How business owners can support their teams in the transition to smart working

By Eugene Farrell, Mental Health Lead at AXA Health

Business news and opinion

21 July 2021

Due to the ongoing coronavirus situation, as a business owner your team members may still be working from home for the time being. Others may be starting to visit the workplace more, and others still may be blending the two. Whatever the new normal is looking like for your team, with less opportunities for social interaction and face to face support during this time, it’s vital to look after you and your team’s mental health as well as physical health.

So, during this period of flux, as smart working becomes the new norm for millions, how can you best support the mental health of your team?

Eugene Farrell, Mental Health Lead at AXA Health, shares his tips for supporting home or smart workers, and managing ongoing change:


Remote and smart working

First of all, what is ‘smart working’? It’s a new way of working flexibly, by responding to current trends, taking advantage of technology and enhancing the creativity and wellbeing of a team. It was on the rise before the pandemic but has now become the new normal for many businesses.

So how can you support your team’s mental health while they’re working flexibly, however that looks?

  • Keep in touch with your team and let them know that you care. Understandably, your team may be feeling worried and anxious about what the future may hold. You can help to ease these feelings of uncertainty by staying in touch and letting them know that you’re there should they need support.
  • Encourage team collaboration. When working from home or in different locations, there can be a tendency for communication to drop off between team members as they’re no longer seeing each other in person every day. Encouraging your team to utilise technology such as video conferencing means that they’re still able to work collaboratively and maintain a level of social interaction.
  • Read the mood of your team and be aware of negative mood change. It’s completely normal for people to experience mood changes during periods of significant change. Tuning into the mood of your team and looking out for signs of negative mood change can help you to adapt your communication and provide the appropriate levels of support to the employees that may need it.
  • Listen out for distress and struggle in things people say and in their tone. Some members of your team may feel comfortable openly talking about their feelings. Others may tend to keep their emotions bottled up and try to deal with them themselves. Be alert and listen out for signs of distress.
  • Look out for behaviour changes. Is a team member replying to emails in the middle of the night? Or have you noticed on a conference call that an upbeat team member is unusually quiet, perhaps remote? This may indicate that they’re struggling and need some additional support.
  • Use your instincts. When you work with your team every day, you get to know them. So trust your instincts – if someone in your team doesn’t seem quite right, have an honest conversation with them to find out if there’s anything you can do to help.
  • Promote any support that is available. If you provide support services for your team, ensure they know how to access them should they need it and that they’re clearly signposted, so they know that help is available.


Helping your team manage change and stay healthy

There’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic will have an impact on the mental health of many of us for years to come. And despite much of the UK being well on its way out of lockdown, uncertainty and further change is ever present. Many of us have become accustomed to working from home, so may have anxiety over returning to an office environment. Others may feel stressed at the thought of returning to their long commute, whether that be by car or public transport. For some being in the constant presence of others and in close proximity may provoke anxiety. All in all, it’s safe to say many of us are suffering mentally and physically after over a year of Covid restrictions and uncertainty. So how can we ensure that we safeguard our mental health as the restrictions continue to ease? And how can business owners help support the long-term mental health of their teams?

  • Allow time to get accustomed to new things – Some people can cope with change better than others. Now that many of us have become used to working from home, it may come as a bit of a culture shock to some of your team once they’re asked to return to the office. You could therefore consider a phased approach, whereby team members are still able to work from home for a couple of days a week, for example.
  • Be patient – People will adjust to new things at different speeds. Allow some time and space for each person to get comfortable with things.
  • Be open to other changes – You may find that some of your team would prefer to maintain a more flexible working structure going forwards. While some people may be excited by the prospect of returning to the office with their colleagues, others may prefer the work life balance that comes with working from home. They may therefore request flexible working as the norm, whether that be different working hours, continued remote working, or a blend of working at home and in the workplace. Being open to these changes can help to make your team feel more comfortable about their future working arrangements.
  • Establish routines that give us a sense of normality - This may mean different things to different people. It could mean keeping your usual lunch break blocked out in your calendar and ensuring that you continue your daily walk during this time in order to get some fresh air and exercise. Or it could mean having the 11am tea and catchup with your colleagues, if restrictions allow.
  • Maintain those positive emotional connections with others – You’ve likely dedicated a lot of time and effort to ensuring that your team feel supported while you’ve been working remotely. Once you and your team do start returning to the office or workplace, it’s important to ensure that you maintain these positive and supportive relationships going forwards. Your team may need even more support now that they are adapting to working in the office again, so ensuring that you have regular catch ups with them can help to make the transition more comfortable.
  • Show wellbeing leadership – When returning to the office, it can be easy to return to some old negative behaviours, such as skipping your lunch break and staying in the office until late. However, it’s important to maintain those healthy behaviours that we may have developed while working from home. Show leadership through good example. Whether that’s taking part in a yoga class after work, ensuring that you don’t check your emails in the evenings or weekends or eating healthier lunches.
  • Take time to reflect – This would be a good time to reflect upon what this experience has meant to you and what you can carry forward, and what you can leave behind.


You may be well accustomed to having remote or smart workers in your team, or it may be a brand new experience for you and your business. However, making sure that you’re staying in regular contact, prioritising mental health and maintaining a positive work life balance are steps that can all help to ease the pressure.

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