From XU Magazine, 
Online News

Morale: on lockdown but open for business

March 30, 2020

You’ve gone remote to protect the health of your team (and society). Yet the flipside of social distancing is isolation and disconnect, which affects mental health. Zoom, Slack, email and remote servers make working from home possible but there are other things to consider in order to make it successful. Work performance is linked to emotional and mental wellness: understanding how to keep up team morale is crucial to survival.

While many businesses have adopted a more open approach to remote working over the past decade, it’s been elective. Having a new way of working and daily routine imposed on us, as well as a blurred distinction between home life and work, is confusing. We’re also dealing with a lot of emotional stress as a society that’s hard to process.

Here are a few ways you can ensure a positive and motivated team while you’re all #WFH.

New needs and job specs

The requirements of your team’s roles have likely changed since the coronavirus outbreak. This could be because of a decrease, shift or rapid increase in demand for your product or services, depending on your sector. Everything has become more urgent and stress levels are likely to be high.

Many workers are also parents, which provides another set of issues and other important tasks they must now balance during their work day – and in their new workplace. Depending on the ages of their children, the level of involvement in education and entertainment may need to be significant. They’ll also be prioritising their children’s emotional stability as well as their own. Taking on this extra emotional labour shouldn’t be underestimated. Be upfront and flexible with working hours, and encourage regular updates on how they’re adapting. Now isn’t the time to expect a strict 9-5 if that isn’t compatible.

Every member of your team needs to understand the responsibilities of the parents among you. Make sure that younger employees are aware and empathetic of their situation. A more flexible and open team is crucial to managing workload right now and keeping spirits up.

Contact is not the same as communication

Daily interactions reinforce a sense of wellbeing. Internet connections and bandwidth may pose their own problems, but knowing that the whole team is contactable and present is really important. Make sure you’re open with your team about what your productivity priorities are from them, their team and the business as a whole. Now that you aren’t spending all day with each other, it’s more important to make sure everyone understands their role and the direction of the business.

Scheduling different kinds of team updates keeps your employees connected and cared for. Depending on the needs of your business, a daily or bi-weekly work-focused update via video conference will make sure everyone’s clued up on what’s going on more broadly. This encourages a sense of stability in precarious times.

Mixing these work-related meetings with more informal team catch ups will help keep the social side of the office going. For many people, small interactions contribute a lot to their working day. Create a space to discuss positive, light-hearted things. Focus on what isn’t cancelled during a time when it feels like a lot has been taken away.

Flexibility is key here. There’s no perfect solution, so try different combinations to work out what kind of communication is useful. Ask your team for feedback and let them lead – you don’t want to be wasting an hour of everyone’s day for no reason. Once you’ve established what works best for your team, regularity is key. Our routines are adapting: regular touchpoints keep us connected and grounded, which boosts morale at a time when everything else is changing so rapidly.

Privacy has changed

We’re now seeing into our coworkers’ homes. This has connected us all a little more closely and the limits of professionalism have shifted. Make the most of this. Tap into your team’s personal lives. Kids are on screens, dogs are present: the workplace has changed and team dynamics should too.

Checking in every day with your employees individually or via managers about how they’re feeling and reacting is crucial. Knowing you’re there to listen and empathise is hugely important now that you’re not in the same place. You could do this via email, phone call or Slack, but make sure everyone is being asked.

Encouragement is more important than ever

Managers and senior members of the team need to be as encouraging as possible. Working away from your team is difficult, even if you’re videoing in regularly. Giving feedback on pieces of work and contributions will remind your employees they’re still part of a team when nobody is in the office.

Digitise office perks and social aspects

Do you always do Thursday work drinks? Is Wednesday lunchtime the day you all eat lunch together? Is someone’s birthday coming up? Honour your work traditions to maintain an element of regularity and stability. You may not be able to clink glasses in person, but you can all get on Zoom and give it a go behind a screen.

Make sure everyone clocks off

Our social lives have also changed dramatically. It’s more difficult to separate responsibilities and can be harder to stop working in the evening without anywhere else to be. You need to be clear that people should honour a distinction between their work and relaxation.

It’s easy to keep working much later without your regular distractions and social commitments. This can lead to burnout and ultimately be unproductive for your business. Encourage the team to talk about what they’re doing in their downtime and reiterate its importance.

We’re all in isolation but we’re in it together

Cash preservation and business continuity are your priorities right now but these can’t be easily achieved if your employees lose motivation and morale. Everyone on your team is feeling the effects of coronavirus as much as your business while we experience mandated remote working.

This situation will pass but it’s up to you to make sure you protect the fabric of your business by prioritising the mental health of your employees. Offer as much stability and encouragement as you can.

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