Survival Mode: 6 Employee Wellness Strategies for Right Now

Best Practices, The Virtual Life : Article

If you had asked me when I started at Virtual a year ago as the Chief People Officer, I never would have guessed that a year into the job that I would know the kids, the pets, the insides and even the outsides of homes of all of our employees. But as we near 175 days working from home, video conferencing and all of the good and bad that go with it are our new normal.

This new normal has also brought us all to a place of facing previously unimaginable shared and unique challenges. People are going through a lot right now and we think it’s important that we recognize that for our team and do our best to help them cope the best that we can.

Even prior to the pandemic, Virtual had an ongoing focus on ensuring our team had a healthy work-life balance. When we first shut down the office, we increased that focus, knowing the additional struggles and stress our team would face. But recently, we recognized that it wasn’t enough. We needed to do more.

If we are going to continue to drive the success of our clients, we knew that we needed to take additional steps to ensure that we are doing everything we can to help our people effectively juggle their responsibilities.

Here are the new measures that we’re putting into place to support one of our five corporate goals – Creating a Company We Love.

Shorter meetings.

Jumping from one video call to another in our highly collaborative and client-centric environment often meant people felt like they couldn’t get up from their desks for hours. Now, we’ve asked all employees to change their Outlook settings so that meetings are automatically scheduled for 25 or 55 minutes. Everyone needs a chance to get up from their desk (or kitchen table), have a snack, re-focus and maybe catch up on those emails. We’re two weeks in now. Adoption is high and we’re all appreciating having just a few minutes before jumping to the next meeting.

No internal meetings on Friday afternoons.

If you’re in meetings all day long, especially video meetings where you don’t feel that you can multi-task, it’s really challenging to actually get any work done. So, finally, after years of kicking the idea around, we’ve decided to implement a rule for zero internal meetings on Fridays after noon. This will give our team a chance to wrap up their work from the week and prepare for the week ahead. I can’t tell you how quickly I saw people blocking the time off in their calendars. It always feels good to end the week on a productive high note so you can calmly enter the weekend to recharge your batteries for the week ahead.

The workday is no longer 9 to 5.

Okay, to be honest, our workday has never really been 9 to 5. Our clients are global, and we’re driven to help them achieve their missions. We have also always had a culture where it’s okay to leave early to attend your kids’ game, then wrap up your work later in the day. Now as schools shift their plans, many of our working parent team members are also needing to balance their work while supervising remote learning. We recognize that is not an easy task. Other employees, may have personal matters that they need to attend to during “business hours.” And that’s okay because as more meetings shift online, we need staff coverage for calls that are happening in the early morning and late evening. This flexibility will not only help people stay sane but also increase their productivity by focusing on work obligations when they can actually focus.

One Wellness Half Day per month.

We recognize the burn. We feel it ourselves. So, we are now implementing a new benefit for our teams: one Friday a month we will close our operations at noon local time to give our employees a chance to recharge. It’s incredible how relaxing and rejuvenating a few “bonus” hours are. We’ve seen team members enjoying time by the pool with their families. Enjoying hikes with their dogs. Going horseback riding. Playing board games with their kids. And this is exactly how we hope they will continue to spend them.

Access to mental health and financial health resources.

These are challenging times for so many people. And, while we recognize that we’re all in this storm together, we are all in different boats having our own unique experiences. To that end, we are encouraging our employees to take advantage of new online programs. One is centered around mental health and private coaching through phone, text or email for stress, anxiety, depression or substance abuse. The other provides resources on financial health such a paying down debt, budgeting and so much more. Both are completely free to employees and completely confidential.

Making and keeping connections is more important now than ever.

While we have always had remote employees, we also had multiple offices with lots of planned events and activities to help staff get to know each other. It’s all about building trust, social connectivity and fun. It’s an important part of our culture. In fact, Fun is one of Virtual’s core Values. We’ve all worked hard to make sure that we are maintaining those connections, but also building new ones. We’ll be increasing these important moments for connection as we head into the Fall, recognizing what a stress-reliever it can be for everyone.

Affinity groups on a range of topics have been launched to connect people as if we were sitting in the cafe at the office, even if we’re actually at our kitchen tables. Topics include wellness, working parents, environmental concerns, and diversity and inclusion.

We’ve also organized an array of different activities to appeal to all types of interests, such as:

  • Happy hours in “Andy’s Attic”
  • Team Pictionary
  • Virtual puzzle rooms
  • Online trivia contests
  • Questions in Teams on “Get to Know You Tuesday” – such as favorite pizza toppings or go-to singing in the car songs
  • Friends @ Work – random pairings of employees who opted in with the goal to have a  25 minute video call and report back on something they learned about their new friend
  • Yappy hours in Andy’s Attic, hosted by his dog, Buster Freed
  • Speakeasy Zoom call – complete with costumes and randomly assigned breakout rooms of small groups with strict instructions NOT to talk about work that changed every five minutes

We recently decided to not reopen our offices until at least January 2021. We don’t know what the Fall will hold for the world or our employees. But we do know that we will continue to make our best efforts to genuinely support the wellness of our employees.

We know that if our employees are less stressed, able to focus, well-rested and feeling genuine connections with their co-workers, they are not only happier (Company We Love!), but they are more productive and better able to achieve our mission, which is to help our clients achieve their missions. We are obsessed with our clients’ success and having a company that we all love to be a part of. And, we’re so pleased to report that our clients have been exceptionally supportive of these changes and our team.


Bonnie Bystrek, Chief People Officer

Bonnie is responsible for driving Virtual’s culture and people strategy that enables our talented team of professionals to partner with our clients to make their mark on the world. She brings over 25 years of experience, including as a vice president of Human Resources at Steward Health Care, where she oversaw the business and cultural transformation of a 2,300-person Boston-based hospital. In addition, she has also held executive level roles at State Street and Tower Group Companies. Bonnie holds a Master of Science degree in Human Resources from Northeastern University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration/Organizational Behavior from the University of Connecticut.

Connect with Bonnie on LinkedIn.

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