Tim Sellers is a partner of inferno, a full-service advertising, public relations, design and digital marketing firm located in Memphis, TN.
The Covid-19 global pandemic, which has left many of us working at home for well over a year, has intensified the impact of work on our personal lives. While the work-from-home environment has provided many employees with the opportunity to prove their efficiency, it hasn’t been the easiest transition for some.
Under remote work conditions, opportunities to build and maintain positive and supportive relationships with coworkers have dwindled. The boundary between work and life has been conflated, leaving many employees feeling like they can’t escape work because of pandemic-limited opportunities for socialization. And we can’t forget to mention that we’ve all been touched by the uncertainty and worry the pandemic has brought upon ourselves and our loved ones.
All of these factors have contributed to widespread burnout, leaving many employees struggling. While this isn’t a surprising development given the hardships of the last year, our agency didn’t realize just how prevalent many of these challenges were among our own team members.
Our agency recently conducted an anonymous wellness assessment that asked employees to share their experiences regarding working from home. This resulted in responses that exposed vulnerabilities and helped us see how our employees were truly weathering working through this pandemic.
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While the survey revealed some positive feelings around the newfound flexibility and productivity our remote work situation has allowed, we also discovered many people were struggling with a variety of issues, including:
• Blurring of time/days
• Inability to disconnect from work
• Feeling overlooked and forgotten
• Lack of sleep
Finding Solutions For New Challenges
After reviewing the responses, we knew we needed to shift our approach to the day-to-day rhythms of working from home.
When surveyed, our employees said they would relish opportunities for more:
• Zoom hangouts
• Happy hours
• Outdoor activities
• Mental health resources
• Professional development workshops
• More frequent check-ins
• Resources to fight burnout
• Reinforcement of agency processes
• One-to-one chats
• Frequent updates on agency performance
Defining Action Areas
To respond to some of the concerns our own team has faced over the last year, it was evident that well-defined action areas needed to be implemented. One area was the restoration of regularly scheduled social initiatives. Social events and non-project-related interaction among the team has always been a part of our culture. And as many other companies have found, social events help employees feel connected to one another. Our events team pushed forward with a renewed focus on concepting and scheduling opportunities for our team to gather (virtually) and enjoy spending time together.
Aside from reinforcing our company culture, we established a few other action areas to address some additional points of concern expressed by our employees:
• Exploration of additional collaboration tools to create a stronger sense of being a part of the group, better facilitating collaboration and accessibility to everyone in the agency.
• Pursuit of professional development opportunities to make sure no one feels compromised in terms of their development. To do this, we established a small team to deliberately monitor professional/industry resources and share/promote those to the team.
• Frequent and ongoing updates on agency performance. Semi-annual agency updates have always served as an opportunity to share financials, trends, client updates, etc. But the uncertainty many on our team felt over the last year made it apparent these updates needed to be more frequent.
• Defined and well-communicated plans for a safe and flexible return to the office. Ultimately, the decision to return to the office and our approach to doing so will reflect what we consider appropriate to support our clients.
Prioritizing Employee Well-Being Now and Later
Now that the Covid-19 vaccine is being widely distributed across the country, it’s likely we’ll start to see a shift in more companies bringing their employees back to the office. It’s important to note this shift will bring its own set of concerns and challenges, as we’ve become accustomed to working in our homes since March of 2020.
This makes the prioritization of employee wellness all the more important. As we start to imagine what our own return-to-office approach will look like, our plan will likely emphasize office utilization as a team and client collaboration space. Remote work and flexible schedules will certainly be a part of that plan.
The reality is that businesses across the world have enjoyed the flexibility afforded over the last year, but at the same time, they miss the direct interaction with each other and true in-person collaboration. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to bringing your team back together, but self-evaluation and taking an honest look at the current state of your employees’ well-being can serve you well as you imagine how to conduct business in a post-pandemic world.