We’ve all had to adapt to the world of remote work over the past few months. By now, we’ve hopefully sorted most of the practicalities – like how to communicate effectively, manage workloads, and keep on top of deadlines.
But one area where there’s still a lot of work to do is the mental health of our teams.
A recent survey discovered that 45% of people feel less mentally healthy since working from home due to the pandemic. And concerningly, only three-fifths say their employer has expressed genuine concern about their health during this time.
So what needs to change? How can we help our team members from a mental health perspective? How can we even understand when they’re struggling if we can’t speak to them face to face?
To help answer those questions (and more), our Director Vicki-Anne Craigen caught up with Frankie Fung, Studio Manager and Design & Content Production Manager at HanesBrands Australasia, as part of our new podcast, the Creative Studio Insider.
Frankie heads up the graphic design and photography teams, working closely with his two direct reports – a content producer and a graphic design lead – while also liaising with interstate and international teams.
As a company, Hanes was already set up to work from home, because being mobile and flexible is a core part of their culture. So Frankie is really well placed to discuss both the practicalities of remote work, and also the mental health side of things.
Here’s what he told us...
Adapting to Lockdown
Hanes is kind of fortunate because they’re not fully retail or fully wholesale, and also have an online division. That meant they were in a pretty good place to adapt to lockdown.
When their stores closed, online became a real focal point for the business. But they were also able to lean on their wholesale relationships with brands like Coles and Woolworths, who stocked Hanes products and were able to remain open through the pandemic.
Throughout this really uncertain time, Hanes was totally transparent on what was going on and what was required from employees.
“The business itself was very open, and communicated very clearly to us what needed to be done to get us through this period,” Frankie explains.
“That gave people a lot of confidence in the business. Feeling like the business is looking after us [made us think], ‘I want to do everything I can for the business and to support them and put in 110%.’”
Choosing the Right Tools
Because Hanes have multiple offices internationally, across different states, and even within Melbourne, they’ve always had to deal with the practicalities of working from different locations. “We have a lot of things that I've set up, and the programs and software we chose to use needed to give me that flexibility to work remotely anyway,” says Frankie.
They use Basecamp for project management and Streamtime for scheduling and resourcing. Frankie says about 80% of his job is shuffling work around so it’s delivered on time by people with the right skillset: “It's like playing Tetris.”
To help him stay on top of scheduling, Frankie also uses Notion for setting up to-do lists, building libraries of information, and sharing files.
From a communications perspective, they’ve always relied on Slack. But in recent months, they’ve found new ways to leverage its features to fit the needs of their creative team.
“For example, just giving feedback on design, we only discovered a few months ago that in Slack, you can actually draw on the screen as you're talking to the person. So that really fast-tracked a lot of the feedback that creative leads had to give to our designers,” Frankie explains.
“Instead of typing everything out, they can actually do a visual on-screen. That was a big, big, big help.”
Overcoming Remote Challenges
Because they already had the tools and equipment in place to work from home, the only practical challenge Frankie’s team faced was around internet connections – something that every creative studio will have experienced!
They have a lot of large files, which inevitably presents issues around downloading and uploading.
Fortunately, it didn’t take long to find a workaround: “After a couple of days, we got into a routine and we knew what we needed to do. Overnight, they had to download everything to make sure they have it ready to go first thing in the morning. Just little tricks like that, we've learned to adapt to it.”
Safeguarding Mental Health
Let’s be honest: whether or not we’ve experienced issues around mental health in the past, we’ve all struggled with working remotely to some extent.
“It's very strenuous on anyone. I definitely felt it myself, especially living on my own in an apartment and [unable to] visit friends,” says Frankie.
Of course, as a manager, you’re not just thinking about your own mental health, but also that of the people on your team. So how did Frankie do it?
Communication is absolutely key, he explains. It’s vital to increase touchpoints with your team, particularly at the beginning of lockdown when they were still adapting and getting settled in. “It was almost as if we had to overdo the chicken. I felt that you needed to go above and beyond just messaging on Slack or text message.”
In practice, that meant having phone calls or video chats every day – not just as a group, but also one-to-one. “That gives them that privacy, if they feel comfortable, they can actually vent.”
Another important element was to ensure that communications weren’t just business-related: “Not just checking in for work, but just to really ask, ‘How are you doing today? How are you feeling?’”
Learning to Switch Off
Pre-pandemic, remote and flexible working was often seen as a way to improve work-life balance.
But during coronavirus, a lot of us have found the opposite to be true. In fact, two-fifths of remote workers say they’re working longer hours than usual.
Frankie admits that’s something he’s struggled with: “Anyone that knows me knows how much of a workaholic I am. I definitely don't switch off at five, I often work till midnight.”
That left him feeling pretty burned out after the first couple of months working from home. He was regularly eating dinner in front of his computer because he felt that he needed to stay on top of things and prepare for the next day. But you can’t go on like that forever.
“I was really lucky that during that first period of lockdown, my brother actually had a little baby,” Frankie explains.
“So that kind of gave me an excuse once we came out of that lockdown to get away and actually go and spend time with my nephew and have dinner with him. So that was actually a big relief.”
Want to hear more from Frankie? Check out the full episode.