoll shares that 67% of COVID-era remote workers feeling pressured to be available at all hours of the day and 63% agreeing that time off is generally discouraged by their employer. This occurs at the expense of their team. We’ve written about why unlimited PTO doesn’t work, but there’s still a massive need to encourage meaningful breaks.

Here are a few strategies for encouraging rest:

  • Emphasize no working during off-hours.
  • Share when you’re taking breaks and taking time off.
  • Enforce team off-days, three-day weekends, and minimum PTO.
  • Encourage a brief moment to unplug from socializing, tech, and family if possible.

4. Create support systems by investing in fun and team morale.

We spent the last chapter talking about the importance of team building and fun. We won’t rehash the points here.

However, we can’t talk about fighting isolation without acknowledging how isolation affects mental health. The increased confinement of the pandemic and remote work can exacerbate depressive symptoms. Given that isolation is one of the biggest problems remote workers face, mental health problems are likely to follow.

5. Normalize mental health resources and encourage hard conversations.

Some mental health issues require professional help. Companies need to offer resources to help coworkers struggling with anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma around mental health issues. In a study of over 1,000 remote employees by Stoneside, only 39% said their employer offered mental health resources during the pandemic. 

At the end of the day, teams can only encourage access and healthy practices when they’re willing to have difficult conversations around depression, anxiety, and burnout. This requires immense courage and trust. Part of being a fantastic manager is making this environment part of their key responsibilities. 

Next Chapter – Iterate: Using Company Values to Guide Team Building

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