Humans are creatures of habit, and for some, change can be a very unsettling experience, particularly in a work environment where colleagues are already without their home comforts. During periods of diversification, your co-workers will need a support structure to help ease feelings of isolation and anxiety. At this present time when most companies are fighting for survival, the last thing businesses need is a disengaged, unmotivated team that is underproducing. A change in the way you work could be the best thing that has happened to your business, but you have to make it so.
If you or your company are working remotely for the first time, working within a new structure, or diversifying your offering and approach, you will benefit from reading the following tips on maintaining morale and supporting your staff through a period of change.
Business types and an entrepreneurial mindset
Recently we have witnessed the business world cope with change on probably the grandest scale possible. Covid-19 has completely changed most markets and businesses (even indirectly) and we have seen businesses fall into three broad categories. The first, are those businesses (e-commerce being the most obvious) that have benefitted immensely from the shift in a customers’ purchasing choices. These businesses have been the lucky ones. Secondly, we have seen the unlucky ones, like companies that sell to schools, exhibitions etc that have taken a real (possibly uncoverable) hit with little they could have done to avoid it. It is the third business category that has been the most interesting and is the category that this article focuses on. These are the businesses that are looking at change with an entrepreneurial mindset.
It is the businesses that have realigned their offerings and repositioned themselves to utilise the opportunities Covid-19 has presented to them, to catapult their business to the next level. We have seen cleaning businesses going from just cleaning to Covid-19 cleaning, printers adding Coronavirus and social distancing signage to their offering, and so on. Businesses that show adaptability and entrepreneurial spirit to reconfigure what they do in order to continue selling will be the ones that not just survive, but thrive, during challenging times.
The importance of supporting staff and maintaining morale
Now, it’s all well and good diversifying and making changes left, right and centre, but if you are not supporting your staff effectively and keeping their morale optimised, you will be doing it all alone or even worse, with undermotivated, unproductive staff that may cause more harm than good to your business and suffer a detrimental effect on their own well-being.
The recent lockdown has seen many staff having to work from home for possibly the first time. Many staff have been redeployed or asked to diversify their usual role slightly which may have caused a certain amount of anxiety particularly if staff are working from home full time and are not used to doing so; they may be feeling isolated and disconnected from the team. It is important to have a framework in place to make sure you can ensure your staff are ok and coping well when changes within your business present themselves. Issues can quickly escalate when people are working remotely, as you cannot see them in person. Without them sitting across from you it will be difficult to read their body language when normally you may use it as a way to pick up on any tension or worry that a staff member may be feeling.
Staff wellbeing should be a top priority for businesses. Entrepreneurs and business owners tend to be very optimistic about things. Chaos and risk are often what makes entrepreneurs tick. To them, it is a chance to rebuild something amazing and optimise an opportunity. However, not everyone is wired in the same way; some people can be dazed and thrown by it. The effects will be even more compelling when combined with other influencing factors such as isolation and quarantine. You could potentially have a very potent cocktail on your hands that could really impact your team and their productivity in negative way.
Ideas to help businesses support staff and boost moral when working remotely or apart from colleagues
Get connected and communicate
In usual work environments staff are generally talking, having meetings, and engaging with people. It happens naturally when sharing a physical space, but when you are working remotely or in small disconnected groups, this isn’t the case. Having an effective internal communication framework where you can keep you and your staff as connected as possible is a smart idea. Phone calls and emails allow you to interact but are easy to misinterpret. Plus, people generally get enough emails in our inbox every day without the need for more, and Cc’ing all and sundry into the conversation can get confusing and relentless.
Some teams may find that having a couple of groups set up will work well. WhatsApp is good for social, light-hearted interaction among colleagues, and a platform such as ‘Slack’ is ideal for professional, business related chat. Slack is a messaging platform that allows your team to message each other, and unlike WhatsApp, all messages are indexable allowing you to easily search messages for certain topics. So, if you are working on a specific client campaign for example, you can see all the work that has been done and all the comms relating to it. It also enables you to set up different channels for team leaders/managers/staff interests etc. It is a great way of sharing information across a lot of people.
