Second lockdown: 6 ways to refresh your employee initiatives and keep up morale
If you’re anything like me, news of the second lockdown has been a hard pill to swallow. Although we’re one of the lucky businesses who can operate from home, going a minimum of four weeks without our friends, colleagues, favourite restaurants, cafes or gyms is going to be difficult. So how can we continue to keep our own morale up or even that of our employees?
Fortunately, this isn’t our first rodeo. We put initiatives in place during the first lockdown which will be effective the second time around. I believe the key to making them a success this time is finding ways to keep them fresh. So here are six suggestions to refresh your employee initiatives and keep up morale.
1. Let in some daylight
With this second lockdown, we’re not blessed with long days allowing us to basque in the sun after a day of work. Employees were able to relax in their garden or nearby parks and take in the vitamin D – which has been touted as an important defence to coronavirus. While the science is still being debated on that front, vitamin D does have many other benefits.
For your employees, the main benefit is that vitamin D can positively regulate our moods. And in the winter months, we lose access to the sun and daylight hours which help to increase the levels of vitamin D in the body. People can take supplements but as an employer, why not let your employees structure their day in a way that allows them to take advantage of daylight?
For example, you could allow for a later start, or encourage extended lunch breaks to where employees can go outside for a walk, a run, or even just sit outdoors with a coffee. Those hours could then be made up later in the day when evening draws in and people are less likely to be going outside anyway.
This may not work for every workforce, but it’s a good example of how you can make small changes which benefit your employees and without any cost to the business.
2. Fight against distance and recency biases
Distance and recency biases are cognitive biases that favour those closest to you and recent events, respectively. In simple terms, those physically closest to you or those who you may have interacted with more recently tend to get more of your attention. Your unconscious self will think they are better or more important. This is detrimental to your workforce because it cocoons people in their own work and may impact cross-collaboration.
At Perkbox, I’ve decided to combat this by offering the following advice. Feel free to pass it on to your workforce. For managers, we should always be thinking about our whole team. In hybrid teams, we’re naturally susceptible to distance bias, causing remote workers to feel they are ‘out of sight, out of mind’. We should ensure that every team member is supported and receives the information and tools they need to do their job.
When handing out projects or considering filling a new role, we should make a conscious effort to consider everyone on the team. As managers, we should also ensure that we’re interacting with every direct report on a regular basis so that they are all top of mind as opportunities come up.
For employees, I’ve told them to make themselves memorable! If it’s been a while since their last interaction with their manager or colleagues, encourage them to be proactive, request meetings, provide updates, ask questions at meetings, participate in social activities – whether they’re in person or virtual – or just send someone a message saying ‘hello’.
3. Reinvigorate your wellbeing challenges
Those warmer days in the first lockdown certainly made it easier to take our mind off current events through exercise. At Perkbox, my colleagues were quick to set up a running club where each runner committed to a number of kilometres and others started a burpee challenge – which even captured the attention of Saurav, our Founder.
As with all things, after the novelty of lockdown wore off and the initial excitement towards these challenges dwindled, fewer people got involved. While the running club still existed, it wasn’t having the same impact. This is entirely natural and, as I’m sure you’re aware, when you do try and force participation in an initiative, it’s very rarely enjoyable.
That’s why the running club has mixed things up to give people a new team-focused approach for the second lockdown. Although people still commit to a number of kilometres, the goal is now a monthly goal and they have been split into two teams. The team which runs the most kilometres at the end of the month will be crowned the champions. Just by making this small change they’ve reinvigorated the wellbeing challenge, got current members excited again and also encouraged others in the business to join in!
4. Bring the festive cheer forward
While I’m not suggesting we all celebrate Christmas in November, it may be beneficial to bring forward some of the activities you had planned in December to take place in November. If you’re still looking for ideas, my colleague Maddie recently wrote an article on how to celebrate a socially distanced Christmas at work.
Alternatively, instead of bringing festive initiatives forward, you could spread December’s budget and make part of it available for November. A nice win here could be to send a modest care package to their home with a note telling employees that you’re there for them should they need you. And if you don’t have the budget for the care package, you could still send a card with the same sentiment.
You could even look to ideas which are free yet still make employees happy. For example, BBC’s Children in Need appeal takes place in November and could be a great way to bring employees together. This has the added benefit of doing a good thing for others and spreading a feeling of goodwill across your organisation. Making your fundraising part of a collective group will also bring them closer together, which is shown to improve motivation among employees.
5. Reinforce your digital boundaries
Since the first lockdown, it’s fair to say most of us have become masters of digital communication. People are more aware of how messages come across, aren’t always expecting an immediate response and are more mindful of what we do when our webcams are on!
This also means we’ve all become much more comfortable with communicating digitally and you may have found that people’s digital boundaries have become more blurred. And although some will not have an issue with this, there are others who will not work well when their digital boundaries are being stepped over.
Now would be a good time to revisit your internal communication guidelines or create them if you’re yet to do so. This way you’ll reduce the number of messages pinging around your business and help those struggling to stay on top of them. This is important as managing an inbox or instant messaging app can become incredibly stressful – especially as employees have to piece together what’s going on before being able to actually work.
Get anecdotal feedback from different areas of your workforce to find out what has and hasn’t been working well with digital communication. One idea which has been adopted by many is to have switch-off sessions where people are free to mute notifications and people are discouraged from trying to get in contact with each other unless it’s urgent. Consider adding this to your communication guidelines and reminding your employees that the guidelines exist as we enter the next few weeks of intense digital communication.
6. Make employee loneliness a priority
You may already be familiar with the workplace wellbeing research series which we ran during the initial lockdown. Key findings from that series told us 36% of employees feel less connected to their colleagues and 32% feel lonelier. This was more prevalent with office-based employees who now find themselves working from home compared to those non-office-based. Going into a second lockdown will only make these challenges worse.
Fortunately, this links in with the point I made about fighting distance and recency biases above. We need to do all we can to make people be seen, as well as feeling connected to the business and their colleagues. At Perkbox, we’ve started a bi-weekly ‘Tuesday Rave’ where the whole company is encouraged to attend and departments take it in turns to update the business about what they’ve been doing. It’s a time to celebrate accomplishments. It’s not designed with the formality of an all-company meeting and is instead a light-hearted way to see what’s going on in the rest of the business.
We’ve also launched a new group channel on Slack, our instant messaging app, called Perkbox Unity. This initiative came about from our employee feedback. Its aim is to bring Perkboxers together through work collaboration. Anyone who has a project which they feel could benefit from outside help shares what they’re doing in the channel and asks if there’s anyone who could lend a hand. It’s a great way to bring people together who wouldn’t normally collaborate and steers away from being forced fun.
I hope these ideas can help you with the second lockdown. Feel free to borrow some or all of them but more importantly use your own people and culture to inspire new initiatives that feel right in your organisation.