In the third part of ICAEW’s remote worker series mental health speaker Nick Elston explains what can be done to ensure people don’t feel disconnected in a home working environment.
Whilst some have thrived on the flexibility of remote working, many have not had the same experience. This is, of course, a huge subject but through my work with finance professionals over the past few months, I’ve found that during this latest lockdown even the most confident people are starting to have doubts creeping in.
The disconnection from ‘hands-on’ nurturing, the lack of ‘real-life’ human contact or sometimes simply not being told ‘well done’ – this all has a massive effect on how we view ourselves. People thrive on praise, support and recognition – those things can sometimes be put on the back burner when everyone is stuck in ‘survival mode’. Not to mention the overwhelming and disconnecting feeling of isolation and loneliness that a lot of people are experiencing right now. So, what can we do about it?
Don’t skip the emotional ‘stuff’ – try to replicate, as best you can, the ‘hands-on’ approach to looking after people, staff, clients, colleagues. Make them feel wanted, recognised and all the other things that could be missing while we are living in this virtual world. Make sure your contact with them meets their needs on every level, wherever possible. Loneliness and isolation will all be positively impacted by a more emotional engagement with them.
Focus on the positive, learn from the negative – If I deliver a workshop to one hundred people and get ninety-nine positive pieces of feedback and one negative, guess which one I focus on? There are important lessons to learn from criticism, of course, and most of the time it isn’t even criticism – it’s critique. But we can get overly sensitive to it, particularly at the moment. The one thing you disregard is the ninety-nine pieces of positive. Start to truly immerse yourself in your successes, champion your wins and recognise that you truly deserve to be where you are.
Communicate your context – as a speaker on the ‘lived experience’ of mental health, the first thing I tell an audience is that I am not a medical professional: I do not give advice, I am not a solution – all I want to achieve is to drive home inspiration and mental health engagement, and signpost help and guidance. You can do the same by highlighting and communicating who you are and what you do to colleagues, clients or suppliers: tell them clearly why you are there. This statement sets the boundaries of the relationship and creates an agreed space.
Stick to the facts, not the story – issues such as anxiety, stress or Imposter Syndrome can all stem not from the facts of the matter, but from the story we tell ourselves. For example, when I speak at schools a common comment from students is ‘when I text my friend and they don’t text back that makes me anxious and sad’. If you look at that example, the anxiety and sadness are generated not from the reality (that the friend hasn’t ‘yet’ responded) – it comes from the story they then told themself (they don’t love me anymore, they hate me, I’ve upset them, I’ve lost them). Think about what is making you anxious right now – is it factual, or a story?
As I have said many times before, we need to look after ourselves first and foremost – to be strong enough to help those around us. I firmly believe we need to set out on a mission to prove ourselves wrong – as I said, stick to the facts, not the story we tell ourselves – we can be our own worst enemy.
If you are affected by any of the issues discussed in this article, I strongly suggest you reach out for help. You may have options in-house, but there are external options if not – my website has a list of mental health organisations.
Part four of ICAEW Insights’ series on remote working discusses whether accountants need to be in the office.