Helping Employees Stay Connected During Social Distancing

As a response to the coronavirus, many businesses have closed unexpectedly, while others have elected to operate in a remote capacity. Employees that once sat an arm’s length away from one another are now many miles apart — relying on text messages, phone calls, video conferencing, and email to stay connected. It’s been a learning curve for us all.

However, keeping the business up and running is just part of the equation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for people to practice “social distancing,” which it defines as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.” Physical separation is necessary to help flatten out the coronavirus curve and prevent it from spreading. As a result, many people are now working from home and staying there, aside from essential errands, like grocery shopping.

The time apart from others, however, isn’t just physically isolating. It can be emotionally isolating as well. It has the potential to impact our mood — and it can be particularly difficult for those already facing a mental health struggle or diagnosed with a mental health condition, such as depression. That’s why it’s important for us to understand that, while health experts are recommending for us to keep a physical distance from one another, they are not recommending social disconnection. As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo rolled out new strict measures for the state’s physical isolation, he also underscored the importance of maintaining social connection. He shared how he and his daughter, while in isolation, have had some of the best conversations to date.

These are the moments that will bring us together, not in physical presence, but in heart.

Help your employees stay connected

As an employer, you are uniquely positioned to help employees stay connected during social distancing.

Here are 10 ways that you can bring your workforce together, even while they’re apart:

  1. Live in the moment. Kick-off the workweek with a guided or unguided meditation. It can simply be five minutes where employees lay down somewhere comfortable in their houses, close their eyes, and breathe deeply, focusing on the sound of their breath.
  2. Have a discussion that’s not about work — or the coronavirus. Kick off the work week with a word or topic to discuss, such as “community.” Let the individuals have an open dialogue about what the word or topic means to them. If you have a large organization, consider breaking people out into small groups or by the team.
  3. Step outside. Choose a day and time each week where you can all step outside separately and go for a 30-minute walk. They could even bring their dogs! According to the Mayo Clinic, anxiety and depression symptoms often improve with exercise. If employees aren’t able to go for a walk, encourage them to step out into their backyard and get some fresh air — and a mental health break from their phones.
  4. Attend a virtual yoga class together. Many brick-and-mortar gyms and yoga studios have already closed, but they’re now offering classes in a new format — online. Find a local yoga studio that you can help support by paying a group rate for your employees to attend a class each week.
  5. Help out a local nursing home. Research has found that, even before the coronavirus, nearly one-quarter of older adults fit the definition of socially isolated, Vox reported, which is based on measurements of routine social contact. This isolation leads to stress, which — in turn — can be detrimental to their physical and mental health. Call your local nursing home and ask how you can best help their residents, whether it’s virtual visitation time, recording an uplifting message for them, or sending a pre-approved present to help get their mind off of things, such as a magazine subscription or new books.
  6. Be part of the solution. There are so many people who want to help their greater community right now, but they’re not sure how. Facebook has worked with the United Nations Foundation and the World Health Organization to start a COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, where anyone can go to make a donation. Facebook will match up to $10 million in donations and “100 percent of the funds will directly support the work to prevent, detect and respond” to COVID-19 around the world, according to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The organization also plans to match $10 million for the CDC Foundation, which is planning to launch a fundraiser soon to focus on the coronavirus impacts in the U.S. Learn more or donate here.
  7. Encourage employee-led communities within your organization to meet virtually to provide support for one another. Scale the “water cooler” by empowering employees with shared experiences to “meet up” online. Examples could include Diversity, Equity and Inclusion groups, Employee Resource Groups (parents, veterans, environmental, etc.), and wellness groups (walking groups, etc.). Current events can trigger unique responses for certain groups and experiences. Provide suggested discussion topics to open up the conversation and unlock support within each community. Remind community leaders that they are authorized to use company technology (such as video conferencing technology and chat) and provide best practices for running remote meetings.
  8. Find ways to celebrate this new way of life. Some companies are doing “invite your coworker” virtual meetings, which essentially means, we know that your children might be jumping on the couch or that your dog might be barking in the background during a conference call — and that’s OK. It’s also an opportunity to introduce the important people (or animals) in your life to your coworkers, instead of feeling like you have to hide them in the background. It takes some of the pressure off of employees to make sure that everything is “perfect” for meetings because it won’t be. You also might consider hosting virtual happy hours (with whatever beverage employees want to drink), sending funny e-cards out for employee birthdays, or encouraging employees to wear funny hats on Fridays (to lighten up the mood during video conferencing).
  9. Close out the week with a group gathering — online. Consider hosting a town hall meeting at the end of each week. During that time, you might share important company updates, reminders about new procedures, and offer inspiration for the week ahead. You might also reserve time at the end of the meeting for employees to give one another “shout-outs.” Shout-outs are public kudos to someone at work who was helpful or went above and beyond.
  10. Connect your employees with mental health resources. Starbucks just expanded its benefits to include in-person and video-chat sessions with mental health professionals. All of its employees, including part-time workers, will have access to up to 20 free therapy sessions a year. Some employers are also providing on-demand programs and resources, as well as human support (such as counseling or coaching). These offerings are critical for people around the country who are struggling with transition, uncertainty, stress, and anxiety. Therapy can also really help people who are on the frontlines right now, who aren’t able to physically distance themselves from others — from the grocery workers who supply us with food to the delivery workers who bring resources to our doorsteps or the healthcare workers who are caring for patients around-the-clock.

Whether your employees are at a physical workplace or working from home, remind them that they’re valued, they have your support and — most importantly — they’re not in this alone.

Aduro offer’s employee well-being and mental health services to support the challenges and opportunities we are all facing during this time. Learn more about our holistic approach here.