The coronavirus crisis has hurt many companies and forced others to quickly adapt to working from home. Shifting to working completely from afar – without a central space operating as an office – is not only a technical challenge, but also a mental one. The transition from social gatherings to a routine of video calls and the impairment of a sense of “togetherness”, spending extended among of time at home with family members and the lack of separation between people’s private lives and work all take a mental and psychological toll, especially within companies that have had to (at least temporarily) let some employees go. This period can harm some employees’ morale, potentially also leading to difficulties in completing tasks and, ultimately, to a significant loss of work output. Employees, as you know, are every company’s most important asset. This is the time to invest in them, so that when the COVID-19 crisis is over, you will get them back in the office feeling reinforced and highly motivated.
1. Start out by taking time to understand your employees’ respective situations. This is not an easy task. When you don’t see them physically, it is very easy to miss signs of distress. At times like these, especially if some employees have been put on unpaid leave, there will be employees who prefer not to share their problems. So how can you make sure to get a real sense of how they’re doing? First off, you should try to talk to every employee on a weekly basis. If your company is big (hundreds and thousands of employees) and it’s not possible to speak with everyone, try doing this through the management avenue, establishing new procedures for regularly-scheduled calls. Ask employees how they are doing, get a sense if and where there may be difficulties and see how you can help. Another way to get a feel for signs of distress if the employee does not share by him or herself is by monitoring his or her professional performance in relation to previous periods. Pay attention to small hints, such as missed appointments or a surprising failure to perform tasks.
2. Your employees currently lack the sense of “togetherness” that characterizes office work. Working from home brings about feelings of dissipation, a lack of social cohesion, a lack of hallway conversations and a likely feeling of longing for friends and colleagues. In order to fill the gap sensitively, you can set up regular social activities, such as a happy hour on a Zoom call, online yoga classes, coffee breaks, story time with kids and more. You can also order pizzas to everyone’s homes on Thursdays and eat together before closing out the week, as you might normally do in the office.
Many companies have already begun implementing these practices in the field. For example, this month, Marvel Technology Group began hosting online fitness training and ergonomic counseling sessions for sitting in front of your home computer all day. OTORIO, on the other hand, has maintained its 2:00 p.m. coffee break tradition, in addition to continuing on with staff toasts, using a dedicated Spotify channel for company-wide music sharing, hosting a cooking competition, hosting a background competition and carrying out other social gatherings. Cyber company, Forcescout decided to continue the fitness classes they had held in the office through Zoom from home. Autodesk has virtual coffee breaks and personal video sessions as a replacement for hallway chats. Forter hosts weekly happy hours, during which a different volunteer teaches his or her colleagues about a different topic. Employee retention is often determined by the little details that keep talents engaged – make them count.
3. The coronavirus crisis does not have to stop the career. Everyone is working from home and the economy is at a low point, but that does not mean that workers need to freeze their professional development. This is your chance to turn employees into talents and build the talents you already have on board. Your company can continue giving them all the tools they need in order to advance in measurable training and learn new things. Completion-focused training can also be offered to employees who have been put on unpaid leave in order to help them remain professionally relevant and maintain some sort of sense of belonging. The day they return to the company, they will feel more committed to those who cared for them professionally. In general, talent relevancy should be your focus with every employee – optimising each talent’s skillset and making everyone’s path for inner-mobility clear will sharpen your employees’ work during this challenging period. Companies are responsible for dealing with the complex ramifications brought about by the COVID-19 crisis and this is the time to invest in reskill and upskill so that employees and the company return stronger on the day after the crisis. Ultimately, your company’s success will be measured by the ROI-driven training you manage to offer your talents during the COVID-19 crisis.
4. Conduct themed challenges and competitions between employees to encourage them to come out of their shell and share a bit about their lives with their friends. This can be done through home fitness competitions (using step-measuring apps), a short work from home video competition, photography competitions (“take a picture of your work station and the most beautiful one will win a prize”) or organizational development ideas for the coronavirus era. It is also a possibility to declare the winner by an employee vote, rather than a decision made by company management. “We’ve started a daily competition of taking pictures of our first cups of coffee in the morning, the beautiful slippers competition, the most invested home lunch and more,” people at Autodesk say.
5. Don’t stop pampering from afar. As long as your company can afford it right now, send workers treats straight to their homes to show them that you truly care about them in times like these. For example, you can send every employee his or her chair, computer screen and potted plant from the office to his or her house so that he or she feels comfortable. If your budget allows it, transfer money to your employees so that they can buy additional home office equipment, too. OTORIO, for example, has made sure to send all employees convenient equipment: a computer screen, chair, noise-cancelling headphones, etc. At Philips Israel, during the first week of the crisis, all company employees received an extravagant cake by direct home delivery for the weekend.
In addition, don’t forget about employees’ birthdays and anniversaries. Continue to celebrate these dates in the same way as you would have done before the crisis.
6. Have you organized volunteer days for employees in the past? Don’t stop doing it now. While it won’t be possible to volunteer with the regular aid organizations this Passover, any one of your employees can organize a volunteering activity at his or her residence, such as assisting the elderly with shopping at a supermarket, for example, should be encouraged to do so. “We have organized donation activities for medical teams with greetings from employees’ families,” Marvel Technology Group says.
7. Give employees psychological backing. Beyond the professional interactions, create a virtual space where employees can take out steam, joke around, consult about activities for children, send GIFS or videos and generally preserve social connections. This can be done through a Slack channel or a Whatsapp or Telegram group. Managers need to be a personal example, expressing how they feel and sharing their experiences.
OTORIO has decided on doing a “Silent Afternoon” – an hour in the afternoon with no meetings, allowing every employee to eat with his or her family, get some air or just clean his or her head quietly. At Philips Israel, an array of psychological support and counselors are offered for employees and their families to rely on. Autodesk offers employees a network of online psychological counseling, remote coaching for employees, as well as a special group for parents which helps deal with the challenge of working in a home environment while children run around. Forter has opened a special Slack channel for pet owners (with a 10-minute daily session where participants show and talk about their animals), and a Slack channel called #Situation_Update, where everyone uploads photos from home (workstation, kids, etc.).