With winter coming and the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic hitting many regions across Canada, employee mental health is also taking a hit.

To help leaders support their team members who are struggling through the protracted crisis, IBM Canada Ltd. is providing education and training to help its managers recognize when an employee might be struggling.

“Our goal is to ensure [employees are] well equipped with the resources and services they need to support their mental well-being,” says Katherine Faichnie, the technology company’s director of human resources. “Now more than ever, it’s also important to equip managers with mental-health resources so they can spot the flags of mental health within their teams.

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“To equip them better, managers have been undergoing education and training which provides them with tools we hope will assist them in recognizing when an individual might be struggling with mental health.”

Eight months since abruptly shifting its white-collar employees to remote work, the Canadian arm of the global technology company has learned listening to workers is key as the crisis drags on.

“It’s important to really listen to what employees need and want,” says Faichnie. “Instead of guessing or assuming, we are focused on making fact-based decisions. We’re continuously checking in with our workforce through pulse surveys, Q&As and ask-me-anything sessions with our general manager.”

Read: How IBM is using flexibility to safeguard employees’ mental health

Earlier this year, IBM used feedback it gathered to make a pledge to promote work-life balance, with a particular focus on working parents and those who are caring for elderly relatives.

In order to help employees get through the looming winter, IBM’s HR team will continue to adopt a flexible attitude. “Flexibility is critical to the evolution of our culture,” says Faichnie. “To be truly innovative, we need to look at every opportunity with the ability to learn and listen with deep intent. Being innovative is not just around technology — it’s also around how we work, where we work and how we become resilient.”

And while IBM embraces flexibility and has had long allowed employees to work remotely when required, it currently has no plans to permanently shift away from offices, unlike other technology companies such as Facebook Inc., Shopify Inc. and Twitter Inc. But Faichnie knows, even when employees return to work together in person, things won’t quite be the same.

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“As we approach 2021, we are not really sure what the year will bring. This is not about the calendar. We are making decisions based on geography and based on many milestones that have to be hit — hospital caseloads, consecutive declines, building readiness, public transportation and many more. As COVID-19 remains an issue, it’s important to plan for a return to normal — though a different normal.”