The COVID-19 outbreak has caused significant changes for workplaces that are likely to have disrupted the way you and your organisation works.

For many people this means that they are working from home and, while that offers significant benefits such as safety and a continued income, it can present challenges in maintaining our mental wellbeing.

As the old saying goes ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’, so what can you and your organisation do to minimise the mental health impact on staff?

Stay connected

With so much talk of ‘social distancing’ coming from official government sources it is important to remember that this really means physical distancing – and that it is more important than usual to stay socially connected.

The loss of the usual office interaction can be confronting so ensure that you connect with colleagues regularly, preferably using video technology such as Zoom. This shouldn’t be restricted to ‘business meetings’: remember the importance of social interaction in the workplace or the ‘water cooler’ chat as some like to call it.

If you’re a sole trader, consider how this advice could be adapted to ensure you connect with regular clients, industry peers or friends and family.

The Alliance for Suicide Prevention team meets three mornings per week for ‘virtual coffee catch-ups’ where the primary purpose is to connect socially with colleagues.

We’ve also created a new section on our online team collaboration site where we can connect socially through discussion forums and activities we can each do at home, such as trying new recipes and collating a shared Spotify playlist.

We can still huddle virtually – get creative!

Stick to a routine

Keeping to a routine is vital for mental health and wellbeing. Some suggestions that might be helpful for staff members are:

  1. Maintain regular hours (create boundaries between ‘work time’ and ‘home time’)
  2. Keep to a routine, especially in the morning (get out of the pyjamas!)
  3. Schedule breaks in which you move away from the computer (get out of the house for some sunshine or a walk)
  4. Limit your social media and news coverage to just once per day
  5. Schedule time for stretching and exercise
  6. Schedule time to pursue relaxation and things you can still enjoy

To help each other stick to healthy routines, the Alliance team has joined a step challenge, scheduled our ‘virtual coffee catch-ups’ for first thing in the morning and shared resources on our collaboration site such as recorded mindfulness meditations, video workouts and tips for getting quality sleep.

Remember that working from home has its benefits too – as always try to focus on the positives in any scenario.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Andrew Watkins is a Mental Health Nurse Practitioner with USC’s Sunshine Coast Mind and Neuroscience – Thompson Institute. He has more than 20 years of clinical experience and has published more than 30 research papers and book chapters.