Last month my house almost caught on fire. I was woken up in the middle of the night by a neighbor who was frantically ringing my doorbell. She happened to see that my fence was engulfed in flames and immediately came to the rescue. Within minutes, we’d doused it with water and, other than some charred wood, the house was OK and no one was hurt.
The next day I was a wreck. Nobody slept well. The pandamonium had woken and scared the kids and they spent the remainder of the night in bed with my husband and me. My body was still strained from the anxiety and horror I’d felt and I spent most of the day sleeping and crying.
Somehow, I also felt grateful. Grateful that my neighbors happened to be sitting on their deck at midnight and saw the fire early. Grateful the fire hadn’t done more damage and that no one was hurt. Grateful that it hadn’t spread to another neighbor’s house. And I was grateful to my work colleagues and company that let me take a much-needed wellness day.
Near-traumas like this have a way of making you contemplative. That day, as I thought about what could’ve happened, I felt the weight of parenting and working through a global pandemic finally hit me. I had a day to breathe and suddenly realized that not only was my fence burned, I was burned out, too.
This analogy is all too visceral for me. As my husband and I shoveled the ashes of our fence and safely disposed of them, I couldn’t help but relate it to work. Workplace culture has been a buzzword online in the last year as we all adjusted to the new normal. What culture means has made a major shift as offices evaporated almost overnight. Burnout is on the rise everywhere and, as HR managers and teams struggle to keep up with the changes in workplace culture, I’m reminded that it isn’t just about putting out fires — it’s about stopping them before they start.
But how do you do that? To me, it comes from proactively building a company culture that can survive without brick-and-mortar. A feeling of professional kinship that seeps into the organization’s DNA. So, as an HR pro (and accidental fire safety pro), I’ve put together a list of a few of the ways we at Method have been proactively avoiding burnout.
As it turns out, we don’t need to commute into an office anymore. We don’t need fridges full of snacks like we used to and we don’t really need all of that business travel. Most of us can get the lion’s share of our work done from home and spend the hours that were once dedicated to commuting on our families, pets and ourselves. We’ve made these adjustments to keep business going, but now, the challenge is figuring out what’s going to make a job more than a job and keep us connected to each other in meaningful ways.
At Method, we value people and relationships above all else. We have been tinkering with our policies and continually throwing ideas at the (virtual) wall in an effort to build a culture that fits the modern digital landscape. Our workspaces and lives look very different than they did two years ago. We’ve learned that we can’t live without connecting and getting to know one another outside of our working partnerships. Those afternoons spent co-working at our high-tables, doing lunch breaks at our favorite noodle spots and having impromptu happy hours were actually really critical to our happiness at work and our connection to our jobs.
But things have changed. We’re not all comfortable going back into an office or into a dark and crowded bar. We’ve realized that an hour of extra time with family is infinitely more valuable than an hour in traffic. So, to meet the demands of our people who want to stay remote, we’ve gotten creative about how we connect with each other.
For example, each of our executive team members hosts a monthly lunch where we connect virtually and get to know junior staff and different members of the leadership team who we don’t work with. It’s a great way to see fresh faces and learn more about one another in a relaxed setting.
We’re also taking a look at how we train new employees on “The Method Way.” It’s been a challenge to figure out how to pass along the invaluable knowledge from senior leaders to junior staff when they’re no longer deskmates. Gone are the days of listening to a media relations guru sitting next to you pitch a reporter. Those interpersonal moments of connection and learning through “osmosis” we took for granted. To make up for the in-person perks, we’re playing with more training sessions, office hours, and creating opportunities for people to exist in the same space together — without an agenda.
I hope someday soon the COVID fire will be extinguished. Until then, I’m at peace with this brave new world and excited to creatively tackle the new challenges it brings. As we navigate the current state of employee engagement, I’m working to make our policies as proactive as possible, and help keep people connected to work and one another.