The impact of this global pandemic not only brings the threat of physical harm, it brings a significant threat to mental health and wellbeing. Social isolation is a challenge for everyone — you may be struggling with living alone, the lack of physical contact with family and friends or worrying about the virus itself. As employers, we need to do all we can to mitigate this struggle and keep our employees engaged. 

As an SME with a strong employee engagement programme and pride in its people, we could have rested on our laurels during the lockdown. Instead, we have embraced the challenge of Covid-19 and reshaped how we connect with and support our staff, ensuring their engagement and wellbeing at work and at home. We have rethought our existing approach to employee engagement and complemented it with a number of new initiatives. We’re proud to report that feedback from the business has been extremely positive so far. 

Stepping up our internal communications

There is a high level of staff concern around the threat of Covid-19 and how it affects their business, job security and ability to successfully work remotely. We have ensured from the outset that staff are well informed to ease their anxiety, including holding twice-weekly ‘all staff forums’. These are led by the CEO or a member of SLT and include company updates around business performance, ways of working, our successes, social events and external speakers.

We developed our ‘Corona Response plan’ at the outset, which is a clear strategy that outlines the steps we are taking to protect the business. We have ensured regular updates showing our progress and performance against it. 

Our CEO writes a weekly ‘Corona Diary’, summarising the successes and challenges of the week. This is a great way to celebrate individual and team wins and to recognise our amazing people while, at the same time, ensuring transparent, company-wide communications and updates.  

Keeping connected and giving the staff a voice

We have embraced our tech and have been using virtual meetings to encourage staff to see each other, instead of organising voice-only calls, which has really helped people feel more connected. 

Our outstanding social committee has really stepped up during this crisis, organising everything from virtual team lunches to quiz nights, company socials, picture competitions, cooking nights, exercise classes and more. We celebrate what is happening through social media, our internal comms channels and shout outs in team meetings for the winners of competitions.

We believe it’s important to engage in honest dialogue with our staff, and we want to ensure that they can have a variety of interactions with the business. We have established ‘team matters’, our employee working group, to give our staff a voice, and we are also setting up Black Live Matter and diversity discussion groups to help shape our Diversity and Inclusion initiatives. It’s important to remember it’s not all just about Covid-19, other important agendas are not on hold. 

Of course, it doesn’t all have to be about work. We have implemented ‘Russian Roulette Coffee’, which is a 20-minute fortnightly coffee with a colleague you don’t directly work with. Our Data Science team have built an algorithm that randomly matches staff across the business, and everyone including our board members are getting involved.  

Supporting staff and providing signposting and resources 

Now we are all remote, work-life balance can be more of a challenge — the usual commute and previous daily routines don’t provide that natural partition to our day. Staff are spending lots of time on video calls and in meetings and the usual balance has been out of kilter. 

We have introduced ‘protected time slots’, giving staff 5 hours a week (2 x 2.5 hour slots), where the whole company has an internal meeting block and staff use this time to focus on urgent work. We have provided signposting to other resources and materials for our staff, for personal development, L+D, wellbeing and time management. 

Staff have access to private healthcare and a leading Employee Assistance Programme that allows them to access confidential and professional advice on matters from their mental health to free financial and legal advice. 

We also offer a ‘small loan scheme’ for staff that need any short-term financial help, which is interest-free and open to all staff. 

Ensuring managers are responsible 

From the board, down through SLT and local teams, we ensure people and wellbeing is high on the agenda. We have actively encouraged senior and mid-level managers to ensure they’re talking to their teams and looking out for each other. Where we do have concern for any individuals due to work or other external factors, we have confidentially reached out, had supportive conversations and offered assistance. 

Keeping staff reassured

The majority of our staff live in or around London and will eventually have to look at how they commute when we get back to the workplace. In many cases, public transport will be unavoidable. There will also be concerns around ways of working in the office and how we protect staff. This, of course, raises questions from staff and has the potential to cause further anxiety.  

Just like our ‘Corona Plan’ (which was written and shared with staff on how we were responding to Covid-19 from the start of the pandemic), we have now developed our ‘Return to work plan’ and underlying principles to keep staff informed and engaged. 

This plan has reassured our staff that we won’t rush back to the office — we’re working well remotely and will be led by Government and TfL advice. We have also assured staff that individual circumstances will be taken into account. For example, if you’re high risk or live with someone who is, or if schools aren’t back and you have children at home. We will work with you to decide what’s best on a case-by-case basis.  

There is much to be learned from this experience and in the face of adversity many companies are doing some wonderful things for their staff. It is inevitable there will be learnings on new ways of working and new approaches to employee engagement, resulting from lockdown. 

Do I miss my colleagues, office jokes, Friday night drinks, company away days and a chat around the water cooler? Hell yes! However, I’m very proud of the people I work with and their ability to adapt and make the most of these challenging times. I hope the employee engagement initiatives that they’re embracing are helping to drive and go some way to make things a little better! 

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