Natasha Hill: How have employers supported their staff during the pandemic?

The term staff welfare has never meant so much. The last three months have challenged business leaders to think creatively about how to support their teams across a number of different dimensions. At Bottle, we  have categorised our support in terms of emotional, mental, practical and, because culture is important to us, social.

As a digital PR agency, our team is constantly monitoring the news and cannot escape the endless barrage of fear-inducing stories about the virus and its effects. Even the calmest team members felt fearful of their health, family and job security. Above the practical support strategies, we knew communication was essential.

We have increased the company video meetings to three a week, each with a different purpose. Mondays focus on the business, Wednesdays are all about engagement and Fridays are more social with a cup of tea or beer. We were conscious that some quieter team members might end up feeling invisible, so we chose to rotate responsibility to lead our meetings to ensure that everyone at all levels of the business has a voice. For example, we take it in turns to share a ‘Fantasy Island’: a dream holiday destination for a team getaway, to provide a bit of escapism before the weekend.

Openness and transparency have been key to reassuring the team about job security. From the beginning, we have explained our strategies for maintaining business stability and provide an update every month. Ambiguity is tough, so we have been generous with what we share which is a mix of things that we are certain about, as well as the things that we simply could not be clear on. We have had feedback that the sharing of our thinking about how we might approach different scenarios has been an invaluable comfort.

We have encouraged the team to be open about their ups and downs. We call it the ‘Coronacoaster’ and have added some new support tools such as The House of Wellbeing, a 24/7 online meditation service tailored to a wide range of specific needs such as anxiety about Covid-19 or confidence. We also organised a guided breath-work session, a powerful tool for combating stress, which we practiced together on Zoom. It was not for everyone, but those who took part found it an incredible experience, like nothing they had done before.

We have always been a social agency, so we arranged a summer social where every team member was sent a goodie bag with props, treats and things to prepare in advance. Plus a voucher for pizza and drinks which we ordered to arrive just before the party started. It does not beat a physical connection, but it was great to spend an evening together all dressed up with a lot of silliness.

The need for fun has underpinned our team collaborations for our Instagram feed. Now we cannot be together, this channel’s purpose of team unity exploded. From our first video montage to the song ‘You can’t touch this’ on the first day we were working from home, to our #guessthefront door, and recording renditions of happy birthday, it is these little sprinkles of joy that go a long way in pursuit of staff welfare during this crazy time.

Natasha Hill is managing director at Bottle PR