Sandia LabNews

Tele-connecting while telecommuting

Sandia groups offer ways to connect, stay healthy while working from home

With a significant portion of Sandia employees telecommuting in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many internal organizations are working hard to keep people healthy and connected while supporting the Labs’ mission.

Health educator Jenn Perea said the Employee Health Services team continues to make sure employees have access to programs, classes and coaching, many of which are available virtually.

“During uncertain times, your health is more important than ever,” Jenn said. “A lot has changed recently, but your health doesn’t have to. Our team is still here to help you adapt to changing work situations and manage your wellbeing.”

Counselors, health programs available online

fitness class on laptop
ROCKING FITNESS — Sandia’s fitness instructors are offering virtual exercise classes to help employees stay in shape, both physically and mentally. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

Employees are encouraged to talk with a counselor through Sandia’s Employee Assistance Program if they are feeling overwhelmed or anxious due to the spread of COVID-19, Jenn said. Counselors can help employees navigate through anxiety, depression, grief, family issues, substance abuse and more, over the phone or on Skype.

Employees can also earn Virgin Pulse points and $50 in their health reimbursement accounts by joining a special Health Action Plan called Be Mindful, Be Safe, designed to help address stress from many sources, including COVID-19 concerns, she said. Employees will be assigned a health coach who will talk on the phone and share online resources to help staff stay healthy, resilient and safe while adapting during this unprecedented time.

Other one-on-one coaching sessions unrelated to HAPs continue to be available virtually as well. A member of the fitness team can design a home exercise program or review needed changes; dietitians can help with meal planning and cooking; and the stress and sleep team is available to help employees establish better sleep hygiene and resiliency while managing change and stress. Many support groups are also still taking place virtually. Check the Sandia Daily News announcements for details.

To schedule counseling sessions or coaching, employees can call 505-844-4237 and follow directions for either New Mexico or California. Employees can also find more information about HAPs, events and insurance resources at

Social connections, gratitude

Connecting with coworkers and friends throughout the Labs is another way to remain mentally healthy during this time. Jenn suggested using Thunderbird Kudos to recognize individuals and teams working hard to keep the Labs running as smoothly as possible. She specifically highlighted the information technology groups and the Corporate Computing Help Desk teams who have been working hard to make sure most employees can telecommute.

Thunderbird Kudos can be given for any reason, and acknowledgements can be filled out easily on Sandia’s internal Thunderbird Kudos webpage. They are sent to the person or team being recognized and to their managers.

“Practicing recognition and gratitude really helps people in times of stress and times of change,” Jenn said.

cat watching exercise video on laptop
DOWNWARD CAT — Stella the cat checked out the action when Sandia communications specialist Manette Fisher logged into one of the Labs’ online fitness classes while working from home. (Photo by Manette Newbold Fisher)

Ana-Lisa Montoya-Torres said the assurance management department has been implementing other ways to help team members remain clued into each other’s needs and better communicate virtually.

Employees might find it helpful to update email signature lines to include the best ways to reach them while telecommuting, Ana-Lisa said. This might mean eliminating office phone numbers or creating automatic reply messages letting others know they may not be able to check email as often.

Teams that have participated in training involving personality quizzes and communication styles could revisit results and share them with their team members. Ana-Lisa suggested asking coworkers how they prefer to work in a telecommuting environment. For some, that might mean instant messages or emails are preferred over phone calls. Others might opt for video chats that feel more like in-person conversations because participants can see body language and facial expressions.

Teams could also set weekly goals that are pertinent to both work and personal life, Ana-Lisa said. Suggestions include taking walking breaks, checking in on health goals and making sure all team members have a path to complete work, especially parents who are now caring for their children all day and helping with homeschooling. Ana-Lisa has children at home, so some days she logs in earlier or stays late, depending on the needs of her children.

“We should find out what is reasonable for each team member ­— what we need to be online for, and what we can step away from,” she said. “We should think about how we can give each other grace and honor each other in the new world we are living in.”

Planning virtual or phone-based coffee breaks off Sandia’s network might work for some teams, or for employees who have friends in other groups throughout the Labs. Ana-Lisa, who read about the coffee break idea online, said it gives employees time and space to have conversations like they normally would in the office or lab.

Working with management, employees could include additional discussion points such as birthdays or significant events in Tier board meetings as a way to check in, or set up group emails or chats that allow team members to quickly touch base and stay connected in personal, inclusive ways.

“It doesn’t have to be all business all the time, because it’s not like that in real life,” Ana-Lisa said.

Connecting Sandians

A cross-organizational internal website has been created to connect Sandia employees and contractors while many people work from home. The site hosts links to Sandia resources, including COVID-19 information, tips for working from home, news, volunteer opportunities and health offerings such as virtual fitness, education and coaching.