We are living through an unprecedented time in human history.
With practically every person on earth affected by the coronavirus and COVID-19 crisis, the knock-on effect on business and the economy is clear to see.
With governments across the world reacting by implementing national lockdowns, there’s been a paradigm shift in the way we work — at least for the short-term.
For those businesses who are able to do so, the most immediate change has been a move to remote work.
So as the workforces of the world take a (hopefully) short break from their daily commute, many of them are having to adapt… and fast.
If you’ve recently shifted your team to a work-from-home arrangement, you probably have many concerns, questions, and — let’s face it — anxieties about what it means.
From maintaining morale to keeping burn-out at bay, you’ve certainly got your hands full. But you are not alone.
The team at airfocus has taken some time to put together an essential guide to keeping your workforce happy, engaged, and motivated throughout the COVID-19 lockdowns.
However long that may be.
Let’s get started.
There’s a glaring misconception that many of us will have encountered in recent weeks.
It goes something like this:
“I get to work from home? Awesome! I can do everything from my sofa and don’t have to commute anywhere. Sign me up!”
While this opinion of remote work is certainly out there, it’s essential as a business owner or manager to remember that working from home isn’t for everyone.
In fact, even the folks who think they’re going to love it might feel differently after a couple of weeks within the same four walls.
Just like any big life change, the move to working from home brings with it many challenges and potential pitfalls.
Here are just a few of the possible outcomes you should expect as your team starts working remotely:
Remember when you began work at your very first job?
You probably worked your fingers to the bone to prove your worth. So don’t be surprised if some remote workers take this same tact when they start to work from home.
With no clear line between work and home, they can end up working too hard and running on empty.
They may wake up in the middle of the night thinking about that email, or open their laptops again at 7pm on a Friday “just to finish something off”.
Although this sounds like a productivity booster, the truth couldn’t be further removed. Overworking will cause a drop in output quality, or leave them unable to work at all.
No matter how much you love your job, no matter how much you love your home, at some point you’re going to feel the fact that you’re spending almost your entire day in the same place.
The same goes for your employees. So it’s really important to be aware that loneliness can creep in over time. It may not affect all employees the same way, so pay close attention when you’re communicating with each person.
We doubt there’s a single person in the world who hasn’t felt at least a bit of anxiety in recent weeks.
This is a perfectly natural response to a global crisis like COVID-19, so you should certainly expect this issue to come up within your remote workforce.
Being prepared for it will help you make your employees feel valued and understood — and nothing is more important than their mental well being.
If you’ve ever tried to work from home before, you’ll know that it comes with certain caveats, especially if you have a family. This is the flip side of the loneliness coin, but it’s no less of a challenge.
Whether it’s kids randomly bursting into the room during meetings, or dogs barking at just the wrong time, disruptions are inevitable.
Understanding this from the start will be a huge asset to you as an employer.
Even members of your team who are busy bees when they’re at the office may be totally different when working from home. It’s essential to remember that it’s not always about motivation, but self-discipline instead.
When they have the choice to sit on the couch and watch TV or tackle a tough project, it’s genuinely hard for some people to make the right choice.
This is a challenge many will face when they start working from home, but it’s not insurmountable. For example, agreeing with your team what your daily or weekly objectives are will build in a sense of accountability for everyone involved.
It’s clear that working from home is not all Netflix and lounging on the sofa, so what can you — as an employer or manager — actually do to help?
One of the biggest problems with this situation is that you might feel a little torn by an internal conflict. The reason? You want to achieve two goals:
Ensure that your remote teams are working at maximum productivity to minimize business disruption.
Also ensure that your employees feel comfortable, connected, and well (both physically and mentally).
Achieving both of these objectives is difficult, but not impossible. All it takes is a balanced approach, an understanding that everybody deals with things differently, and the right game plan for motivating remote employees during a crisis.
It’s easy enough to speak in theoretical terms, so let’s look at more concrete steps you can take to keep your team performing their best and keeping healthy during the crisis.
Being certain your teams feel connected and up to date is important when you’re in the office together, but this is twice as important when everyone is remote.
During a crisis like this, information and reassurance is vital to employee mental health. Don’t forget that they could be panicking about lay-offs or falling behind on their work, worried about their family and friends, or their own health — all at the same time.
Staying in touch as often as possible can alleviate these concerns, especially if you make it clear that you’re available to chat through any concerns.
It’s only natural that we’ll all be focused on the short-term right now. After all, the situation is changing on an almost hourly basis.
But if you want your remote teams to feel at ease when working from home, it’s a good idea to remind them that this will end.
One way to do this is to focus them on more long-term goals; things you can build a foundation for today that will come to fruition long after the crisis has passed.
Chances are, your team is already putting more pressure on themselves to perform.
It’s likely a sense of needing control — everything around us is so beyond our remit, it’s nice to know we can push ourselves in a direction we’re in charge of.
Thing is, as discussed, burn-out is very real and it’s not something to be taken lightly. When employees are remote, they may feel more pressure to be producing work, even if their mental health is already suffering.
