Creating Socially Distant Social Space

Jun 11, 2020

With germ awareness on the rise, why are some employees so ready to be back in shared office space?  Perhaps they need to feel more focus on work away from the distractions of home fill a social gap that has been left home alone for months... And still, for a variety of reasons, other employees need not to touch shared space with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole.

This broad landscape of need arrives with your workforce, virtual or otherwise, every morning.  As an employer, you are challenged to meet all your employees, wherever they sit within that landscape. We already know that one size does not fit all. But before you can address that, how do you create space for social need when the COVID-19 pandemic requires you to allow for at least six feet of physical space between any contact at all? 

Four Actions to Take on a Zero-Dollar Budget

  1. Create an environment that normalizes vulnerability. Show your employees that it is ok to address anxiety, depression and other mental health needs. How? Start at the top. Demonstrate at a leadership level what it is to take care of yourself and others. Share your struggles. Take time off even if you have nowhere to go. Open the metaphorical floor and encourage your people to share if and how things feel “off” in this abnormal new normal.
  2. Be aware of the limitations of video calls. A camera does not capture the same social cues that shared physical space does. Employee “I’m fine” façades are much harder to see through on Zoom. Consequently, your attempts to “check in” with your staff might be perceived as less genuine if you miss their masked distress.
  3. Get a pulse of where your people are mentally—perhaps through a company-wide survey like Emplify’s COVID-19 Employee Wellbeing Tool. Reach out to and provide one-on-one support for your layers of management who are busy trying to take care of the mental wellbeing of their direct reports. As the adage goes, no one can pour from an empty cup.
  4. Look at your benefits plan for unused resources, and then communicate them more intentionally. For example, promote your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Most companies have access to one through their life or disability coverage, yet EAPs continue to be one of the most underutilized benefits.  Share testimonials, in a HIPAA-appropriate way, about how they have helped other employees. Check into your telehealth options, another benefit often built in—this time to your medical plan. Most telehealth providers also offer counseling services, so your employees can address their needs from the privacy of their homes.

Open spaces are often something we leave to happen naturally, not intentionally. But as employers in today’s world, we cannot afford to address any space with silence. Be an active participant in taking care of yourself and each other.