Helping Single Workers Deal With Isolation Is Good for Everyone

Companies typically regard singles as lower-maintenance employees—steady, flexible, and predictable. There are no sick children to upset their routines, no spouse calling for a timely return home. It’s wake, work, repeat.

But when the lockdown shuttered offices, many singles started missing the social interactions built around the workplace—the water cooler banter, coffee breaks, or after-hours drinks with colleagues. Life became a lot of endless days of lonely toil.

Nina Strassner, head of diversity and inclusion at German software maker SAP SE, says the company had long viewed singles as employees “who follow their routines and keep busy through interaction with colleagues and hobbies outside of work.” But SAP started picking up signals early in the lockdown that single employees needed dedicated support because the office—which normally plays a big role in their lives—was now off-limits. They began approaching SAP’s human resources representative, Strassner says, indicating that they were tired of the solitude. “We realized we needed to address their loneliness and isolation, but do it in an open and positive way,” she says.

SAP is no stranger to flexible work arrangements. There are no fixed office hours, and even before the pandemic employees spent an average of two and a half days a week working at home. But with practically the entire company in home confinement, managers had to rethink how they interact with the workforce. Strassner and her team came up with solutions that aimed to brighten up the lives of single employees (though everyone at the company is welcome to join in). They include:

Lunch dates. Programmers created an in-house app that works like Tinder, with users swiping on possible partners. A match allows for a video chat so that pairs can schmooze while they eat.

Virtual barbecue. Complete with advice from a butcher, step-by-step instructions, and a recipe list. More than 1,700 employees tuned in for the three-hour program.

Online wine tastings. Four bottles delivered free of charge, with a sommelier guiding employees through a tasting.

Expert advice. Sometimes it’s best to hear from people who are used to working in isolation, so SAP set up virtual fireside chats with experts. German best-selling author Sebastian Fitzek offered life hacks to boost productivity at home. (One hint: Get dressed like you’re heading to the office—no all-day bathrobes or sweatpants.) A session with German triathlete Laura Lindemann drew more than 1,000 participants keen to learn about endurance and fitness during lockdown.

Group binge-watching. Everyone loves discussing movies and gaming exploits with colleagues in the office, so SAP organized film screenings to spark conversations and sessions for teams to compete in video games.

“Even when we’re eventually all back in the office, a lot of this will stick,” Strassner says. “People don’t feel like second-class participants anymore when they’re not physically in the meeting room.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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