Better Together: How We at Great Place To Work® Are Growing Closer at a Distance

 Better Together: How We at Great Place To Work® Are Growing Closer at a Distance


Photo: our colleague Cessi Riva Mosquera who has been building a climbing wall for her children during her 14 days of isolation in Buenos Aires. 

In the past two weeks, I’ve learned that I have a colleague with an anxious mom and a stubborn sister. Another has a creative but rambunctious daughter as well as a devoted but highly distractable husband. Yet another has a spouse who works as a nurse, who could be asked to join the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19.

I’ve seen kids and cats, observed an attic and a home improvement project, and heard about panic, despair and hope.

In short, I’ve become more deeply connected to my colleagues here at Great Place To Work® than ever before.

And this closeness at a distance is partly how we’re getting through the coronavirus crisis.

We’re doubling down on intimacy, even though we’re physically separate and everybody’s working from home. We’re putting a higher premium on humanity, in all its messiness. We’re trusting that togetherness is going to ease the anxiety of these strange days and enable our organization to be its best as we move into an uncertain future.

In this regard, we’re drinking our own champagne. Our CEO Michael C. Bush is counseling other leaders to make clear that being a people-first organization today means acknowledging and welcoming the caring duties that so many employees are performing now. It means encouraging self-care. It means making space for kids and cats and even crying jags.

“We want our employees to hug that child, to pet that pet, to pick up that cat,” Michael says. “The employees’ mental health and the mental health of the child or the pet come first right now. To ignore this fact will erode trust at the time you need it most.”

Amen, Michael. Part of what’s improved my mental health is to see the creativity and comedic genius of my co-workers.

One colleague is holed up in her San Francisco apartment by herself. She moved in, from across the country, just as the “shelter in place” order went into effect. She’s cooking elaborate meals from scratch and pretending to be her own wait staff. It’s “so I feel like I’m out at a restaurant,” she explained to me. On the menu recently:

Salmon and crab cakes
Lemon aioli dressing
Roasted vegetables
Caesar salad
And a glass of wine.

Another colleague has been wielding a power sander to build a climbing wall for her boys. Even though she’s far away from me—I’m in San Francisco while she’s in Buenos Aires—I can almost smell the sawdust from the pictures she shared on our intranet. 

I learned about the climbing wall from a thread we established to share what we’re up to during #QuarantineLife. People jumped in to share hilarious riffs on “Tiger King,” favorite games and new drink varieties: “Quarantinis” and “Quaran-tea.”

(I’ll take a Quarantini, please!)

It’s still early days in the coronavirus outbreak. I don’t fool myself that we’re not going to have difficult moments ahead. When team members may lose a loved one or experience other pandemic problems.

I weathered a small virus-related storm yesterday, in fact.

One of my family members contacted me, feeling sad if not outright depressed amid the COVID-19 gloom. And a close friend shared that her elderly father fell and suffered brain trauma. It was a life-threatening injury, and my friend was distraught that she might not be able to be at his side because of coronavirus restrictions.

Partly because of these matters, I missed my deadline on this very blog.

But I felt I comfortable enough to tell my editor colleague that caregiving related to COVID-19 had set me back. And she understood.

“Hi Ed, that's a rough lot of news you're handling ,” she wrote back, complete with sad-face emoji. “I'm so sorry for your friend and your family.”

So things are tough today. And they’re liable to get tougher. But things are a bit easier working at an organization where we have each other’s backs. Where we are getting to know one another more fully.  

Where we are getting through this together. 

Are you OK? It might just be the most critical question you ask your colleagues – and yourself – right now. This a question being asked at Certified™ great workplaces as we continue to wrestle with the COVID-19 crisis. Join our weekly webinar, “Together,” to learn from Great Place To Work experts and other leaders grappling with today’s challenges in the workplace.

Ed Frauenheim