During the coronavirus pandemic, how do I keep my team engaged and their morale high while we all work from home?
Many folks are now using video conferencing for meetings. Consider using this same technology for setting up “happy hours,” lunch meetings, or coffee breaks where your teammates can all sign on without an agenda except to connect, share, commiserate, and boost morale. I also recommend some form of chat tool (such as Slack) where your team can stay connected via text, communicate asynchronously, and use direct messaging to connect with individuals one-on-one. Be sure to make use of the many built-in features such as emojis, reactions, and gifs to keep things more human and add a bit of levity. Starting a #watercooler or #fun channel specifically for off-topic posts can also be helpful for segmenting streams of conversation.
Most of all, though, communicate to your team that these are unprecedented circumstances and, as much as you can, be flexible and show compassion. Even for folks who normally work from home, the conditions we’re in now with the pandemic make this very much not the typical “work from home” experience. Everyone’s productivity is likely impacted, whether from added care duties, homeschooling children while simultaneously trying to work remotely, or simply the ambient anxiety of knowing that the whole world is effectively on lockdown. Emphasize that team members whose schedules are impacted should communicate their availability as clearly as possible, and encourage everyone on the team to exercise good self-care and be patient with one another. Together, your team will get through this challenging time, and maybe even develop a stronger bond as a result.
Remote work presents its own set of challenges, including difficulty in supervising, increased opportunities for the team to become “silo’d” in their work, and for team cohesion to erode. I suggest to my clients that they have two different types of video meetings on a regularly scheduled basis. Regular video calls are essential to keep the team connected, because there is too much nuance lost in written-only and even voice-only communication.
First, a video call with each individual on their team. The goal of this is to identify, together with their staffer, outcomes for the upcoming period (one or two weeks, for example). At the end of the period, the staffer should report on the progress they made on those outcomes, and agree on the outcomes for the upcoming period. This helps the leader to evaluate the performance of their team member on objective outcomes rather than how often they email or at what hour of the day or night those emails arrive. Leaders must also be sensitive to the needs of sole-caregivers, and adjust expectations accordingly. It’s not the team member’s fault that they can’t arrange for child-care during these times. And expecting a single parent of young children to take care of the kids all day and get their work done all night is a recipe for burnout and lower-quality work. Staff members without kids shouldn’t be expected to take on more work, but the team will have to work together to figure out how to allocate the work fairly and set appropriate deadlines given the realities of the situation.
The second type of meeting that every leader should have regularly is a video team meeting, with the entire team together. The leader should ensure that every member of the team has a chance to speak and/or have their opinion heard. Video calls are going to be the glue to keep us all together during this time of physical distancing. (Everyone needs to keep a physical distance, but not a social distance.)
This is the perfect time to review your tech stack. If your team is existing exclusively in email, it’s time to add video. If teams are communicating primarily via text, it’s time to consider Slack.
If your team is disconnected, productivity will fail. Morale will fall.
Host a weekly (and very optional) virtual happy hour. But don’t do it on Friday, that’s inconsiderate. Shoot for Wednesday for one hour after work. Don’t set an agenda, set a theme (chatting about your new “coworkers” aka, pets, or how attitudes toward luxuries have changed, or perhaps what you miss most about life before COVID-19). Commiserate. Laugh. Find silver linings.
No matter what you do, communicate openly, honestly, and frequently. Many brands are currently cutting of their nose to spite their face by keeping all conversations private, and teams are scared of losing their jobs, they don’t know how to react when clients ask the company’s position right now, and sales (plus recruiting) at these companies is going to be a nightmare in the future. Show your teams some respect and loop them in, even when you don’t have answers.
So let’s recap: Keep your team committed to the mission by keeping them connected to each other, and communicate everything openly and constantly. You’ve got this!