The COVID-19 pandemic has led to severe stress in most people’s lives for myriad reasons- most of which we’ve already discussed at length in previous articles. This article is different- we’re not going to just talk about stress, we’re going to discuss what different companies are doing to relieve it. During a pandemic, it’s natural that people are looking for outlets where they can relieve stress and/or be distracted. Sometimes people want the opportunity to vent; other times they want to put their energy into something positive, constructive, or just plain enjoyable. And since the option to go out is still very limited, people are turning to Slack channels.
Relieving stress and doing things we love together can boost the immune system and our morale during the COVID-19 crisis. It’s also an effective way to bring people together even while we’re apart. These 10 companies are using Slack channels to connect with and provide stress relief to their employees, customers, and community members.
What are Slack channels? In a nutshell, Slack is a chat room for your entire company. It provides a method of communication and sharing that can be set as either public or private. Furthermore, it provides companies with an opportunity to create and expand a work culture that revolves around employees’ health and happiness. In fact, many companies seem to be using these virtual channels as an opportunity to transition their work culture into one that is more employee-centered. Here’s how these innovative companies are giving their employees some Slack during the COVID-19 crisis.
1. “Dear Virtual Diary”...
Highwire PR, a San Francisco-based communications agency, decided to create a Slack group called “Dear Diary”. Essentially, it’s a space for employees to vent about interruptions to their work flow (a.k.a., their partners, kids, pets, ect.). In addition to coping with other physical and mental stressors related to the COVID-19 outbreak, many people are forced to work from home. That means adjusting to new systems, templates, and yes, the inevitable interruptions. An example of an entry might be something like, “My child still only hears the ‘home’ part when I say I’m working from home”, or “My labradoodle apparently thinks ‘working from home’ means I’ve become a 24-hour kennel assistant...and he’s my boss.”
You don’t have to keep everything PC, either. More serious stressors can be vented here (although this Slack group is just a diary, and its main purpose is to give employees a space to vent, not find solutions). For example, if you’ve got a co-worker at another job who asked you for virtual drinks, you can vent that it’s just as creepy as it would be if he/she did this in real time.
SimScale, a leading software design company, recognizes that the most genuine communication happens outside of a professional structure. Their #random channel may seem a little, well, random, but that’s exactly the way this non-professional channel is meant to be. It’s a space where employees can communicate candidly without the pressure of having to maintain professionalism (or at least a high degree of it, anyway).
What kind of #random things do SimScale employees share on the channel? They’re invited to talk about articles and new items that pique their interest, but they’re also encouraged to share general thoughts and ideas.
This channel is inspiring, if not downright ingenious, for several reasons. For one, it helps create a culture that nurtures creativity, self-expression, and innovation. When employees feel comfortable to candidly share ideas and perspectives outside a professional setting, they may be more likely to have the confidence to make individual contributions in a professional setting. SimScale is actively showing their employees that they value their individual contributions, and this can translate to a collaborative professional culture. #random sends the message that the company doesn’t just care about who their employees are professionally- they care about who they are personally, too. It goes without saying that this channel and work culture also helps engage remote workers, making them feel as if they belong as much as locals.
3. Music Makes the World Go ‘Round
Music is a universally powerful channel for stress relief and connectivity. It turns out that’s a virtual reality, too. (Pun intended). Irvine, California-based SecureAuth Corporation is engaging employees with a Slack channel called Music Break. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a fun space where employees can sign up to share songs, playlists, music videos, and virtually anything tunes-related. Musical employees can also use this channel as a virtual spotlight; they’re invited to sing original songs or covers, play instruments, or perform karaoke. (Families of employees are invited to get in on the fun, too).
Sharing and listening on this channel is not just a way for employees to destress through music- although it’s certainly that, too. Music Break also provides a new way to connect with each other personally, understand each other better, and form stronger relationships that will benefit employees professionally, too. These connections are being formed all over the world through the channel. SecureAuth employees are reportedly sharing not just songs, but the reasons why the music they share is personally meaningful to them. Music is helping to create more meaningful relationships among employees near and far. The result, according to SecureAuth, is that they’re better able to communicate and support each other to get things done under new, challenging circumstances.
4. Coffee Time
By the third month of working from home, we all know that morning coffee breaks are definitely still a thing. But an international education company called General Assembly has made it so they can still be shared with co-workers. With headquarters in New York City, General Assembly learned firsthand how vital it is to inject some normalcy and relaxation into a virtual day during the outbreak.
What is General Assembly’s coffee break? It’s a video chat room in which all employees are free to come and go as they please during “coffee hour”. This way, employees who crave coffee and human connection don’t have to go without either. It may seem like a simple gesture on behalf of General Assembly, but simple things often create the greatest sense of normalcy in our daily lives. Besides, let’s face it: Working from home doesn’t mean that people are prepared to be thrown into daly tasks without the chance to fuel up for them. Most humans aren’t wired that way. Coffee breaks, whether indulged in alone or with co-workers, allow us to ease into the day’s work slowly and pleasantly. And, of course, they keep us caffeinated.
5. SquareFoot: Don’t Just Be About It, Talk About It
SquareFoot isn’t just working from home- they’re talking about working from home. We know, that sentence may have sounded backwards. Wouldn’t it be more productive if SquareFoot’s employees weren’t talking about working from home, and doing it instead? Well, we’ve got news for you: They’re doing both. They’re working from home and talking about it, which is probably the most productive formula for working remotely to date.
