How to Shape the COVID-19 Employee Experience

By Dave Clifton
Content Strategy Specialist
SpaceIQ

Fear. Frustration. Exasperation. Weariness. These are some of the many emotions that define the COVID-19 employee experience. Whether they’re back in the workplace or still doing remote work, employees are no doubt feeling upended and all the emotions that come with it. Not only has the situation grated on employees, it’s caused disruptions to everything from productivity to collaboration. It’s a situation begging for change.

While the world may be at the mercy of coronavirus until a viable vaccine deploys, employers can boost employee experience during COVID-19. Amidst mask mandates, social distancing, sanitizations, and contact tracing, employees need a reason to stay optimistic and positive. Employers should give it to them.

Instead of COVID-19 changing employee experience, employers need to take the reins and affect their own (positive) change. Here are a few suggestions piquing the interest of pandemic optimists:

Make the virtual workplace more authentic

The biggest transition for many employees during the pandemic has been the loss of socialization in the workplace. Messaging on Slack and even the occasional Zoom meeting aren’t enough to replace idle banter in a conference room or the happenstance run-ins at the copy machine. To redefine the experience for remote employees and those living vicariously through digital channels, humanize it.

Host virtual happy hours and encourage off-topic messaging at appropriate times. See who can come up with the best Zoom background. Run trivia through Slack. Employees may lack the in-person interaction, but employers can inject variety into virtual workplaces to rekindle socialization.

Practice social-emotional leadership

A little empathy goes a long way toward improving the COVID-19 employee experience. Encourage employees to take breaks or step away from their workstations to decompress. Institute a policy for mental health days—no-questions-asked time off when the stress is just too much. Managers should also take time to shepherd their flock—check in individually with employees to see how they’re doing or let them vent. Above all, encourage leadership to listen and understand the things employees struggle with so you can take steps to correct them.

Prioritize happiness for all employees

What can you do to lighten the emotional load on employees? Inspiring happiness needs to be a core principle for companies that expect continuing productivity and engagement from their teams. If employees wake up and dread going to sit in front of their computer screen or step foot in the office, the emotional toll will weigh on them throughout the day and become an anchor on their morale.

Managers should dole out praise and support early and often, and find ways to unburden employees of unnecessary stressors. Focus on both sides of the coin: picking employees up and jettisoning the things that put them down.

Destigmatize mental health

Mental health and wellness has become increasingly important in workplaces, with more transparent initiatives to promote a positive culture surrounding it. During the pandemic, significantly more people report a decline in mental health—from anxiety to depression to apathy.

Prioritize mental health initiatives and destigmatize this topic in the workplace. Make telehealth options available to employees, institute mental wellness breaks, adopt a mental health day policy, and make it clear to employees that their mental health is a priority above all else. Affirmation of the mental health woes we’re all facing makes it easier for employees to see the signs and confront them early, knowing they have the support of their employer behind them.

Stay in communication (and provide insight)

Especially for distributed teams, make an effort to check in and keep abreast of individual employees—not only in a managerial capacity, but informally as well. Likewise, maintain consistent informative communication. A weekly memo, timely updates, or emergent messaging show that the company is paying attention and being mindful of employees by keeping them in the loop. Whether it’s commentary on the pandemic at large or a company-specific update about changing processes, employees feel better when they’re in-the-know, as opposed to in the dark.

Listen for and correct problems

There’s no such thing as a totally seamless transition from pre-pandemic work to whatever protocols your company has adopted. It takes time to adjust to change and settle in. As obstacles pop up and problems arise, listen and take note—then find a way to address them. Even small problems will grate on employees and can make them feel like they’re unsupported. Especially when it comes to technology struggles, do everything in your power to help ease the transition and acclimate employees.

Stop normalizing the “new norm”

Learning how to enhance employee experience during the pandemic comes from understanding what’s disrupting your workforce. What, specifically, causes them anxiety or trepidation? How can you ease the frustrations of their new work arrangement? What will give them a reason to smile behind their mask, as opposed to frown?

The ‘new norm’ we’ve been hearing so much about has a stigma attached to it—a sense of inevitable disruption. Employers need to stop normalizing the idea that disruption is here to stay and instead, adopt solutions-driven initiatives that define the future in spite of the pandemic.

Keep reading: Covid-19 Workplace Resources