Adjusting to the new reality: how can brands improve employee wellbeing in the times of social distancing?

Natalia Bochenska, Senior Strategic Marketing Manager in London, UK
25 March 2020

Coronavirus was a problem that existed on another side of the world – until it affected us, our businesses, our personal lives. Now that 25 countries are under lockdown, and as companies are forced to go remote, we need to find a way to cope with it, and we need to do it fast. 

Remote working is nothing new. Here, at Somo, flexibility and agility is part of our culture – working remotely as projects require, co-locating at our client offices, and working from home when needed. For many years, we've used the best collaboration tools that are critical in getting the job done – remotely or not. We use several great platforms that are making this possible, aiding productivity and team communication, enhancing real-time remote collaboration across product, UX, design and engineering, and boosting employee wellbeing. So, as the Coronavirus outbreak deepened, we’ve managed to move our entire company – over 180 employees across five global offices – completely digital, in a matter of hours. What we’re seeing though is that the way we do it at Somo is far from the reality of many businesses. As businesses struggle to move to a ‘work from home’ scenario, it’s now clearer than ever that cultural transformation is key to survive. 

So, how can brands aid their remote working experience, while increasing productivity, collaboration and mental employee wellbeing? 

Setting the ground rules

Working remotely on an everyday basis is a concept that’s common among freelancers and start-ups, but – for the majority of us – it has created a new, rather alien world. We all have to adjust to the new reality, and we’re all facing different challenges to make it happen. Whether on a personal level – balancing homeschooling with work, worrying about our loved ones, the feeling of loneliness or a sense of insecurity and instability; or on a work level – juggling the increased volume of comms with output delivery, struggling to find a quiet space to work efficiently, or inability to simply switch off, take a break and log off at a reasonable time.

Businesses need to make sure they have the right tools and processes to unlock employee productivity while making them feel secure and happy. Setting the ground rules for the communication methods – using emails for non-urgent matters, messaging platforms such as Slack for updates, questions and informal chats, and phone for urgent issues – is a good starting point. Encourage your team to be extra present, to be agile and transparent in the way they work – and when they work. Help your teams add structure to their days. Have daily stand-ups, frequent team catch-ups, company-wide updates, all with a strong focus on transparency. Because, in the times of instability and personal and business insecurity – transparency is key. 

Creating a sense of togetherness

Social distancing can lead to emotional isolation, hugely impacting employees’ mental wellbeing – and overall performance. The socialisation that normally occurs in the workplace just doesn’t exist, and many are so focused on delivering visible outcomes and being ‘extra present’ that they forget about one simple thing – social engagement.

In these challenging times, a lot of businesses are razor-focused on profitability, often pushing the employee experience to the second plan. But it’s now more important than ever to build on the culture and ensure employees can deliver in this new digital reality.

There are a few ways that can help to strengthen the culture and create the sense of ‘togetherness’ while making the remote working experience more enjoyable, productive and social:

1. Creating a set of opportunities to encourage quick mental breaks, chit-chats and informal catch-ups. There are a few different initiatives we run at Somo:

  • Water Cooler Zoom: We used Zoom, a video conferencing platform, to set-up a virtual kitchen, where employees can log in at any time and chat with their co-workers, just as they would when grabbing a coffee. 

  • Daily five-minute coffee catch-ups: Informal video calls with the closest team to chat about anything not-work related. A quick mental break to make the rest of the day more productive.

  • Chit-chat Zoom: A video conference channel open to everyone in the business (and their pets, child, favourite plant) at the end of each day – to chat about anything from how their day has been to project and tech news. 

2. Celebrating the small wins, recognising greatness, and encouraging positivity. Finding a way to spread the good news around the wider team or the entire business is crucial, whether through simple company-wide announcements or channels built to recognise any exciting project news. 

3. Business as usual, but with cameras on. For businesses that can go remote, it’s crucial to continue as normal. There are so many great platforms that can replicate, if not enhance, the physical working environment. Encouraging staff to turn their cameras on during the video meetings, remote workshops or company updates will help to keep the team engaged, connected and humane – after all, no one likes to talk to a black screen. 

As the Coronavirus problem deepens around the world, with an estimated 20% of the world’s population under some form of lockdown, businesses must find a way to balance profitability with employee wellbeing. This challenging period is a test of how well the technology stack and the internal processes have been set-up to succeed in the digital era. But it’s also an opportunity to redefine the approach to employees, focusing on their wellbeing, their experience and building the culture of trust and transparency. 

If you're interested to hear more about Digital Wellbeing and how you can deliver exceptional (and healthy) experiences for your employees and customers, check out our recent podcast: