Data & Resources

Published on Jun 11, 2020

Closing the distance

Contact: Brian Daskam

Experts agree that an organization’s leaders play a significant role in creating a healthy workplace. That role is further amplified during a time of crisis and uncertainty, especially when many people are working remotely and may feel isolated. Leaders can support employee well-being through their actions, their words, and the conditions they create to help employees thrive.

Maintain trust

Having the trust of employees is essential to ensure that operations run smoothly and that communication flows between team members and leadership. Trust helps employees feel safe and better able to manage anxiety.

To cultivate trust, be honest about what is happening and how leadership is responding. When you need to change direction on a previous decision, admit that it wasn’t the solution you had hoped for. Share next steps and the plan for moving forward.

It’s also important to involve employees in achieving goals and brainstorming new ideas. When people feel heard, they feel valued. Listen with an open mind, even if you don’t ultimately choose to follow their suggestion.

On a practical level, help teams establish priorities and set benchmarks for the week, rather than assigning daily tasks. Allow flexible schedules to accommodate work-life balance, acknowledging that personal and family obligations may creep into the traditional workday during these unusual times.

Production will not happen without people. When you focus on valuing people, you will see increased productivity, positive morale, and better teamwork. When people feel valued, they work with more integrity and more passion.

Communicate clearly

In an office, norms are reinforced through organizational culture and peer pressure. Those cues do not exist when you’re working remotely, so it’s important for managers to clearly express their expectations for things like meeting deadlines, team interaction, managing conflict, electronic etiquette, and rules for communicating.

Overcommunicate to avoid misunderstandings. Without daily personal interaction, it can be difficult for managers to establish a rapport with employees. Reach out to employees often and talk with them one-on-one or in a group as much as possible. Encourage them to do the same with their coworkers. Email and online chat are great tools, but verbal and visual clues to meaning are much more apparent in conversation and videoconferencing than in written communication.

Employees are likely being bombarded with information from multiple sources, which they may need help sifting through. Maintaining clear and focused communication will not only help them prioritize, but also let them know that their employer cares for their well-being.

Cultivate connections

The challenge with social distancing is that we are social creatures who need to be socially connected now more than ever before. Maintaining team rapport can be a challenge when many are working from home: blame it on the absence of an office water cooler.

Casual workday interactions can be vital to team building, problem-solving, and innovation, so arrange for virtual social chats and group teleconferencing. Be sure when gathering in these spaces that the atmosphere is casual enough to allow for the free flow of information, whether the chat is about hobbies, favorite TV shows to binge-watch, or the work at hand.

With live-streaming classes popping up online, now is a great time to resurrect or start a new hobby, from art classes to cooking to learning an instrument. Virtual sing-alongs and story times for kids provide interactive activities that can simulate live gatherings and ease the feeling of isolation for employees and families.

Another great approach to inspiring connection is to come together for the common good. Form teams to support community efforts to help those affected by the pandemic, whether it be raising money to support a local business, sewing face masks, donating blood, or helping the local food bank.

Offer support

Keep your intranet current with relevant resources and information for employees to access 24/7. Be responsive to their questions and be sure they have the resources they need to be productive while working remotely.

Provide the guidance and equipment needed for employees to create an ergonomically designed workspace at home. The dining room table may work as a desk in the short term, but fatigue and muscle strain may begin to set in after a while.

Many employees are juggling childcare, directing school activities, and working alongside a spouse at home, so make sure they know how to access the services of the Employee Assistance Program. Many people are not aware that the EAP provides more than counseling; EAPs can also help with financial and legal questions, and they are a great resource for many health, well-being, and family issues that may emerge when your employees are working from home.

Familiarize yourself with the telemedicine options available in your health plans, and make sure employees know how to access them. Many nonemergency health issues can be addressed through a virtual visit with a doctor.

Work with your wellness committee to create healthy activities. Make use of app-based programs and activity trackers that offer a shared experience or create wellness challenges that employees can do together (see “Wellspring,” at left, for some ideas). Be an active participant in these wellness activities, share what you are doing to stay healthy while working from home, and invite others to share their favorites as well.

The AWC Employee Benefit Trust is Washington’s premier local government benefit pool for cities, towns, and other local governments, providing quality, efficient, and cost-effective benefit and health-promotion programs with the highest level of service.


Remote workers need to care for their physical and mental health just as they did when they were in the office. Here are a few simple ideas for promoting employee wellness.

Ask employees to share their favorite wellness apps or videos.

Start a book or movie club. Meet by teleconference to discuss.

Have a healthy recipe exchange or stage a virtual cooking demonstration.

Use Wellness Wednesdays to distribute a healthy tip, a quote, or a recipe each week.

Invite those with similar interests to take a live-streamed class together.

  • Public safety & criminal justice
  • Community engagement
  • Cityvision
Copyright © 2018-2020 Association of Washington Cities