Compassion from a Distance: Five Keys to Coping with Grief in the Virtual Workplace

By: VGFS
Friday, January 21, 2022

Even if they’re thousands of miles away, work colleagues are often our closest friends and confidants. In any environment, losing a coworker can be devastating.

Remote teams will likely experience the sudden loss of a colleague in much the same way they would if they were in the same location.

In this article, we will explore some specific ways to help remote employees who are experiencing grief and loss.  

Remember that people respond to loss in different ways.

In her 1969 book On Death and Dying, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlined five stages of grief: denial; anger; bargaining depression; and, eventually, acceptance. These stages are rarely linear and not everyone moves through them the same way or in the same time frame. For some people, the sense of loss ebbs and flows over time. But this model can be a useful reminder of the thought processes that people go through when they're dealing with grief. When people are widely dispersed and working remotely, isolation can amplify the sense of loss.

Communicate and provide reassurance.

If you are in a leadership role, your team will look to you for support and guidance. Expect that they will want to discuss the situation. In an office setting, this may mean that people gather in groups during breaks, around the water cooler, or after work to talk about the loss. Making it clear that you are available to talk can be a helpful part of this process.

Be compassionate.

People need to know that it’s perfectly acceptable to grieve and that you're there to help them through it. If a team member passes away, for example, you might allow colleagues to use bereavement leave even if it’s usually reserved for immediate family. Or you may allow people time off to attend the funeral. It's also important to recognize that work can provide a welcome sense of stability and continuity when things are otherwise in flux. Strive to achieve a balance between giving team members the time off they need to grieve and recognizing that they may also want to return to the busyness and familiarity that work provides.

Recognize that loss can temporarily change behavior.

People may behave out of character as they work through their sorrow and bereavement. They may be more emotional, less interactive, or harder to motivate, for example. It is important to be supportive and non-judgmental and to allow time and space for people to grieve. If the behaviors become unacceptable or performance falters for an extended time, it may call for a stronger intervention.

Make use of the resources at your disposal.

Simply picking up the phone and having a check-in conversation can make a huge difference to some people. Reassure remote colleagues that, while you can't be there to physically support them, you are still emotionally present. A team conference call or video chat can be effective, too. It can help colleagues to feel less isolated and provide them with a forum to share their feelings. This also fosters a sense of community and mutual support. Encourage coworkers to support one another, too, especially those who were closest to the person who passed on. Make a point of asking HR to reach out and offer their support to your remote team members, as well. They can provide details about helpful services that may be available such as confidential grief counseling, support groups, or an employee assistance program (EAP).

Coping with loss is never easy but it can be especially challenging when people work remotely. If you need more information or access to appropriate resources, our caring professionals are always here to assist you. Please contact us anytime. 

About Vaughn Greene Funeral Services: For more than 20 years, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services has been providing a ministry of care to Baltimore’s African American community. As a leading local, minority- and family-owned provider, we promise to provide our highest level of service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved ones. For more information, please call us at 410.655.0015 or visit us online at https://vaughncgreene.com/.

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