Social distancing and remote working have become real buzzwords over the last few weeks and look set to be around for a while longer yet.

We have suddenly been dropped into a world where the people that we used to spend so much of our time with, our colleagues, friends and even family members can suddenly seem very far away. This is also a world however where they may need more support from us than ever.  

Over the last few years, vast amounts of work have been undertaken by several organisations to reduce stigma and discrimination around mental health and to give us the tools we need to start these supportive conversations. MHFA England launched a scheme called Take 10 Together to share some key ideas on how a simple 10-minute conversation can make all the difference to someone in distress and can guide them towards the right support for them at the right time.  

From a workplace perspective, many of these guides and tips are based on the idea of having these conversations face to face. So, what do we do when this face to face is not possible? How can we offer the same levels of compassion and support to our colleagues when we are working remotely or where these colleagues have been furloughed?

Prevention is better than cure

Try to get to know your remote workers as well as you can. If you think that they may be struggling or that their behaviours are starting to change, it is important to act sooner rather than later. The isolation that they feel as a result of remote working will likely aggravate these feelings of low mood and stress which may have been easy to rectify if identified early.

Face to face - or the next best thing

Video calls through a variety of different technology options are now fast becoming the norm. Ensure that you apply the same principles to a video call as you would if you were having this conversation face to face - set aside enough time, give the person your full focus and attempt to minimise any distractions. Think about your body language and appropriate eye contact. Non-verbal communications can be so important. Not only focus on what the individual is saying but also in the way that they are behaving. Being able to see someone’s facial expressions and posture can be just as insightful.

Next Steps

Just as you would in person it is important that you have the tools to hand to be able to signpost your colleague to additional support. Make sure you are aware of your organisation’s mental health policy if they have one and where to access this. Does the organisation offer an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) or Occupational Health Support? If so ensure that you have this information to hand.  

Discuss with your colleague and offer some self-help tips that they can implement from home. This is a great opportunity for you to discuss new ideas or possibly to recommend things that may have worked well for you or others. Remember though that we are all different and we are there to support and offer options. Just because a certain activity worked for you it may not be right for someone else.

And finally, ensure that you are also aware of your mental health. We want to offer support to our colleagues at this time, but this should never be done at a cost to your wellbeing. These conversations can be very difficult, so make sure that you also have your coping strategies in place.