For decades, Silicon Valley has been known for communal office spaces and vibrant workplace cultures. But now, removed from the comfort and reliability of these offices, within just a few months HR professionals have had to broaden their focus, situating themselves on the frontline of helping employees adapt to new ways of doing things. It is up to us to ensure employees continue to be motivated and engaged. It is our responsibility to help them look after their physical and mental health. We need to be the drivers and torchbearers for maintaining company culture, identity, values and focus. All these add up to one of the greatest challenges the HR profession has ever faced. But companies that get it right can emerge all the stronger.
Across the globe, the pandemic has taken its toll on employees’ mental health in unparalleled ways, especially those who have additional stressors surrounding their families, finances and job security. It is especially taxing for those who thrive in the office environment – the buzz of bouncing ideas off colleagues or the relief of break room banter with friends. As employers, we cannot expect employees to work hard for us if they are not given the time and support to focus on their own wellbeing.
That’s why, when our offices closed at Chegg, we did everything we could to keep employees healthy in body and in mind from their homes. Despite the complications of a virtual world, we built in fitness and yoga sessions to our schedules to encourage physical activity in an increasingly sedentary work day. Our staff have told us how much they appreciate these initiatives, with many who previously had little time to focus on keeping fit while busy with the daily commute now finding they have more energy to get through the week. We organised ‘Ask me anythings’ with celebrities and gave staff the week off before 4 July, specifically asking everyone to limit emails so that people could truly enjoy time to themselves.
In recognition of the added stressors on working parents, we offered summer coding camps for our employees’ school-aged children and frequently have a master chef teaching people how to cook alongside their children. We also had a summer music and art camp for preschool-age children. And we provided 12 free psychology or psychiatry sessions to advocate for the mental wellbeing of our teams.
Additionally, we offered employees a $500 (£382) a month payment for childcare for two months, making a total of $1,000 (£764), and we are now looking to repeat this offer. The leadership team also agreed to cut hour-long meetings to 50 minutes and half-hour meetings down to only 25 minutes, so our people can take the time they need during the day for breaks and to help children with their learning. Typically during the summer, our employees are able to travel and spend more time with their families. Although this year is drastically different, we still wanted to encourage free time, so we gave staff Fridays off until the end of September and transitioned to ‘no meetings Fridays’ from October.
Caring for our employees means keeping them motivated and engaged in our mission. We wanted them to know they were part of something bigger even when they couldn’t be with their teammates. We have been keen to involve all of our team in developing our offering so that we respond effectively. As an ever-evolving company, our employees are crucial to our mission and, the stronger they are on a physical, mental and social level, the stronger Chegg can continue to be.
Like everyone else in the world, we hope every day for a vaccine that will bring an end to the pandemic. But the truth is, Covid’s impact on company culture will endure long after life has returned to a new normal. Working at home is here to stay, but the stresses and strains that come with it don’t have to be. As HR professionals, we are the key to unlocking this as we all face an uncertain future.
Debra Thompson is chief people officer at Chegg