9 Lessons Learned from Supporting Remote Workers Through COVID-19 Stress

While we all slow the spread of COVID-19, people around the world are plagued by fear and anxiety. Staying home helps us stay safe from a health perspective, but there are now other things to worry about…

  • Missing family and friends
  • Wondering about the state of the economy
  • Complete upheaval of our normal lives and schedules

Inuka coaches have been helping employees deal with stress and mental health challenges since 2018. Now, with global lockdowns in place, remote workers are at extreme risk of stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout.

We want everyone to continue to do their part and stay home, but we want them to remain in excellent mental health while they do!

In this post, we’re sharing everything we’ve learned from helping remote workers deal with the unique challenges of life during the coronavirus.

To learn how to offer on-demand mental health coaching to your team, view our site.

1. Problem Solving Coaching works in any situation

When we first started offering Problem Solving Coaching (PSC) to employees, we wondered how well it would apply. Our co-founders had previously only had experience using PSC for rural clients in Africa. Would it apply to first-world workers, whose struggles are so different, the same way?

We quickly discovered that yes, it does.

No matter what we’re facing, we’re all very similar. When we get overwhelmed, we need to get unblocked so we can move forward. And now, we see it even works within the context of Covid-19, as it helps people focus on what they CAN influence, no matter the context.

The InukaMethod™ is grounded in Problem Solving Coaching and works like this:

  1. Map out and discuss what is bothering the client in their private and/or work life and discover the top problem(s).
  2. For those main problem(s), help the client brainstorm solutions they can do to fix it.
  3. Together, choose the top solution(s) and turn that into an action plan that they need to fulfill before the next session.

This simple coaching structure is enormously effective. Regardless of the type of company, employee, or problem, this same structure works across the board to reduce stress and put people back in the driver’s seat of their lives. 

PST is used around the world, and our co-founder was the first to show its effectiveness for treating anxiety and depression (JAMA, 2017). Today, Inuka is the first to make this method available as a coaching service digitally via remote sessions. 

2. People respond better to their own solutions than to external advice

If someone tells you what to do, will you do it? Probably not! Your inner rebel comes out the minute you’re given advice. 

That’s partly why our coaches never give direct advice about what an employee should do to reduce their stress and risk of burnout.

But not only do people not respond well to advice, they’re also far more likely to take action if the solution was their idea. 

During Step 2 of our PST session structure (when we brainstorm solutions), we encourage clients to come up with the possible solutions themselves. If clients feel stuck, hopeless, or lost, we have a couple simple ways to spark their imagination.

We ask them:

  • What did you do to get out of this situation the last time it happened?
  • What would a friend tell you to do?

Even if they’re imaging their past selves or a friend giving them advice, they’re so much more likely to implement it if the solution comes out of their own mouths (not ours).

3. We’re all in the same boat of uncertainty

At any given time, none of us know what is going to happen next. Some people tend to ignore this fact. Some people dwell on it and allow themselves to fear the unknown with every step. We’re all different.

What’s unusual right now is that nearly everyone has come face to face with some level of uncertainty: not knowing when their kids can go back to school, not knowing if their employer can sustain payroll for everyone at the company. 

People around the world are dealing with the stress and anxiety of this situation. 

Sharing in this journey has helped us lean even deeper into PST and believe in the Inuka Method even more. 

4. Creating structure is enormously powerful

One of the most common issues we hear about during this time is a lack of structure. 

People are missing out on so many features of their normal lives:

  • Routine commute to work (especially missed if walking or cycling).
  • Weekly exercise classes.
  • Weekly social events.
  • Daily or weekly company meetings.
  • Team members at work going home, signaling the end of the day.
  • Reliance on child care and schooling.

Over and over again, the lack of structure is a recurring theme in our coaching sessions. It’s blurring work and personal life more than ever before. Some employees simply don’t know how to separate the two, and it’s causing enormous stress. 

From what we’ve seen working with clients, the best way out is to simply create lots of structure in your life. 

These are some ideas that clients have brainstormed and implemented:

  • Pretend to walk or cycle to work every day by riding a stationary bike or walking around the house.
  • Create an end-of-work ritual like putting laptop in a closed closet or eating a healthy snack.
  • Schedule regular exercise times, such as doing a workout video Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6pm.
  • Set a schedule for TV time for yourself and your family.
  • Set a schedule for screen time and schooling time for children.

If you’re also facing a lack of structure, ask yourself what simple new structures you can create. 

5. It is possible to release what you can’t control

From our mental health coaching, we’ve also learned that it is absolutely possible to let go of what you can’t control.

You don’t have to let stress and anxiety take over your life. There’s something you can do about it.

The Inuka Method includes an incredibly simple way to spark this change in clients. When we identify the biggest problem they are focusing on this week, we then ask what might have triggered or caused that problem.

When they describe the cause, we then ask them: “Do you have control over this particular thing?”

We don’t tell them what they do and don’t have control over. 

We ask them. 

It’s that sense of personal responsibility that makes all the difference. They identify for themselves whether or not they can control it. That naturally opens up their mind to accept that they can’t control it. If we simply told them, that could shut the mind down and trigger stubbornness around the issue. 

Once they realize for themselves that they don’t control something, they usually decide that there’s no point in worrying about it, and they let it go. 

The simplicity of that question is so powerful. 

 6. We’re more creative and resilient than we realize

A lot of people assume that if they’re not an artist, they’re not creative. But we all possess creativity when it comes to solving problems. Creativity is part of our survival instincts.

As we coach more and more remote workers through the coronavirus stress and isolation, we learn even more about human creativity.

People come up with really cool ideas to deal with all of this uncertainty. 

Clients brainstorm ways to combine cleaning with working out. They make fun schedules for themselves and their partners (like Monday YouTube, Tuesday at-home projects, and Wednesday drawing night). They find different ways to connect with family and friends, playing online games together and taking online classes together. 

During the toughest times, we can all lean on our innate creativity and resiliency. 

7. Helping others reminds us to help ourselves

Isn’t it true that the best way to learn is to teach? 

We’ve definitely noticed this phenomenon when coaching. By helping others implement the Inuka Method and PST, it reminds us to do the same for ourselves. We see that even the smallest step forward to make a change can snowball into major life improvements. 

By holding others accountable, we remember to hold ourselves accountable. We write down our action plans and double check the following week that we actually did them. 

Having these habits reinforced each week is incredibly valuable during this trying time. 

8. Starting with small steps can work wonders

Before the COVID-19 stress, people often would start with very small tasks when brainstorming solutions to their main problem. Even when big things are happening around the world, this still holds true.

In fact, people who are experiencing the highest levels of stress and anxiety are the most likely to think of tiny actions to help them move forward. The task they might come up with could be as small as making a to-do list for the week, doing the laundry, or committing to getting dressed in normal clothes every work day. 

When we first start working with someone, they usually start with small actions, and then these get bigger over time. Within three or four sessions, people are brainstorming big changes in their lives, such as breaking up with a partner or quitting a higher education program that no longer fits their goals. 

9. It’s important to make an action plan and be held accountable

We all need to talk things out sometimes. Having a trained professional to listen to problems, spark creative problem-solving in us, and help narrow down action steps is incredibly helpful. 

When that action plan gets written down, it has an immediate positive impact. Clients already feel more powerful in their lives. They feel a sense of commitment to the solution. 

What’s even better is the accountability we provide simply by following up during the next session. Did they do what they said they would? Did it have the desired outcome? If not, what should they try next?

Everyone needs accountability. Discover ways that you can offer this to your employees, so they can get unstuck faster. 

Ultimately, through coaching people during this time, we’ve learned that during times of uncertainty, the simplest actions have the biggest impact on mental health. 

Visit our homepage to learn more about how you can offer Inuka coaching to your employees. 

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