Need ideas for how you can provide extra support to your employees during COVID-19?
Here's what you need to know:
- Helping employees set up a home office can make remote work more comfortable and functional
- Having stretch breaks can help employees relax, release endorphins, and relieve muscular tension
- Expanding personal time can help employees reduce anxiety and have time to process emotions
- Letting employees have their well-behaved kids present on calls — and allowing them to tend to their family when they need to — shows compassion as an employer
The uncertainty of the current situation due to the coronavirus has many people on edge, especially if they’re now juggling childcare and homeschooling responsibilities while working from home. Many employees may also feel financial stress if a spouse is furloughed or laid off, so they may not be as productive as they would under other circumstances.
Reminding employees about employee assistant programs (EAP) and telecounseling — or expanding those options — are one way to deal with this stressful situation.
Here’s a look at how 3 companies are providing extra support to employees during the current pandemic.
Setting up a home office
All of Honest Paws’ employees, who live in the United States (including Puerto Rico) and South America, recently switched to remote work. The company provided a stipend of several hundred dollars to help employees set up their home office. CEO Erik Rivera says most people are using the stipend on desks, monitors, and/or headphones. Employees will also get a monthly stipend for internet costs.
Rivera predicts that the current situation will help employers see the benefits of enabling remote work. “It’s going to shift the perception of work from home,” he says. “You’re able to access talent wherever.”
One of the downsides of hastily setting up a home office is that it might be not as functional as an ergonomically designed workplace. Fortunately the 62 employees at InsideTracker, a personalized nutrition company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have an ergonomist on their staff.
Iris Sokol, senior vice president of corporate wellness, is a trained ergonomist who’s available to help employees. “I can do it via Google hangouts to get their workstation as ergonomically correct as possible,” she says.
Pausing to stretch
Sokol has observed a recent uptick in stress.
“People aren’t sleeping, people are experiencing more aches and pains related to the stress of what’s going on.”
To help employees decompress, she leads a daily stretch break on Google Hangouts. They meet for about 15 to 20 minutes before lunchtime and do a mat stretching class on Fridays. Some employees linger after the stretch break to socialize.
“Not only does the breathing help you relax and release endorphins, but it’s relieving the muscular tension you’re holding in your bod,” she says. She also takes requests from employees who want to target specific muscles that feel tight.
Expanding personal time
Even employees who don’t have childcare responsibilities or money woes may feel anxious and need time to process these emotions. Gabriella Israel, cofounder of Minneapolis-based digital marketing agency Proofpoint Marketing recognizes this and is giving everyone a personal day of their choosing over the next several weeks.
“The goal for this personal day off is that they try to do something for themselves — outside of family stuff — and also we are encouraging our team not to watch the news or read updates on their day off.”
“This is in addition to any time off they have planned or need to take,” she says. “The goal for this personal day off is that they try to do something for themselves — outside of family stuff — and also we are encouraging our team not to watch the news or read updates on their day off. Truly just take a day off!”
Honest Paws’ management had already been thinking about moving to an unlimited PTO policy, and COVID-19 spurred them to action.
“We’ve had a couple of people get sick and we don’t know if it’s coronavirus or not, but we wanted to give people flexibility in this time versus creating rigidity,” Rivera says.
Expecting less, sharing more
A year ago, working parents everywhere cringed when a child interrupted her dad during a live TV interview with BBC. With many parents working without childcare, many employers are reducing the stigma around “BBC Dad” moments.
“Employees have our blessing to have well-behaved kids present and/or attend to their kids’ needs on calls by muting their video and stepping away from the camera.”
“Employees have our blessing to have well-behaved kids present and/or attend to their kids’ needs on calls by muting their video and stepping away from the camera to tend to their family during this time,” Israel says. “We have one employee who has an infant who still sleeps a lot, so we’ve told her it’s totally fine to have her baby in her arms or hold her in a front pack while on calls, and just mute if the baby gets loud or starts to cry.”
Rivera echoes that sentiment. “To break the ice and make people feel comfortable, we tell everybody, ‘if your kids are in the background screaming, it’s cool, we understand, we don’t care,’” he says.
In fact, he encourages employees to turn cameras on and show each other’s children or pets on Zoom calls.
“It feels more person-to-person versus transactional,” he adds.
InsideTracker has a Slack channel devoted to coworkers sharing photos of their dogs. They also share photos of meals (it is a nutrition company, after all) and held a “weirdest household object contest.” (Sokol clinched that title with a ceramic rooster that used to belong to her mother-in-law.)
While some of these strategies — such as EAP and home office subsidies — have monetary costs associated with them, things like loosening meeting policies to show compassion to parents or creating opportunities for employees to connect don’t have to cost a thing.