Time for Some Work Distancing

Sonia Fiorenza, VP of Communications and Engagement Strategies, SocialChorus, takes a company wide day off

The global pandemic has had a massive impact on every aspect of life, one of the most prominent being its impact on the workplace. Our co-founder, Nicole Alvino, recently discussed how amongst all the things that have changed, employees are finally being recognised as the most critical element to business success and survival.

Frontline workers have become the heroes, putting their health at risk to ensure our safety and daily conveniences like the grocery and other Amazon deliveries we can’t live without. And for many who are able, work has moved from the head office to the dining room table. While this shift has offered some benefits like reduced commute times, fewer office distractions, and the comfort of working in yoga pants, it’s also exposed some downsides of having your desk only steps from your bed. Employees are working longer hours than before the crisis began, and the stress and uncertainty is taking its toll on their mental well-being, which is why we, at SocialChorus, decided to do something about it.

A few weeks ago, our executive team made the bold decision to introduce one day off work a month as a company-wide holiday, until the end of the year. That’s one day where employees are not to work, not to email one another or be on any other communications channels. It’s one day off a month until the end of 2020, purely for themselves, for their health and ongoing sanity! And while our employees could take vacation days at any time, the advantage of the entire company taking a day together is no one has that dread of returning to work buried by emails or slack messages from colleagues who were working while they were off. Our SC Distancing Days launched last Friday, 22nd May to coincide with the Memorial Day break in the U.S. and the Spring Bank Holiday in the UK, giving us all a much deserved, extra-long weekend.

Now, realistically most of us at SocialChorus are pretty lucky. The shift to working from home was not a dramatic change. More than two-thirds of our team already work from home offices around the world, which allows us to hire the best talent, wherever they live. It also prepared us for the Zoom etiquette and other virtual work skills that the rest of the working world is now learning.

What did change for all of us was that our partners, roommates and kids were suddenly there with us. And, like so many people, we were no longer just working from home, we were working from home during a crisis, juggling all these new factors. These factors coupled with all the long hours and hard work that goes into supporting our customers, many of whom are relying on our technology to reach and connect with their own employees facing the same challenges, meant that people were starting to feel the burn. What’s interesting is that people didn’t flag their personal concerns but their reaction to the news of our SC Distancing Days highlighted that this extra down time is very much needed.

And that’s a really important point to take note of. As we move to the next phase of this crisis, it’s been rewarding to see that some companies and leaders are reflecting on what they’ll take forward from the last few months. We’ve started hearing phrases like, “I hate to say the pandemic was good, but…”.

COVID-19 has been a catalyst for agility and shown the ability for multinational companies to make decisions quickly and shift operations on a dime. It’s been good for internal communications professionals who have stepped up and shown the value we bring to our companies. It’s been great for leadership communications, finally breaking down the highly polished, often scripted presentations that come from the board room. And now some leaders are also encouraging employees to take care of themselves with the topic of mental health in the workplace finally no longer a taboo subject. I’ve heard multiple stories of Fortune 500 CEOs sharing their personal experiences with mental health challenges and encouraging employees to take care of themselves and others.

However, we should also be mindful that not all executives or managers are equipped, intellectually, psychologically or emotionally, to gauge the impact of the pandemic and new working conditions on their employees. Business leaders are going to have to dig deep and figure out what they need to do for their people in this new way of working.

So, if you’re reading this and thinking about how you can help your employees more, you won’t have to look too far. Many executives are starting to share their initiatives and there’s no harm in learning from them and borrowing some of their ideas to help develop the right approach for your workforce. We should never underestimate the impact of this period on people. Some will bounce back and some won’t. Some will want to come back to the office and others won’t. It is going to take a long time for us to move on. We all have different perspectives on our shared experience but how we treat our people will stay with us for a long time, for better or worse.

As someone who has spent my career helping companies and leaders find this balance between what’s good for the company and what’s good for the employee, I have renewed hope that the tide is finally turning to put the employee at the centre. With all that’s happening in the workplace, and as many of us have become experts at social distancing, perhaps it’s time for a little work distancing too.

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