Employee wellness is an essential part of any business’s success. But it takes on a heightened level of importance in the face of an unprecedented challenge like moving an entire workforce to remote work during a pandemic.
Many Chicago companies faced this trial in the last month, and are learning how to provide their fully-remote teams with the resources they need to stay healthy and productive.
Transparency and communication have evolved to include frequent check-ins from leaders to get a pulse on how employees and their families are doing, and what they might need. Team members are given greater flexibility to work on a schedule that suits them best. Company-wide meetings are regularly scheduled to give business updates. Team members are urged to exercise via digital workouts and yoga sessions that break up long meetings.
Some companies had a semi-remote infrastructure place for some time, so adjusting operations wasn’t a major concern for them; instead, they invested their energy into perfecting remote culture.
Most impactful change: “BFO has actually been a semi-remote workforce since its inception in 2009,” Ebner, a culture director at Be Found Online, said. “However, we’re headquartered in Chicago and we have between 15 and 17 local employees, so the biggest change was for us local folks. Getting used to a home office was no joke. The most important thing was trying to maintain some level of normalcy with the team. We enacted a 30-minute weekly, team-wide stand-up meeting where the entire company gets together and shares updates, asks questions and laughs together.
“This experience is giving me perspective on what a day in the life of one of our remoters is like, and now I can tweak things to be better suited for everyone.”
Remote engagement tools: “We utilize Slack and Zoom, the primary ways our company has been communicating for years. Emplify is our anonymous engagement platform. We send out quarterly surveys and it collects data and written feedback on a variety of drivers like psychological safety, role clarity, management and more. Results are reviewed by leaders and managers, and I like to share that text in our newsletter, Slack or stand-up meetings.
“For productivity, we use TeamWork to stay organized with tasks and projects. The platform connects action items that are both internal and client-facing.”
How Be Found Online supports employees: “We created an internal capacity reallocation document mocked after a labor pool that outlines internal projects that need to be completed. With clients pausing or leaving, it freed employees up, so we created the doc to not only fill people’s time that have bandwidth, but also to help with some internal projects they wouldn’t have been able to tackle in the past.
“We also perform weekly — sometimes daily — wellness checks and have offered voluntary flex work weeks. Employees have the option to work a 30-hour week on a month-to-month basis.”
Virtual events to fight employee isolation:
- Show and tell (kids welcome!)
- Weekly, randomized coffee chats between employees
- Lunch and learns
- Spirit weeks
- Craft nights
- Best movie and TV show bracket tournament
- Meditation sessions
- Happy hours
Most impactful change: “We are used to having a ‘camera on’ culture and working together in different places, so this disruption has not created a huge change in our normal working style,” Newhouse, CPO at Inspirant Group, said. “We have, however, used this opportunity to reexamine current practices and have implemented several initiatives to keep the team engaged. We created several new chat channels, like the ’water cooler’ as a place to check in and share updates and ‘lock-down,’ where we are sharing relatable tales from quarantine.
“The biggest success has been our daily, optional, coffee chats held over Zoom that our team uses to connect in a casual way.”
Remote engagement tools: “I encourage the team to reach out in multiple ways. Personally, I’m on video chats, IMs, phone calls and texts all day. There is no bad way to reach out right now, and knowing the best way to connect with each person on a team will yield the most success.”
How Inspirant Group supports employees: “Besides offering daily visual connections via our coffee chat, we are packaging weekly resources for the team focused on health and wellbeing. These resources include guidance on meditation, free streaming workouts and links to ways to unplug with creative outlets or positive messages. We also reach out to employees individually and simply ask how they’re doing or how we can help them.”
Most impactful change: “Company leaders set up a weekly all-hands video conference that takes place on Monday mornings,” Munroe, a recruiter at Inspire11, said. “During this call, our founders share information on how COVID-19 is impacting our business and the measures we are taking to stay ahead of this disruption. Through their honesty and approach to getting over this hump, our founders inspire a team mentality. Various surveys have shown that employees appreciate the transparency and weekly communication from leadership. It leaves everyone feeling motivated, which is a great way to start the week.”
Remote engagement tools: “While we heavily utilize Zoom and Slack, we have also been using SharePoint and Microsoft Teams to collaborate and work on projects simultaneously. We found that it’s not so much about needing new tools but instead, leveraging existing tools to foster greater collaboration during quarantine.”
How Inspire11 supports employees: “Our culture committee planned weekly events to keep our team connected. We have team lunches on Tuesdays and Thursdays over Zoom. To address the additional anxiety and stress employees are under, we also encourage the team to use Chill Chicago for midday meditations. And we started a wellness challenge where team members log their active minutes each day.”
Most impactful change: “Launching frequent company-wide updates from our CEO Brian Clark,” Pinkham, VP of people at Ascent, said. “These updates from Brian have gone a long way toward keeping everyone informed across every function. We also started a lunch-and-learn series to highlight different team members’ expertise and best practices. We’ve even had a virtual magic show.
“Also our marketing team shifted quickly with their efforts and introduced virtual open houses for our customers. Not only was this initiative a great way to continue to promote our brand, but it also opened up the opportunity for our employees to share their knowledge and exercise their presentation skills with a series of public-facing webinars.”
Remote engagement tools: “We added a ‘CEO’ and ‘wellness’ channel to Slack to provide employees with support resources. The ‘family Fridays’ channel is where employees post old and new pictures of loved ones, which seemed fitting during this time. We added new tools like Donut to pair employees for get-to-know-you chats.
“Many teams also adopted a daily stand-up for employees to have task-oriented conversations and social interactions that normally would have occurred naturally at the office.”
How Ascent Technologies supports employees: “We re-prioritized major business objectives and projects to help the team adapt to the changing climate. We have toolkits for COVID-19 employee assistance programs, staying mentally healthy, financial resiliency and first aid. There are free Grokker wellness accounts accessible to every employee. Our CEO leads weekly meditation sessions and our VP of people regularly checks in on employees through one-on-ones. We also created a new onboarding guide for hires joining under the current circumstances.”
Most impactful change: “The incorporation of daily team check-ins has been a tremendous help during the transition to remote work,” Godfrey, VP of sales at RedShelf, said. “Our daily time together helps fill the void of not being able to walk over to a teammate and talk about updates to each other’s territories or discuss ideas for certain customer-facing situations. Also, the time adds the personal touch of being able to see everyone’s faces and have some of the more light-hearted, water cooler conversations we’re missing.”
Remote engagement tools: “To boost virtual engagement and productivity, we’ve been incorporating team-building events and goal-oriented activities into our day-to-day. Last month for our first remote meeting, we held a team-building event before getting down to business as a fun way to strengthen our personal connections. This month, we’re hosting a bingo contest that aligns with our team goals. While this game has sparked some friendly competition, it’s been a way for the team to show off their accomplishments and support one another’s success, even while remote.”
How RedShelf supports employees: “We recently brought in Dr. Dena Amato as a guest speaker to discuss exercise, motion and balance while working in our unique home spaces that may not be ideal for everyday work. Additionally, one of our sales directors is a certified yoga instructor and has been hosting virtual classes twice a week to help the team with physical and mental balance.”