Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work has been on the rise: In 2017, 43% of U.S. employees regularly worked remotely. But measures to bring the coronavirus under control may be the tipping point as we strive to keep businesses and the economy moving.

Making a virtual culture work during a global health crisis, though, won’t be easy as people struggle with the isolation and worry about their physical and financial health...and maybe how well they’re getting their jobs done. These are some of the challenges business and human resources leaders need to care about and nurture to get a virtual work culture right. Here are some tips:

Adjust for today as you prepare for tomorrow’s new normal

Providing social support is critical in these circumstances, and managers must act as coaches and cheerleaders as they work on the mechanisms to meet the need and make the virtual culture and organization work. Four phases will mark the advance toward recovery:

  1. People and safety first. Your immediate response to this sea change is to set up for making it work. Expand your flexible work arrangements and reorganize your teams. Evaluate and re-allocate resources for these circumstances. If you don’t have well-being programs, now’s the time to get them launched, along with safe working policies.
  2. Reshape people strategies. What does business as usual look like during the new normal? Reimagine that during this phase. Ideally, the strategies can be put in place with minimal disruption and maximum support from government programs.
  3. Prepare for recovery. Review your strategies, and ensure they are current and support your efforts to build resilience. Are you ready for the new normal?
  4. Embrace crisis management mode. Now, you must make best practices for managing remote employees work. Prioritized, updated to-do lists are imperatives and keep meetings short and focused. And don’t fail to clarify expectations for job roles and performance, giving constant feedback.

Communications will make the difference

Transparent and open communications, always delivered with a personal tone, will gain employee trust. Your coronavirus-related communications especially should be balanced and aligned with health authorities’ policies. It’s key to use the right format for the times. Video is widely preferred over text and short attention spans, especially during a crisis, make the case for simplifying complex messages by using bullets.

You can’t communicate too much in a crisis. Encourage as much “face-to-face” as possible through video calls and regular phone check-ins. Numerous popular apps are available, usually free and with multiple layers of functionality. These include Go to Meeting, Google Hangouts or Zoom for connecting face-to-face via video to Slack, Snapchat or Fuze to coach or brainstorm. However, you risk overwhelming people if you overuse these tools.

Reimagine what well-being looks like

As we move forward, well-being initiatives will need to shift to reflect what’s important in the new normal – our social connections, security and mental well-being have never been more important. Self-care becomes the theme for the times, and a total well-being program offers a choice of four paths:

  1. Mental/emotional well-being: More than any other path, this one requires your leadership to destigmatize these support services and help employees build resilience and psychological flexibility. One-on-one support is beneficial, typically gained through employee assistance plans, behavioral health providers, health coaches and telehealth services. Also look to web resources like The Unlonely Project: Stuck at Home (together).
  2. Physical well-being: Personal goal setting should be encouraged, but it’s not necessarily the time for a weight loss challenge. Instead, offer resources like wellness coaches and access to online workout programs, and look to buddy systems for external accountability.
  3. Social/community well-being: Help employees stay connected by encouraging virtual team meetings and one-to-one connections. Many may struggle to show gratitude these days, but will do much better with the help of a gratitude practice.
  4. Financial well-being: Short-term assists should be a priority. Look at emergency spending accounts, payroll loan programs and lifestyle spending accounts. IRS 139 guidelines should inform whether disaster relief payments are in order. Also consider web-based tools to help employees better manage their finances.

Get the latest information, guidance and resources on Coronavirus (COVID-19) to help you protect what matters most on our Coronavirus Resource Center.