26 Jun Agency Life: 10 Ways to Prevent Burnout During 2020
Agency life is stressful during good times and bad. When things are good, growth can happen faster than hiring and onboarding can keep up. When things are bad, people know that their jobs might be at risk. It’s rare for an agency to be in that perfect sweet spot where slow growth moves along at just the right pace. That’s why, despite how it’s been glorified in countless movies and TV shows over the year, agency life can be tough.
For us at Ignite Social Media and our influencer marketing affiliate Carusele, the year that will forever be remembered for COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and economic stress caused by stay at home orders has been a busy one. Social media remains the single most important way for brands to quickly and efficiently communicate fast-changing information. We’ve been as busy as ever.
100 Days Closed
While being busy as ever, we’re at roughly 100 days with our offices in North Carolina and Michigan closed. Switching to work from home was easy for us as we already use Slack, Zoom, Box, and Office 365 so everything we do already lives in the cloud. Our phones, our files, and our emails were easily accessible.
What’s been more of a challenge however is the lack of face to face collaboration and communication that we have long relied on as part of our normal course of business. In addition, many of our colleagues are working from home without normal office space, but also while trying to balance at home daycare.
10 Actions to Fight Burnout
We certainly don’t have all the answers here but I thought I would share what we have done during this unusual time in the hopes that it might be helpful to someone else. In that spirit, here are 10 things we’ve done to help our team avoid burnout during 2020 (so far, at least… We’re only ½ way through this thing…)
- Insisting People Take Time Off
- Zappy Hours/Coffee Breaks
- Summer Fridays
- Switching All Hands Meetings to On-Demand Videos
- Reimbursements for Fitness Equipment
- Manager Check-Ins
- Office Supplies
- Gathering Team Input
- Video Optional Days
- Office Optional for 2020
I. Time Off
When you have no place to go, there’s not a lot of appeal to taking time off. But we knew that time away from the computer was as important now as ever. During certain peak times, when social channels were getting slammed with comments, it was even more important. We already have an “on-demand” vacation and sick leave policy (we don’t have a limit to either) so taking an extra day doesn’t cost you the ability to take one later. Individual team leaders worked with their teams to make sure they booked time off.
It’s surprising how many people need a little encouragement to take time off. Give it to them.
II. Zappy Hours/Coffee Breaks
We’re certainly not the only ones using Zoom to get together. In fact, for the first few weeks of the pandemic, newsfeeds were filled with images like this one.
While they are good to do, we found that one key is making them absolutely optional. If your kid needs your attention at a given time, having to smile and pretend you’re enjoying something that isn’t essential adds to your stress. We never make these mandatory.
III. Summer Friday
When all you sell is the time and talent of your team, giving away hours can seem counterintuitive. But for 14 weeks this summer, we’re giving the whole team Friday afternoon off. That equates to an extra 7 days off.
What we found was that when an individual took time off, they often felt the need to check in with the rest of the team, so they didn’t truly disconnect. But with the office closed, that pressure goes away.
Since we do social media marketing, we had to pay a team of trusted contractors to check our client pages on a regular basis and alert us to any issues. That meant we had an out-of-pocket cost as well. But we determined that a high-energy workforce was more than worth the expense.
IV. Kill the “All Hands” Meeting
Our monthly agency meeting has long been a tradition, but we’ve put it on hold during the pandemic and replaced it with a recorded version that can be watched at each person’s leisure. We still have information we want to communicate monthly to the entire team, but as we thought about it, we realized it didn’t matter that everyone heard it at the exact same minute. Again, if your child needs you, or your spouse has to be on a call at the exact same time, that’s fine.
Now, two of us record the agency meeting in Zoom, tighten it up to a shorter version (the one-hour meeting is now recorded in about 20 minutes or so), and share the video file with the entire team in Slack.
V. Reimburse for Fitness Equipment
We already have a program that allows employees to get reimbursed for gym memberships as part of our belief that healthy employees are happier and more productive. But when COVID-19 hit, and gyms closed, a lot of our team were locked out of their gyms. We pivoted our program to allow up to $600 to be used to pay for home fitness equipment.
From building some home fitness equipment to buying a used Peloton, our team has put this to good use to stay in shape and burn off some of the stress we’re all feeling.
VI. Manager Check Ins
In the first week or so of our work from home experience, we frequently encouraged staff to check in with agency or team leadership with anything they needed. Fairly quickly, we realized that wasn’t enough. We’ve all been conditioned to some extent to reply with banalities when we’re asked how we’re doing and we’ve been conditioned to not bring the personal life into the office.
But now the office and personal life had 100% merged in a very disruptive fashion. It was up to our agency leaders to check in with their teams and have real conversations about how people were feeling, what they were struggling with, etc.
We also canceled most of our major agency initiatives for the year and instructed the team that having overdue agency work was ok. Overdue client work was not ok, but we can definitely survive a slower pace of change for our internal systems. Ironically, a team that has a bit of a lighter schedule is still moving forward on a major initiative, but the pressure has been recognized and abated.
VII. Office Supplies
At first, people grabbed their laptops and headed home for what we initially said would be “at least 2 weeks.” When we realized it would be longer, we switched focus to making sure people had all the comforts of the office at home. We encouraged people to go to the office and pillage whatever they needed.
Our team took extra monitors (we all use 2 or 3 monitors), office chairs, docking stations, and anything else they needed. When that wasn’t enough, we encouraged people to buy what they needed. We bought a fair number of wireless headsets, some desks, and other assorted materials. When you sell time, losing productivity over a $100 piece of technology simply makes no sense.
VIII. Gathering Team Input
When it came time to figure out significant next steps, we often asked the team what they thought. We asked what would make people comfortable coming back to the office. We asked how many days a week they’d like to be able to work in the office if they could. When the Black Lives Matter movement gained prominence, we allocated $10,000 in donation money and asked the team where to contribute.
All of us feel a bit powerless right now. We can’t go where we want and do what we want. We can at least come together as a team to contribute to these important decisions.
IX. Video Optional Days
The first couple of Zoom calls felt like pretty strong replacements for being face-to-face. But eventually, we felt (and later read) that Zoom calls can be tiring. We started making certain days video optional. Interestingly, most people don’t utilize the ability to stay video off, but it’s nice to have certain options when you just don’t feel like putting in the effort. We’re a pretty casual bunch already, but when things were at their craziest, certain people on our team appreciated this.
X. Office Optional in 2020
We’re re-opening our offices at no more than 50% capacity next week, but nobody on our team will be compelled to use them anytime in 2020. Why? We recognize how little we know about this virus and about an individual’s personal risk level. We’ve never asked (and don’t intend to ask) our team if they have underlying health conditions. We’ve not asked if they are caring for someone who is immune-compromised.
Some people, myself included, enjoy getting into the office and feel more productive there. Some could use a work break from their children once or twice a week to be really prolific. And we’re going to offer that, with modifications. But while we’re learning daily new information about this virus, we’re not going to compel someone to take a risk they aren’t comfortable with. Plus, all we sell is the time and talent of our people. If we get a number of illnesses at the same time, it could be devastating for our business.
As I said early on, we certainly don’t have all the answers here. One of our core values is #AlwaysLearning and 2020 has tested us in ways we could never have anticipated. This is how we’ve responded so far. If 2020 keeps up this pace, I’m sure we’ll have to think of something new. But I certainly am hoping for a return to some semblance of normalcy.