How to manage mental health remotely

How to manage mental health remotely

Many of the managers we’ve trained over the last 18 months have raised how much of a challenge they’re finding managing mental health within a remote environment.

Even managers who have moved into a hybrid working model are still finding managing mental health a real challenge, especially those that manage global or national teams.

The key themes managers and leaders say they are struggling with include;

  • If I’m not in the same room as somebody, how do I have a conversation about mental health?
  • People no longer leave their cameras on!
  • I can’t tell is someone might now be OK if I can’t see their whole body and read their body language
  • We have lost the ‘water cooler’ conversations!
  • My team seem to be OK, should I ask them how they are?

Do I need to be in the same room to talk about mental health?

First things first, when you’re not in the same room as someone else there is always going to be a different dynamic. Partly due to the fact there are things that we can do in a meeting room, which we just can’t do online.

You can give some a hug (although technically we’re not really supposed to hug!) or, you can put your hand on somebody’s arm. We can engage in more physical contact that lets the person that we’re speaking to feel more supported.

However, we have to face the fact that for a lot of organisations, we are going to be working remotely for the foreseeable future. Therefore we need to adapt and start to learn new ways of creating a greater sense of connection with people online.

A lot of managers have also shared how, at the beginning of the global pandemic, more people were engaged with online meetings. People had their cameras on, they were visible and they were present.

However, fast forward 18 months and it’s a very different picture with the vast majority of people bouncing from meeting to meeting with no camera interaction, therefore managers are struggling to gauge the temperature in the ‘room’.

The question then becomes “if people don’t have their cameras on, how do I really get a good temperature check? How do I get a good sense of peoples state of mind, how do I read someone?”

When it comes to experiencing a real connection with someone, it’s a myth that you have to be face to face with that person.

Yes, you can see what they’re doing with their hands, their feet and their legs. However, you don’t have to be in the same room as somebody to experience a really profound connection.

This is one of the big things that we teach on our management mental health training program.

Having coached people online around the world for 10 years I know that I can create a very powerful connection with somebody, even when I am speaking to them on the other side of the world. This is because when we’re in real connection with somebody, we don’t need to see to traditional body language signals.

When you’re in real connection with somebody, you are speaking a language with them that goes far beyond body language – and far beyond words.

How to create connection

A BIG part of creating connection with someone comes down to listening.

As many managers recognise on our training, they are way too quick to jump in and start trying to diagnose or give advice or share their own personal experiences, instead of actually listening to that person.

The truth is in this incessantly busy and distracted world, people are crying out to be listened to.

As we share with managers on our programmes, if you can improve your listening skills by 1%, you will improve your impact by a thousand percent.

Many (actually most!) of the managers that go through our programmes start by thinking that they’re really good listeners, until they do our exercises and then realise they aren’t!

There’s such power that comes from really listening to somebody and holding that space for them. And when you do, you experience that connection – both ways.

Engaging people to put their cameras on

At the beginning of the pandemic more people did opt for turning their camera on, and this may have been because people needed to feel a greater sense of belonging.

Fast forward to where we are now and with people going from online meeting to online meeting, many are opting out of cameras.

Whilst we can’t force people to turn them on, we would invite you as a leader to ask the team;

“how can we make our meetings more human?”

As you engage with your team to provide their input, you can look to create a shared agreement. It’s also important for colleagues to be able to see one another too so that they can gain a greater awareness of how one another is.

Don’t assume your people are ok!

We hear a lot of managers say “my team seem to be okay!”

As a manager you don’t have to have somebody falling apart in front of you for them to not be okay!

The fact is that people are often experiencing any number of emotional and mental wobbles, about any number of things underneath the surface. However people get good at hiding it!

Often people are hiding how they feel because of fear. A fear of stigmas around mental health. A fear of being seen to be incapable, of being weak, of being treated differently, of being judged – the list is endless.

And that is often one of the reasons that people have their cameras off – because they are trying to hide.

As a leader ask yourself – what can you do to connect with your team on a one to one level in the most human and personal way that you can?

Many mangers openly admit too jumping straight into work in their one to ones instead of having built time in for a more informal conversation, like the old ‘water cooler’ chats and to check in with their team. What can start as a wobble can quickly slide into a mental health issue so it’s vital you are proactive and consistent when checking in with your team.

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.

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