Author: Shima Sabbagh

As we face the COVID-19 crisis, many of us have found ourselves doing our jobs remotely and encountering the numerous mental health challenges associated with working from home.

The loneliness of working and living in isolation, combined with being bombarded with distressing news, concern over the health of ourselves and loved ones and worrying about possible redundancy, can lead to anxiety and depression. There are ways to overcome the health challenges of remote working, however, and it is so important right now to watch out for signs of mental health suffering and ensure that you are properly managing your own, as well as your employee’s, wellbeing.

Here’s how I’m staying motivated, productive and healthy while working from home, as well as some examples of how CGI is maintaining employee wellbeing during this unsettling time.

Establish a new routine to suit your new working conditions

Working from home requires a distinct amount of discipline and there is not one defined routine for all.

Creating a new routine that’s appropriate for your personal circumstances and integrates your home and work life, is a good place to begin. Make sure that it’s actually conducive to productivity too - it sounds nice to lie down on the sofa and work in front of Netflix, but in reality, you won’t get much work done that way. I decided to set up a dedicated ‘home office’ space to work from and it’s been helpful to create a bit of a clear boundary between work and home.

Another tip is to determine when you do your best work and set a regular schedule that incorporates working through that particular time. I have found that once I got into a rhythm and routine, I was more motivated to accomplish my goals.

It’s also vital to schedule in some fresh air, natural light and exercise. Physical health can really impact mental health, so make sure you keep moving to release those ‘feel good’ endorphins’. Consider finding some physical activities online that you could do in a virtual ‘group’ - this has definitely made exercising more enjoyable for me. I like to set up a time with family members in the evenings to do a video call and we exercise together with a YouTube workout. It’s a lot more fun that way!

Furthermore, I’d highly recommend taking the opportunity to get more involved with an activity you’ve never had time for before. For me, gardening has been a fun, relaxing hobby to enjoy and I haven’t let living in an apartment stop me.  I’ve started to plant broad beans, capsicum and tomato seeds from veggies I had in my fridge and I was surprised to them start to grow! This inspired me to go out to Bunnings to buy more seeds and add more pots with mint, basil and cherry belle.

Managers need to lead the way in staying connected and staying social

A lack of face-to-face supervision and interaction are common challenges in these circumstances. Managers may worry that certain responsibilities cannot be handled remotely, while some employees may feel that managers are not in touch enough and feel unsupported.

But remember - there are many relatively quick, inexpensive tools and simple processes that can be used to ease the transition. The first thing I did was establish structured daily check-ins with my team. It’s also important for managers to develop “rules of engagement” which set expectations as to the frequency and timing of communication. For example, in my team at CGI, we have decided that we will use teleconferencing for daily check-in meetings and will arrange meetings later in the day, but will use IM when something is urgent.

It is also great to encourage continuous social bonding between employees and to facilitate social interaction. By dedicating some time at the beginning of team calls to a catch up with each other on a more personal level, my colleagues and I are able to discuss our experiences during these ‘interesting’ times and that’s a bit of a release for us. Having a virtual lunch together is another way of allowing everyone to chat informally about things other than work. These types of social ‘gathering’ help to reduce feelings of isolation and promote a sense of belonging.

How CGI is staying connected and maintaining employee wellbeing

CGI is doing a great job with coping with all of the challenges presented by the current situation. There are weekly mindfulness sessions that help us learn skills and practices, which benefit our mental health. These are held virtually and recorded, so all members in the UK and Australia can watch the video whenever suits them.

All CGI employees have access to the CGI Health and Wellness Program, Oxygen, which shares tips for dealing with all we are going through, The Oxygen mobile app makes it easy to access information remotely.

The Member Assistance Program is another helpful option that’s available. It includes a 24/7 helpline for employees and their families to seek free confidential consultations whenever needed.

CGI’s ‘STEM from Home’ is a programme which aims to train and mentor young people for STEM careers. The programme includes weekly STEM-based activity packs for children of all ages that can be completed from home. It is now available publicly, so everyone can get involved, share pictures and help to continue to inspire the next generation of #STEM. It’s a fantastic resource for those who are working from home and looking to keep their little ones occupied.

Finally, one of the great things I’ve always appreciated about CGI culture is its support of employees and being valued by the managers. The President of SBU UK and Australia recently sent employees with a personal note, along with a box of sunflower seeds, which meant a lot to me. It really showed me the support that we have from the company we work for.