How Mission North’s Focus Fridays Keep Employees Plugged In and Productive

One major challenge facing People Operations leaders today is how to help everyone within their organizations achieve and then maintain a good work-life balance. This issue has become much more complex as we all keep adjusting how and where we work in response to the changing impact of the ongoing pandemic.

Earlier this year, we introduced Focus Fridays at Mission North where we ask all of our employees to keep their calendars meeting-free every Friday afternoon. We strongly encourage everyone to use this time to do whatever they feel is restorative. Some staff take walks, spend time with family, catch up on work or respond to non-urgent email. Around major public holidays, we also offer an additional day off on the closest Friday to round out a generous holiday and unlimited vacation program.

Before we settled on Focus Fridays, we first tried blocking off the first week of every month for our employees to go without meetings. However, we quickly discovered that having so many meeting-free days in a row was unrealistic for both our teams and our clients. That process helped us zero in on what we were looking to accomplish and what needed to change beyond our schedules, resulting in meeting-free Friday afternoons. We were forced to think more creatively and to decide which meetings could move from Zoom to Slack or to email as well which meetings could shift to a bi-weekly format on another day or could be combined elsewhere in the week.

Working backwards from the end of the week has improved our efficiency in the four-and-a-half days leading up to our restorative time. We are able to ensure that our time spent on-camera is necessary while everything we deliver to our clients meets the high standards we’ve set for ourselves. We’ve found that our Focus Fridays are especially valuable to junior staffers who have less experience advocating for time to focus and recharge themselves for another busy week ahead.

We also offer our employees two annual company-wide mental health days, one in March and the other in October. We love hearing about the wide range of relaxing activities that our staff have engaged in on those days from attending concerts, going to yoga or other classes, volunteering to chaperone their kids’ field trips, baking recipes from grandma’s cookbook, reconnecting with siblings or visiting parents, and binging on reality television. 

Like other organizations, we’ve experimented with a variety of approaches in a bid to combat Zoom fatigue and support our employees and their shifting work styles, from close-knit groups in our Brooklyn, San Francisco and Portland offices to going fully remote to hybrid working to returning to the office once again. I’d like to give special credit to our mental health employee resource community, as these members were quick to bring innovative ideas to combat burnout and maintain our quality of work while preserving our company culture.

Our pulse surveys of Mission North staff tell us that our approach is helping to drive overall employee satisfaction. For instance, our attrition rate has remained below 12%, even as we doubled in size, adding 52 new employees in 2021. Our engagement scores held steady through the worst of quarantine and employee feedback, which we use to gauge how well we’re responding to our team needs, has stayed overwhelmingly positive.

But don’t just take it from me, here are some thoughts employees posted on our virtual Gratitude Wall:

"Grateful for a workplace that celebrates employees (and that doesn't just tolerate them)."

“Feeling grateful for our Focus Fridays—makes Mondays so much more organized and less stressful!”

“Working somewhere that normalizes mental health transparency as much as we normalize physical health needs. I love that everyone has therapy clearly marked on their calendar and it's treated as sacred time.” 

“Feeling very grateful today for the mental health day! Had a very bad anxiety weekend so I took yesterday off for some self-care, and came back today feeling refreshed and much more able to bring my best and whole self to work. So grateful to work at a place where mental health days are not just normalized but encouraged!” 

“I am grateful to be able to skate out of work early tomorrow to kick off my mental health day festivities with a scheduled facial in the afternoon and tix to see Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube & Warren G tomorrow night! I’m grateful that I was able to reschedule my 1:1 to make this possible!”

As a longtime HR professional, I realize that our strategy might not work across every sector. Every company should find the proper balance that works best for their employees, clients and their bottom line. That said, the pandemic has demonstrated that our old attitudes surrounding work/life balance needed rethinking in order to attract and retain top talent and to maintain a productive and positive company culture.

Are you interested in joining the Mission North team? We're hiring! Check out our open positions here.

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