Our game plan for alleviating COVID-19’s mental toll

April 2020 | By Christine Hickey

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted nearly every aspect of our work environment. We’re working remotely, often in hastily-set-up home offices. We’re removed from the in-person collaboration at the heart of agency work. We have an entirely new group of work colleagues (and the kids and cats are only so much help). And the proximity of work and life easily creates an imbalance. 

 

Despite all of this, we continue to produce great work for our clients. That was never going to surprise me. I’m more concerned with the mental and psychological toll this could take on our team. It was what kept me up from the time we first started talking about extended WFH. A day or two, a week. No problem. But we’re not even halfway through a possible ending to this. As Arianna Huffington said at a virtual conference last week, “We need a new playbook to manage work at this time.”

 

I can’t tell you that we have the definitive playbook – after all, we’re all sailing uncharted waters – but we’ve tried from early on to implement some initiatives designed to support the wellbeing of our people.

 

On World Health Day 2020, as we think about the healthcare workers who are the true heroes right now, here are some things we are doing to try to support our people:

 

Daily Check-Ins 

At a time when we’re feeling most disconnected, it’s important to check in with teams at the beginning and end of days to ensure everyone is aligned on work.  But it’s also important for managers or human resource staff to have 1:1 time with each and every employee just to see how they are doing on a personal level.  

 

Happy Hour

Our agency used to gather regularly around the bar in our office.  It was a great spot to collaborate on work, as well as for beer and wine at the end of the day. Now we’ve scheduled a virtual Happy Hour once a week for the entire company. We wear funny hats, introduce special cocktails, test the latest Zoom backgrounds and even bring pets or kids along. Face time, even if virtual, is more important than ever, and this is a chance for people to connect in a casual environment

 

Frequent Communication from the top

This crisis has brought about a level of uncertainty and anxiety about the future.  So, our president has held regular, virtual company meetings, as well as sending weekly updates to keep employees informed on the state of the business and address any questions that employees may have.  It’s also a time to provide “shout outs” that allow our people to express gratitude to their colleagues. And, every Monday, the agency sends tips and suggestions on ways to be more productive working from home.

 

Establish Wellness Breaks

WFH has created many different working situations, especially for those working parents with kids at home. Many employees felt like they were working around the clock.  So, we established “Wellness time” between noon-1:30 everyday. We blocked off calendars and set the expectations that we don’t expect employees to be working during that time.  We want our employees to take a break, get fresh air, exercise, spend time with kids or just be.

 

Volunteer

There are a lot of people struggling, and there certainly will be many more. We’ve long thought volunteerism was important, which is why our agency offers each employee three volunteer days per year. During this time of isolation, some of our people have decided to use this time to volunteer and help those on the frontlines of COVID. It has been inspiring and sobering, at the same time, to hear their stories.

 

Minimizing distractions 

Most of the time, we treasure seeing the kids in the office. These, of course, are not most times. But they need stimulation, just like our people. So, we’ve planned a weekly virtual event for the kids….magicians, dances, games and other events to keep the little ones entertained while mom and dad work. 

 

That’s our gameplan today. But I know it’s not the game plan we’ll finish with. Because this environment will necessitate regular and constant monitoring, and inevitable change. And the health of our people demands it.

 

What steps are you taking?

 

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