The Mental Health Oxygen Mask Principle Every Remote Manager Needs to Know

by | May 8, 2020

How many times have you said to yourself, “this can’t be happening?” If you have felt disbelief in any way or that the past two months have felt like a parallel universe, it is understandable. COVID-19 has generally forced everyone to change not only how they work and collaborate, but also how they live. 

You probably didn’t foresee having to go tackle your task, meet goals, and lead a team remotely. On top of this, you’re also probably attempting to manage your employees’ mental health to make sure they’re continuously motivated to get work done and deliver results as before.

Understandably, you’ve had to make adjustments in collaborating with your team here and there, but there’s a silver lining in this – you’re not alone. I, the author of this article, is experiencing it, too—as well as countless others across the world.  

So, what’s the number one principle that we all need to keep in mind as we alter our team collaboration strategies to adapt to remote working while prioritizing mental health, too? 

Let me remind you of the oxygen mask analogy.

The Oxygen Mask Analogy 

How many times have you read an article that says the secret to remote work manager success is about using the right remote work tools? Probably too many times to count. And while the right WFH tool stack is helpful, it cannot prepare you for the mental health challenges that go along with dealing with the aftermath of the transition to remote work. 

Even though this change is inevitable, it can still be a shock to the system. Consequently, you can sometimes feel like you are losing control. 

For example, after reaching the end of my first week, working remotely, I felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me. 

There were no more desk visits, and lunch was no longer just from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM. I had total control, but with that new sense of freedom came dread. Everything was on me now. I couldn’t go to a colleague’s office to seek advice face-to-face, or take a quick five minutes to talk about the football game that evening. The human-to-human interaction wasn’t there, and it sent a massive shock to my nervous system. 

I had a bit of an idea of what I was getting into, but my workplace mental health and well-being were still negatively impacted. 

So, I had to make a change. This is where the oxygen mask analogy came into play. Whenever you are sitting on the plane, the flight attendants take you through routine communications. They remind you to always “put on your mask first so that you can help others in the event of an emergency.” This same logic applies to your mental health.

We are taught to put the good of others before ourselves. However, in this situation, doing that can potentially do you more harm than good. 

Understanding that analogy is what helped me, and many others, finally address the importance of making mental health a priority to foster better collaboration strategies with your team. 

How to Apply The Oxygen Mask Principle to Foster Better Collaboration Strategies 

These are not only to offer simple workplace mental health tips. Instead, these tips are also meant to inspire you to make the most out of you and your team’s workday by making your mental health your first priority.

Realize That It’s Okay To Be “Not Okay”

Superman had Kryptonite, and Daredevil had noise pollution. Everyone has their breaking point, and that’s okay. That’s what makes us all human. You risk failing when you don’t acknowledge that the situation you are in is unsettling. So, it’s okay to say that something sucks and doesn’t feel right. Fortunately, it is easier to get through the problem once you acknowledge it. Having to handle the daunting task of managing your team remotely isn’t easy, so don’t pretend like it is. If it’s about a task at work, talk to your team about it. Two (or more heads!) are always better than one. The key to good collaboration is always communicating about the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Breaks are Essential 

I had to learn this one the hard way. When I first began working remotely, I foolishly didn’t put in anytime for breaks. I was working seven days a week and scheduled one project after another. It is unbelievable to think I could work this way. Working remotely, in general, exposes you to higher levels of burnout. It’s easy for you to jump on that laptop to get started and immerse yourself with work for hours on end. But for the sake of your mental health, don’t do that. Take a breather. Initiate small talks with your team through chat – pick a “happy hour” once or twice a week to talk about movies, sports, hobbies – anything but work. It’ll work wonders for you and your team. 

Give Yourself Room to Mess Up 

If you are a Type-A person, this is going to be hard for you (spoiler alert, it’s still hard for me after all these years). However, the pressure to “get it all right” can make you feel like you are reaching your breaking point. Give yourself the freedom to make mistakes, and extend the same consideration to your employees and team members. All of you are trying to navigate this new world, so cut yourselves some slack (literally). If Susan didn’t put an instant message in the right chatroom, or Derrick forgot to download the latest update to that new WFH tool your team is trying out, the world isn’t going to end. Remember what is essential, and let go of what isn’t. 

Talk To A Professional 

There is no shame in talking with a professional therapist. These individuals are trained to help you develop strategies to handle stress better and manage the ups and downs that come with leading others. They’ve likely heard it all, so don’t feel embarrassed about the way you feel. Be honest, and open enough to try out their suggestions. They are not there to judge, only to help. 

Socialize with Others 

You are not the only person who feels they don’t have a clue. Many other remote managers are going through the same thing. There is always strength in numbers, so see if anyone in your network is also managing a remote team and try to connect with them. Discussing your triumphs and challenges with others can improve your mental state. Having someone to vent about Susan’s chatroom errors or Derrick’s lack of tech know-know will give you a welcome outlet. Trust us! 

Model Self-Care 

Self care model for employees

When your teammates are motivated, satisfied, and rested – it will make them better team members and more productive in the long-run. And, since you are leading the ship, it helps if you show them how to truly practice self-care. Modeling self-care and healthy work habits will, in turn, help them understand how to support themselves and the company while also making it easier for you to manage them. 

Your Workplace Mental Health Should Be Priority Number One 

Yes, you can function without having sound self-care practices, but not for long. Burnout, stress, and frustration will not give you the tools needed to be a successful and healthy remote manager. 

Remote work tools are helpful in making the transition to collaborating without face-to-face interaction, as well as communication with and managing a team from home. But it doesn’t beat the mental health strategies you need to ride this new wave. 

So, seek help when you need it, be honest about what you need, and understand that nothing should come above taking care of your mental health and wellbeing, especially when it comes to managing teams remotely

Conclusion

The mental health of employees is a crucial factor for good collaboration and better productivity. Working remotely is causing mental health issues and needs to be dealt with by using better work from home tools and strategies to keep the team spirit positive. 

Flujo is here to help you assist with the communication and collaboration of your teams and to make remote working easy. Schedule a free demo session with us to know how we can make remote working more productive for your teams.

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