Raise your hand if your morning routine now involves walking the ten steps from the bedroom to the dining room table to fire up the laptop.
How many of us didn’t make it out of our pajamas until a Zoom meeting forced us into brushing our hair and putting on a nicer shirt?
While having a more relaxed daily schedule should, in theory, be invigorating for most of us, the measures put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus have left many of us restricted to small areas of space, unable to hang out with friends and family or even exercise the way we’re used to. Without being able to move from one place to another, days quickly begin to blend together. This can make it difficult for individuals to maintain their motivation—and even harder for managers to keep their whole teams engaged and productive.
So, what should managers be doing to ease the work-from-home transition for their employees? Below are some tips and tricks that can help keep team morale high while working remotely.
1. Prioritize frequent communication.
One shortcoming of remote work is the higher probability of miscommunication. Research shows that people depend on non-verbal cues to fully understand messages—meaning we rely on facial expressions and body language. Researcher Albert Mehrabian concluded that only a measly 7% of communication depends on the words being spoken, with 38% being tone of voice and a majority (55%) being body language.
While these precise numbers have been contested, their essence remains clear—if we rely only on the words in an email, we might miss most of what people are feeling and thinking. It’s as if every employee in your office had simultaneously lost the ability to properly understand sarcasm or read the mood in the room.
While we’re not saying that every conversation should happen over video conferencing, ensure you are using a video tool whenever you are having a conversation that you would have usually had in person. If video conferencing isn’t an option, a phone call is a good alternative.
To avoid miscommunications, check in with each team member to ensure they understand:
- what they are responsible for in the project
- when deliverables are due
- who they can reach out to if they run into any unforeseen obstacles
It’s important to note that communication is particularly important in times of uncertainty. Take some time to update your team on where the company stands and how work-from-home arrangements will be affected in the future.
2. Keep your company culture central.
Employees might accept a role for the compensation package and growth potential, but they stay with organizations for the workplace culture. If engaged employees aren’t surrounded by the same supportive company culture while working from home, they can quickly become disengaged.
According to Gallup research, lack of employee engagement is linked to higher absenteeism, lower productivity, and even reduced profitability for the organization.
Find ways to keep your company culture alive. This might include:
- birthday celebrations (even if it’s something simple like birthday hats during a call or cupcake deliveries from a local company)
- virtual happy hours after work
- time for small talk before or after meetings
- a space to share funny work-from-home stories or pet pictures
3. Encourage scheduled breaks.
Especially in work-from-home situations where the workday can easily bleed into off-the-clock time, it’s essential for employees to take steps to prevent burnout. Employees who are used to active lifestyles or plentiful outdoor activities might be feeling the mental strain most of all. Every couple of days, take a moment during your video conferences to remind your employees to take their breaks.
In fact, you can take a page out of Staci Ingram’s—Sr. VP of Corporate Communications & Development at Roth Staffing Companies—book and send a calendar item that reminds coworkers to take a break if they haven’t already done so by midday.
For employees who want to be able to spend as much time outdoors as possible, encourage them to take phone calls while walking around the block. While this will not work with every phone call, since many of them require employees be able to pull up documents, brainstorming sessions or team check-ins are ideal for short walks.
4. Make time for recognition.
Small talk in the office means that many employees are aware of what their peers are doing, particularly when it’s a big project. Launching a brand-new program or a big update means your team is there to celebrate the achievement with you—but this might not be the case when everyone is working remote.
Take a few minutes during a team virtual conference to congratulate employees who have completed big projects. Feeling recognized will help coworkers stay engaged and motivated.
5. Consider a result-driven structure.
When employees are working from home, it’s difficult to keep tabs on what they’re doing minute to minute. The best approach might simply be to not try.
Hold employees accountable for deliverables, but when it comes to their process, let each of them hold themselves accountable. Some employees perform better with background noise while others get no work done if there’s a TV near. Some employees will get most of their work done in the morning while others will reach peak productivity in the evening. This is okay!
You don’t want employees to feel like they are prisoners in one chair. Rather, give them the flexibility to manage their own schedules as long as they are available for meetings and responsible for deliverables in a timely manner.
Work-from-home arrangements have long been a great way to recruit and retain top performers. None of us signed up to be part of what experts are calling a massive work-from-home experiment—yet, here we are. The organizations that do their best to invest their time and energy into ensuring their employees are engaged and supported will emerge as the preferred employers. Managers that learn early how to successfully manage a remote team will have the advantage in the future as work-from-home arrangements continue to grow in popularity.