Linda Descano, CFA®, Executive Vice President, Red Havas
When invited to write about building team spirit among employees at a time when we so desperately need to remain connected, my inner networker kicked right into gear. I went to those who I consider “my team”—current and former colleagues, as well as friends and family members near and far. When asked for their insights and experiences as business owners, executives, people managers and rank-and-file employees, they didn’t disappoint.
And most shared a singular sentiment, reporting that the team-building tactics that have risen to the top for them during the coronavirus have been the social activities that many organizations have put into practice during lockdown. Think virtual happy hours and trivia games, Wellness Wednesdays and Fancy-Dress Fridays and Bring Your Child or Pet to Zoom Days. Also well received: handwritten notes from managers or the heads of their business unit, as well as care packages that included hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial wipes and, in some cases, the all-important face mask. Even more impressive, a handful received an actual roll of the most precious commodity of the pandemic—that’s right: TP.
Mentioned less frequently, yet also highly valued, was the one-on-one sense of “mental well-being” imparted by managers who granted their employees greater flexibility in how they bundled their work-personal time in a given day. Other managers gave the gift of time on the company’s dime for employees to spend on self-care, ranging from one hour per day to a few hours per week.
What also was interesting was the number of people who gushed about how they felt even more connected to their colleagues—especially those in other cities, countries and continents—and how much more deep and meaningful their conversations had become now that the wall between their professional and personal lives had been disassembled and they had little choice other than to bring their whole, real self to the table. This wasn’t just the case within peer-to-peer interactions, but also between people of vastly different levels who hadn’t had much face-to-face time in the past.
All of this was truly inspiring and heartwarming. But it also begs a question: Why did it take a pandemic crisis for so many organizations and leaders to show employees that they care? To offer the flexibility that so many of us need or just crave? To recognize that we have families and fur babies that need us? To celebrate our quirks? To acknowledge our vulnerabilities, and give us the space we need to be our best selves?
I put that question to several folks whose leadership I’ve strived to emulate and, frankly, no one had a good answer. The majority did say, though, that while their companies had flexible work, care-giving support, mental health support, and similar policies in place before the pandemic, they often were activated at the discretion of individual managers versus granted as “universal right” by virtue of being an employee of the company. The pandemic changed that seemingly overnight, as organizations came under intense scrutiny for how they were supporting employees during this crisis.
As the spotlight shifts to other issues, and we settle into new routines in the “next normal,” let’s hope this experience ushers in a new, more human-centered approach to leadership with actions that support the “people-first, people-matter” words we’ve been hearing and have come to believe. It’s up to each of us to deliver—our teams, our families, and we ourselves deserve it.
About the Author: Linda joined Havas PR in 2015 to spearhead the agency’s digital, social and measurement practice areas. With more than 15 years of experience, she specializes in providing strategic counsel and tactical implementation of integrated communications programs, incorporating PR, media relations, social media, content partnerships, influencer marketing, thought leadership and advertising. Her work includes a variety of sectors including financial services, economic development, pharma and corporate responsibility. Previously, Linda was managing director and global head of content marketing and social media at Citi, where she launched numerous digital firsts and served as president and CEO of Women & Co., the bank’s award-winning financial lifestyle community for women. Her honors include PR News’ 2018 PR Professional of the Year, 2018 Campaign U.S. Digital 40 Over 40, 2014 Fox Information Technology Distinguished Alumni Award from the Fox School of Business at Temple University, 2014 Pinnacle in Leadership Award from the Girl Scouts of Greater New York, and 2013 Changing the Game Award from Advertising Women of New York (now known as She Runs It). Linda also served as a judge for The Content Council Pearl Awards in 2018 and 2017. Linda serves as a capstone mentor and advisory council member for the Fox School of Business M.S. in Digital Innovation in Marketing program. She currently serves on the board of directors of New York Women in Communications (and is a past president) and Servo Annex, a digital consultancy.