At IBM Canada Ltd, if an employee joins a meeting, but doesn’t turn on their camera, the solution is simple: don’t worry about it.

This is one attitude the company has formalized during the coronavirus pandemic to safeguard the mental well-being of its staff, says Katherine Faichnie, the technology company’s director of human resources.

From a technology perspective, the organization had a fairly easy time transitioning to a work-from-home model, she adds. However, just because employees had the right tools, it didn’t mean every employee could simply continue with business as usual. “It wasn’t as easy as just telling people to work from home.”

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Early on, IBM Canada was aware of the many reasons employees might have trouble settling into a work routine at home. Managers were given the discretion to allow workers up to 10 paid days off outside of normal vacation time, taken in either full or half days, to give them time to complete tasks that would settle them better into a routine.

The company’s senior executives followed this with a pledge to set the tone for the pandemic, says Faichnie. “The purpose of this pledge was really to embrace a mindset across the company about what it really means for an IBM employee to be working from home.”

The pledge promised the company would be family-sensitive and flexible with personal needs. It also formalized support for employees so they didn’t have to be camera ready for video calls and encouraged everyone to be aware of potential video fatigue. As well, IBM Canada stressed the need for kindness, continued connectivity and check-ins, but emphasized the importance of setting boundaries.

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“This came out in early May and has been foundational to how IBM has asked employees and managers to think about working from home,” she says. “We asked managers to talk about it a lot and to role model it. If you’re not camera ready, just say you’re not camera ready. And if someone isn’t on camera, assume they’re not on camera because they’re not camera ready.”

This flexible attitude toward being on camera is also extending into the organization’s focus on being family-sensitive, adds Faichnie. “If they’re on the call and their children walk into the video, acknowledge them, say hi and wave. And if the child has something to say to their parent, encourage them to share it with everybody.”

These moments of joy, she notes, are something workplaces should be looking to foster because so much of what employees and their families typically do for their own enjoyment remains constrained.

“The pledge has been instrumental in reminding everyone at the company how this is not the old, normal time. And how we maintain our awareness and sensitivity to this time will have a huge impact on who IBM is in the future, what the culture is and whether people think it’s a great place to work.”

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