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What We’ve Done to Fight COVID-Burnout

Date: August 12, 2020 • Category: Digital Natives • By: Ben Guttmann

It’s been 153 days since my last in-person business meeting on March 12. Like most people at the time, we thought this all might be over in a few weeks, and then we’ll be back at it by the time things warmed up. And like most people, we underestimated it.

In the past five months, the world has changed, and on a micro-level our own lives have changed with it. We’ve had to think about how to run an agency and keep our team healthy and humming during this seismic shift. Here’s a few of the things we’ve done to keep us going – for however long this might be.

Extra Time Off

Especially in the dark and confusing weeks at the beginning of this crisis, people were stressed. For us, and for the biggest agencies in the world, business had slowed, finances were hazy, and we were all scrambling to keep the ship afloat and moving in the right direction. It was not a great time to take a vacation day.

And that’s what happened: nobody took vacation days. People were exhausted and fried, but weren’t even thinking about dipping into their PTO. So, we added time off to the calendar. First this was a couple impromptu dates, then we formalized with with extra time over the Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day weekends, and an extension of Summer Fridays to cover an extra month. All told, these dates have already added up to nearly two full weeks of extra time off for our team.

But what about productivity and deadlines? We’ve maybe never been more productive. Our team is more energized and more focused, and we’re continually exploring ways to adjust the calendar further. We’ve always believed that great marketing is about connecting to humanity and culture, and the more time we can empower our team to do that, the better they are.

Hardware and Home

With the sudden change of setting, many of us quickly realized that our WFH setups were sub-optimal. As the days crept by, the back pain and headaches crept in. To help make everybody healthier and more comfortable, we individually worked with all of our teammates to make sure they had a work environment that works for them. Sometimes this meant we ordered new stands, monitors, cameras, and peripherals, and for other employees that meant taking their standing desk and chair home from the office. People got copies of client materials mailed to them, and we even troubleshooted a few finicky home wi-fi networks.

Keeping Community

We always had a Monday morning staff meeting, but as we added new employees and remote work continued on, we looked at the calendar and put two other culture-building events on the schedule. First, we instituted an “Enrichment Potluck” for a half-hour every Wednesday morning, where one member of the team holds court and teaches something to the rest of the crew, then nominates the next host. On Fridays, we put a 4PM recess hour on the schedule to host some games, watch videos, or just celebrate the end of the week. I’ll be candid that the Friday event has slipped a few times with days off and busy schedules, but it’s nice to still have that milestone on the schedule for when we can get together.

Audio Only

At the beginning of this, everything became a video call. Of course our meetings all became Zooms, but oddly so did most phone calls. If you’re at your computer all day, it’s easy to just click that button and see your client or colleague on the screen.

But Zoom fatigue is real, and when you combine those meetings with happy hours, birthday parties, and baby showers, it was just a lot. So, for many internal (and some external) conversations, we switched to video-off by default. We’ve found this to be significantly less mentally taxing, and it allows for more variety in the workday than sitting in your one perfectly-angled video chat setup.

Asynchronous, A-OK

If there is one defining characteristic of the world we’re in now, it’s that less is happening all together. When we’re not gathering in an office or at an event, we realize that a lot things can be done at not-the-same-time. We’ve long had clients, contractors, and employees in varying timezones, but this shift pushed that envelope further. To accommodate for either different longitudes or different home responsibilities, we’ve become more flexible about the “when” within any given day. Some people are starting and ending earlier, some later. We’ve nudged a few items on our team schedule to better accommodate these shifts, and we’ve embraced the opportunity to get “deep work” done without distraction when we can.

 


 

We don’t know what the next 5 months will hold, but we’re sure that things will continue to change. These adjustments have helped us curb burnout so far, but they are not perfect yet – and we’re going to continue fine-tuning our operations as we learn more. Like a great project, this is an iterative journey.

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