To offset this risk, it’s a good idea to communicate that they’re free to take a break for their own wellness whenever they need to.
Anything you can do to reduce that pressure may, paradoxically, increase their productivity in the short and long term.
Okay, so we’ve addressed some of the challenges of a remote workforce, and how to overcome them. You’ve tackled the communication issues and been open about wellness and mental health, so you’ve taken all the right steps so far.
But your next hurdle is a big one: motivation.
Luckily, there are countless folks across the world who have been working from home for many years.
This means that there are plenty of well-developed strategies to help motivate your teams and — fingers-crossed — keep them feeling bonded together and ready to go for gold.
Here are our 5 favorites:
Here’s an idea that the airfocus team has already taken inspiration from with our Priority Poker tool: gamification.
The understanding is that, by making something fun, people will be more likely to engage with it. Pretty logical, right? Who doesn’t like fun?
You’ve probably already experienced gamification across multiple digital platforms without even realizing it.
Whenever you see a progress bar, an award badge for taking a certain action, or any form of digital reward, that system has probably been gamified. And you can gamify your business, too.
There are a number of gamification platforms out there, like Mambo.io and Centrical, but you don’t necessarily need to invest in something new to make this work.
Consider simple ideas like a digital team leaderboard to create a bit of friendly competition between teammates. You might be surprised at just how effective (and fun) this stuff can really be.
As we’ve seen, a big part of solving the work-from-home puzzle is communication.
Just like when you’re in the office, employees will always perform better when they know they’re headed in the right direction and feel like they’re being supported.
As a manager or employer, you can still deliver this support — even when you’re all remote. All it takes is a little technological creativity.
Sharing a 1-on-1 session with each of your remote employees at least once a week is an excellent way to keep them motivated.
Ideally, you should do this “face-to-face” via video conference, and there are so many options out there to choose from. Google Hangouts, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype — the choices are endless.
It may seem like a small thing, but having that 1-on-1 conversation can make an employee feel truly valued, as well as providing that connection that’s so easily missed when working from home.
When you think of employee recognition programs, you probably imagine a corny “Employee of the Month” photo hanging framed on a wall.
But a recognition program doesn’t have to be cringe-worthy or disingenuous, it can be a genuine motivational tool for your entire business.
There’s nothing quite like getting recognition for the things you’ve done well, and that’s doubly the case when your achievements are showcased in front of the whole company.
Of course, many employees won’t want to stand up in front of everyone to say thank you, which is why this works so well as a remote tactic.
Has anyone delivered above-and-beyond this week on a project? Or handled a difficult client with a total pro? Is there anyone who deserves a big, virtual, pat on the back for never replying to emails after 6pm?
Simply send a short email or instant message to highlight these everyday achievements, and you might be surprised at how motivating your team finds it.
A little recognition goes a long way, and the byproduct will be increased productivity and job satisfaction — a rare thing indeed when the whole company is working from home during a global crisis!
Another area that’s closely related to reward and recognition is career progression. This isn’t the case for every business, but in times of crisis, employee raises and promotions are often the first thing to fall by the wayside.
There’s a natural assumption that, when we’re all going through difficulties like this pandemic, that career growth will be essentially zero.
It’s a fair assumption given the economic impact, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
You naturally need to be sensitive to the global economic situation, but if you were planning to do employee assessments and compensation reviews anyway, it may be a smart choice to stick to that plan if you can.
Even if the things are tough financially, giving employees the chance to be promoted and see their hard work rewarded is an excellent motivator — especially when they’re working from home.
Of course, if career growth is something you can’t afford to consider right now, another way to maintain motivation is to simply be honest. Communicate the fact that this is something you’ll be doing once the crisis has passed.
At least this way you’ll be setting a goal further down the line, reminding employees that long-term vision still has a place.
This, as we discussed above, can be so very valuable during times where short-term narratives are all around us.
The office isn’t just a place to do our work. That’s important of course, don’t get us wrong. But there’s a social aspect, too.
When employees move into remote positions, the social side of work is immediately disrupted: no more ‘water cooler’ chats, no more gossiping in the kitchen, no more team in-jokes.
You may not realize how important this stuff is until it’s gone, so it’s a smart idea to implement a platform for socializing.
There are so many options for this these days — from Slack to Microsoft Teams — but the underlying ethos is the same.
A digital collaboration platform like this allows you to establish private channels for each team and direct messaging between colleagues. It also creates a space for company-wide updates, from the trivial (who’s about to go on maternity/paternity leave) to the quarterly status report.
If you don’t already have a collaborative workspace like this, now is the perfect time to invest.
There’s no way to sugar-coat it: the COVID-19 crisis is going to be tough for all us, employers and employees alike.
That said, if you can use even just a handful of the mental health and productivity strategies we’ve discussed here, you should be able to give your team a much-needed boost.
Take each day as it comes, treat each remote employee with care and understanding, and — most of all — remember that this will come to and end. Definitely not today, maybe not tomorrow, but we will get through this together.
From all of us at airfocus, we wish you and your remote teams the very best of health.