When the pandemic started, and everyone suddenly found themselves working remotely, we all strived to embrace “the new normal”, even as we rolled our eyes at that term and swore we’d never use it. We packed up our computers, shooed Fluffy off our kitchen tables, and hunkered down to work amidst cereal boxes and yesterday’s newspaper.

Even those of us who are virtual companies by design felt the change. Where we used to do team meetings and fun gatherings in-person to promote employee connections, we turned to strictly virtual platforms. And for a while, it was great! We played online games together, scheduled extra time to chat about the family at the beginning of meetings, and sent mini bottles of sanitizer to the team to show we cared.

But, like with all new things, the shine, such as it was, wore off. We started to cover up our webcams and began making excuses for why we couldn’t attend our company’s virtual happy hour. Our joy at a lack of commute turned into missing the traffic updates and the sheer delight that came from working in our pajamas from the waist down faded to not even remembering the last time we changed our socks.

There’s no doubt – virtual fatigue set in – a while ago. As a result, employers stopped planning “events” and backed off on regular check-ins. But, one year into this, it’s time to take action to make sure your employees are hanging in there.

Check-in with Your People

Whether it’s a result of the pandemic, or by design, the virtual office is still filled with people, and people need check-ups. Reach out to Susie working from a folding table in her living room and make sure Fluffy isn’t the only one with whom she can share her new love of dirt bike racing. Check-in with George to make sure he doesn’t need anything from the company to assist in keeping him sane while his kids do conga lines past his workspace.

And remember, it’s not just the remote people. If you have employees back working in the office, they are also likely dealing with stress as they continue to wear masks and distance themselves from others. Just because they’re back to wearing shoes to work doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling isolated.

Plan Something

Has it been a while since your last virtual gathering? Go ahead and plan something that brings the team “together” for fun. Just don’t overdo a good thing. Online gaming makes us happy. What can we say? We’re nerds. Bring on Dominion! But when we did it every week, to some it became one more thing on the schedule, not something to celebrate. People started planning over the fun, which made it not so fun. Keep your fun things unique and not a standing appointment.

Also, try to vary the virtual fun. While some people enjoy sharing a drink “with” colleagues, not everyone loves virtual happy hours. Not everyone enjoys online strategy games or learning how to cook via lessons with a virtual chef. If you suspect your employees are playing “Sad Ways My Company is Trying to Keep Unity” online BINGO games during your social events, ask for suggestions and think about making social hours optional.

Play with the 3-Dimensional Kids

Virtual options have been a lifesaver over the past year, but seeing each other Brady Bunch style isn’t the same as face-to-face gatherings. If possible, plan for some in-person team time.

What this looks like will vary by company, of course, but do some brainstorming and see if you can schedule some play dates with the team that still adheres to your safety procedures. For instance, our team hit the trails earlier this week. Fresh air and plenty of space made social distancing possible while reminding us that our coworkers actually have bodies below their waist and that we don’t have to preface every comment we make with, “Sorry, I was on mute”.

Just remember, not everyone is comfortable with this yet. Consider not making your in-person gatherings mandatory.

Lend a Hand

Give, grow and give some more is one of our Core Values. We love helping others and have missed doing so during the pandemic. But while volunteer opportunities dwindled last year, they are still out there and the need is real. Organizations are also taking safety precautions, so consider finding one in line with your company values and get your team on board.

Our team is excited to be back in action! Our April community event is in support of Weekend Survival Kits, an organization committed to providing food on the weekends to kids in elementary school who might otherwise go hungry, ultimately assisting to help remove barriers to academic success. The enPower team will (safely!) come together to assist in packing the food kits that will then be distributed throughout our community. Giving back as a team is definitely good for company unity.

Bring Back the Commute?

When this all started, working from home for many seemed like bliss. And one of the biggest perks was no travel time to and from the office every day.

But now, for those who have spent a year working from home, that commute doesn’t seem so bad. It helped with the transition from work to home, from coworkers to family. Sometimes you need the commercial-ridden radio to help unplug from the workday.

While we can’t re-open our offices any faster than is permitted, we can be creative with helping our employees cope with missing travel. If during your chats with Bob you learn that he used to decompress from work stress by belting out the words to Ice, Ice Baby, go ahead and schedule him into a “mandatory” single person meeting from 5-5:30 with the only agenda item listed as “Rock out”.

Acknowledge the Challenge

Practicing gratitude has become a mantra for many over the past year. Whether journaling, making lists, or sitting in quiet contemplation, we have all been encouraged to focus on the good things. And when it comes to working remotely, there are a lot of good things: Working in PJs? Awesome! No rush hour? Neat! Bruno gets to curl up at your feet while you work? Fun! No Betty from the mailroom always hanging around at your cubicle talking about her Bunco tournament? Sweet, sweet, silence!

Don’t get us wrong, studies prove that a focus on gratitude does all sorts of good for us. Just remember, it has been a challenge and it’s okay, and even appreciated, to acknowledge that; because, with the exception of a few really introverted people who long for a remote cabin in the far reaches of the UP, most people crave some kind of in-person interaction and are struggling right now. Recognize the challenge we have all been facing, commend your employees on rising to the occasion and let them reminisce about the good old days. Give Julia an outlet to share her longing for some burned office coffee and let Joe whine for a bit about the bad smell Bruno leaves in the home office that makes him long for his cubicle. Maybe even send Joe a bottle of Fabreeze to show him you care about his well-being.

Then find someone to help you do the same. A burned-out employer is not a good thing either.

Remember the Humanity

It’s easy to picture your employees these days as little avatars, but remember, they are more than small squares on your screen. Not everyone wanted to slow down. Not everyone discovered a hidden talent, a bread-making fascination, or a desire to bond more with their pets. Not everyone even has pets. Some only have a half-dead succulent to talk to.

Our employees are people and their well-being matters, both for work productivity and emotional wellness. So reach out and check-in with your people. Make sure they still have a steady pulse.