We can probably all agree that employees could use as much support working from home as possible. It’s not even remotely easy to learn how to do our jobs virtually . (Again, pun intended). For many employees, working from home doesn’t just involve learning to use virtual systems to accomplish similar tasks that can be done in person. As if that’s not enough, it can also require employees to be more resourceful and innovative than they would have otherwise had to be.
For example, product demos have mostly all gone virtual. PR and marketing professionals have had to develop entirely virtual strategies, and engaging with remote audiences can be challenging. For workers whose job it is to strategize remotely, there aren’t always clear instructions. And even when they are, they’re not always easy to follow, especially at times when virtual and tech support isn’t readily available.
How are employees handling these issues? Have they discovered any tips and tricks to troubleshoot when technical difficulties arise? Have they had great results with employee and customer engagement during the pandemic, or are they in need of some advice? Employees don’t have to have a specific query or goal for joining one company’s Working From Home Slack channel. They can join in just to vent or candidly share thoughts and feelings about working remotely.
NYC-based SquareFoot, a company that works to help companies find office space in a competitive real estate market, started this channel for several reasons. For one thing, it’s a constructive space where employees can share ideas on how to improve the working-from-home experience. But in another vein, it’s also a space where co-workers can candidly share their negative or off-color experiences about working from home. The environment is similar to a coffee break in which co-workers chat socially. It’s not a formal space where specific feedback is given and received- there is ample time for that when actually working from home. This Slack channel is just for talking about working from home, not doing it!
6. Work is for (Movie) Lovers
We may not be able to go to the movies with co-workers, but we can still talk about them. Rev, a San Francisco-based transcription service, created a Slack channel specifically with movie enthusiasts in mind. In this chat, people share what films and genres they’ve been watching; they also make suggestions for co-workers. It’s as simple- and vital- as that.
We think it’s great that Rev and so many other companies recognize how vital it is to make work not just about work- especially during a high-stress period like a pandemic. At the risk of being redundant, let’s do a brief review: Enjoying oneself stimulates endorphins and other feel-good chemicals that lift moods and boost the immune system. This fosters well-being and productivity, which is a win-win for companies and their employees.
7. Trivial Pursuits, Anyone?
Let’s revisit General Assembly for a moment (virtually, of course). To be clear, the company isn’t just lounging around having coffee breaks. They’ve also implemented several other innovative Slack channels to keep their employees engaged. Apparently, no pursuit of fun and connection is too trivial for General Assembly...literally. Bad jokes aside, they end the day with a company-wide trivia game. The channel has nearly 150 members and is growing.
It works like this: A designated trivia emcee provides the group with a question, and employees type their answers into a Slack thread until- ding ding!- someone gets it right.
8. Virtual Happy Hour
An IT company called GitLab normally operates as a fully remote workforce, so “going virtual” wasn’t much of a challenge for them. However, the company sometimes does meetings with clients in-person over meals, drinks, and at conferences. It can be challenging to pitch products and services remotely, but virtual happy hours are GitLab’s easy solution- and it’s working.
By mixing a drink from home, and inviting clients to do the same, GitLab’s business partnerships leaders provide a relaxed environment where business problems can be solved. In or out of a pandemic, remote work poses myriad challenges to communication and problem solving. GitLab is making its company leaders and employees accessible to clients from the comfort of their homes. Mixing in a drink or two puts clients at ease, and when stress is reduced, people think more clearly. Problem solved (or at least temporarily remedied).
9. Surviving COVID-19 Together
We can’t talk about stress relief through virtual channels and COVID-19 without acknowledging that we are all surviving a pandemic together. That’s the bigger reality here, and it deserves attention and support. DISQO, a Los Angeles-based company, provides employees with a safe space called “Surviving COVID-19” where they can vent and provide each other with support and share experiences. Sometimes just having an ear (or several) to listen is enough to help someone survive a difficult day or get into a better headspace.
Surviving COVID-19 is also an ideal space to share information that can be helpful or even life-saving. In equal measure, it’s a space where employees cope through humor by sharing memes, funny family photos, and hilarious “working from home” stories. According to DISQO, the entire experience has an uplifting effect. Their employees are getting to know one another better than before, and it’s creating a more positive, productive work culture. The company hopes these changes will carry into the future, creating a more supportive environment for everyone.
10. Setting Boundaries
As important as it is to talk about COVID-19, a company called Basecamp, a premier project management company, also recognizes the need not to talk about it. The same is true for discussions about working remotely. In other words, everyone copes differently. Some people need to vent about COVID-19 and the challenges of working from home often; others find that talking about it too much increases anxiety and negative emotions, and decreases productivity. Finding a healthy balance can be tricky, especially in a group with many different people involved. Basecamp’s answer to this precarious issue is to set boundaries. They’re doing this by designating some time to talk about COVID-19, but there are also channels in which talk about work or COVID-19 is off-limits.
In these channels, employees can get together to talk about any and (almost) all personal interests- movies, food, pets, hobbies, you name it. But if it involves work or COVID-19, there are channels dedicated specifically to those topics, and related talks should stay there. This format provides much-needed support and normalcy to employees. Sounds like a recipe for sanity to us.
Around the world, Slack channels are providing new, innovative ways for companies and their employees to support each other. The result? Companies are seeing increased momentum and productivity, as well as the development of stronger and more humanistic work cultures. Will these changes carry into the future and, at least on a small scale, revolutionize the American work culture? That remains to be seen, but we’re cautiously optimistic that some of these companies will see these changes stick.