Virtual meetings to check in regularly
If you do need to chat to colleagues whilst remote working, try to facetime rather than just call them on the phone. It makes the call more personal and optimises their focus. It is natural to pay more attention and listen actively when someone can see you. When it comes to virtual meetings choose a platform you are comfortable with.
Zoom has proven very useful in recent weeks for virtual meetings, and seems to meet both client and company needs well when unable to meet in person. During this period of lockdown in particular, it may prove useful to have a scheduled virtual team meeting every morning for a quick catch up. This will prove valuable to your staff and may be something that you will consider doing on a regular basis when we return to our normal working routines. Touching base with each other and checking all is well both professionally and personally will be a welcome tonic for your whole team. If holding an internal meeting, try and start proceedings with a bit of banter, this is important as it may be the only bit of interaction a remote working team member gets all day. Sometimes the meeting may last 5 minutes, sometimes 40. Even if it is a quick 5-minute call, it is important to have it, and check in with each other on a regular basis.
Encourage a social connection between staff
When members of a team are working remotely, redeployed into a new role or maybe you have a mix of office based and off site staff (common with trades), it can be difficult to manage and create a sense of ‘team’. Some staff may never actually get to know each other if they never have the opportunity to work together or physically see each other on a daily basis.
If you are using a messaging platform like Slack, you will be able to set up dedicated social channels. For staff that have similar interests, they will be able to congregate and talk to each other via these channels. It is great for building friendships and hobbies in larger organisations. It is really important that those colleagues working remotely (or in a different physical space) have contact with others and that it isn’t always about work.
Why not schedule some online events? They do not have to be long, but it is important to schedule them in, otherwise they tend not to happen. It is a good way of building bonds with people and creates a good vibe between colleagues. Organise a social activity such as a virtual family scavenger hunt (a great opportunity to meet each other’s families) or a virtual quiz night. You never know, if it is a success you may want to arrange on a regular basis.
Social gatherings online, mimic what would happen in an office naturally, but when remote working, or working in different physical spaces, you have to manufacture the social interaction a little.
Provide support and guidance
As an employer, it is important to recognise that everyone is different. If you are an employer that is introverted and prefer to be left alone to crack on with your work, the tendency may be to assume that everyone else in your team is like that. Some staff will be of course, but some staff may thrive on interaction, talking to colleagues, and thrive on the general social element of working in a team. Working remotely or working outside of their comfort zone, can be devastating for them. Having guidelines in place will help support them through their change in working:
- Ensure they have everything they need to work effectively. If working at home, do they have a table, chair, laptop, mouse, phone? It sounds basic but you will be amazed how many people think that sitting on a sofa or bed to work, won’t have any effect on their physiology over time.
- Basic working guidelines are important. In our experience, this is less about giving strict guidelines on working hours (as most conscientious employees will not abuse the privileges that home working allows), this is more about making it clear when staff are not required to be available. Just because staff work remotely, it does not mean they should over work. It is likely that when staff work from home, their laptop is out, and turned on constantly, and people may overwork slightly.
- Turn off messaging apps and work phones at the end of the working day. It’s important for staff to switch off at the required time which can be difficult if they have messaging apps switched on, and someone decides to ping at 7pm about work – if they are the kind of person that feels the need to respond they will be unable to switch off until they have done so. Creating a culture where it is ok for people to switch off is important, otherwise the danger is that people never do.
Random acts of kindness
A little bit of unrequited kindness will go a long way. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture; it is always the thought that counts. If you live local to a colleague and you haven’t seen them in a while, knock on their door for a catch up. Send them a card, ask them about their weekend on your next video call and let them chat for a little longer than usual. You may even consider arranging a little surprise for example, our colleague and professional photographer, Harriet Buckingham has added doorstep photographs to her repertoire for families and businesses wanting a memento of their lockdown experience. Arranging a photoshoot would make a lovely surprise for when you are all back together in the office again.
We hope that you have gained some new inspiration on how to keep your team connected, engaged and happy during challenging and unsettling times, and provide them with the support they need to thrive and continue the success of your company. The team at Make Me Local are always at the other end of the line if you need a listening ear, or a game of virtual Bingo!