How can companies help their team members to adapt to a completely virtual work environment while helping them to cope with the added stress that a pandemic and a complete upheaval of their lives brings?
Over the past several months, we have all experienced additional challenges as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. In some families, both spouses experienced "going virtual" together, while others had the added anxiety of being an essential worker. Add children to the mix, now with ever-fluctuating school schedules, and it becomes easy to understand how impactful Coronavirus has been on employees' mental health and morale. It has become clear that employers must adapt to these changes and engage with employees to develop long-term plans to improve morale and productivity while ensuring a healthy work/life balance.
NuWave has been a virtual company for a few years now, so we’ve had a head start in understanding what our employees need to keep morale high and stay engaged while working remotely. While our in-person team gatherings were only monthly prior to the pandemic, since it began, they have ceased altogether. The pandemic has cancelled events such as team lunches, happy hours, birthday celebrations, company anniversaries, in-person meetings around a conference table, and day reservations at our shared office. So we had to take a step back and brainstorm how we could ensure the team would still feel connected on a professional level but also a personal level.
Fourteen Months of Creative Thinking
To help keep employees engaged and happy, we have collaborated to find creative ways to interact with each other and maintain positivity in our morale and our company culture. Here are some examples of what our team has tested:
- Hosting themed virtual happy hours. For example, we've had game nights, a drink making class with a bartender who taught us how to make Palomas (delish!), a holiday-themed party complete with holiday-themed games and cocktails, and we’ve even had a few surprise guests. We acknowledge that if these happy hours were occurring in person, the company would cover the tab, so as an added benefit for those who participate, NuWave provides a stipend to cover their drinks and noshes.
- Adapting holiday and other commemorative gifts to things that people could use while hunkering down during a pandemic. Through talking with employees, we learned that many of them listen to audiobooks and podcasts. For the holidays, each employee received a subscription to Audible so they could listen to their favorite books, or, in my case, true crime podcasts.
- Sending pandemic care packages to employees. As part of the package, each employee received a subscription to the Sundance streaming service, so they could wind down after work with some unique movies and shows.
- Requiring video for all meetings, including external meetings. I know--a lot of people hate seeing themselves on video calls and don’t like to exert the extra effort required to smile and make sure you aren’t making weird faces. However, in a small company where people aren’t in meetings all day, there is a low likelihood of people getting Zoom fatigue. And the added benefit of being able to see each other and read your coworker’s facial expressions is well worth the additional thought processing. The quality of communication is higher when you add video, with a lower chance of having your word or tone misinterpreted, and people are more likely to smile and make each other laugh when video is turned on!
- Making a concerted effort to improve communication. We worked with an executive coach to assess our different communication and work styles, then each met with the coach individually to clarify and analyze our results. We also met with her and the rest of the team as a group to discuss our similarities and differences. We then met with each other one-on-one to brainstorm how to work best together and communicate most effectively with one another. We even used this as a talking point during one happy hour, but we also used the opportunity to laugh at ourselves a bit. This did require extra meetings for everyone, but we spread it out a bit, and everyone who participated said that they felt a better understanding of and a closer connection to their colleagues afterwards.
- Refreshing our employee benefits, so employees are well taken care of. NuWave regularly reviews and updates employee benefits; and we were already offering standard medical, dental, long term disability and life insurance; as well as paid vacation, sick time, and holidays. We also go above and beyond to provide a 3% 401(k) contribution, tuition reimbursement, and fully compensated parental leave. However, with the pandemic in mind, we added an extra week of paid sick time in 2021 for anyone who may be infected, need more time to recover from their vaccination, or may be experiencing mental health issues. To round out our benefits package, we also added vision insurance.
- Reinforcing our core values. We constantly work to ensure we have a culture of supporting and trusting one another, using open and honest communication, and respect and inclusiveness for all people. However, it was an additional challenge to maintain and build upon this culture during lockdown. We regularly ask employees for their input and ideas for team building activities, ways to improve what we’re doing, and how to make everyone happy.
We are currently working on putting together a Wave Runner Virtual 5K that we will be extending to everyone in the NonStop community. Participants will receive a free t-shirt and gear, and a grand prize will be given to one random participant that completes the 5k run, walk, or hike! We will provide more details for this on social media and our website.
We have many other ideas and plans in the works, but we don't want to spoil the surprise for our employees; what I can say is that it will be a great summer at NuWave!