As we head into winter, the days are getting shorter and the weather is getting colder for many of us. On a normal trip around the sun, this can be a challenge to power through. But after almost eight months of the pandemic lifestyle? The struggle is real.
If you are new to the work-from-home lifestyle, you may be seriously missing the face-to-face interaction you used to have with team members daily. Even if you were working from home before the pandemic, you’re likely missing the occasional coffee dates, coworking spaces or entrepreneurial group meetups you were involved in before. How do we maintain wellbeing and connection with our team in the face of so much virtual interaction? It takes a little more conscious effort, but it’s possible.
This is a very hard topic to address at this time, because there are days when structure will fly right out the window as technology issues or family situations arise, but it still needs to be addressed. First and foremost, express your desire to be flexible and work around whatever factors your employees are facing. However, remind them (and yourself) that you need to continue to run a thriving business in the face of adversity; in order to do that, you need to have structure in place.
Schedule weekly video meetings with your team as a whole, as well as one-on-one check-ins with team members on a regular cadence you both agree on. Some employees may want to meet less often and others may need to check in more regularly. Use these meetings as opportunities to determine top priorities for each week. Do team members have a clear understanding of their work and who they need to be working with in order to deliver? How are those priorities communicated and shared? Have you set up shared documents, project planning meetings, daily stand-ups? It also helps to connect individual priorities to team priorities for improved transparency and to foster greater trust within your organization.
Be mindful about schedules but also set expectations for when team members should be accessible. Do the same for yourself. Be very clear with your team members how and when you can best be reached if something comes up. Always communicate that you understand unforeseen circumstances arise, especially when everyone is working and schooling from home, but that being unavailable shouldn’t be a regular occurrence.
As you are communicating with your team about schedules and availability, be sure to ask about what they need. Do they have all the resources required to do their job? Is their technology functioning efficiently?
Your one-on-one meetings are a perfect opportunity to check in with individual team members to find out how things are really going for them. Ask about any challenges they’re facing and how you can help. Make a plan together on how to move forward.
Also, celebrate successes! As a leader, you should have some talking points ready to recognize their good work, but also ask them what they think have been some of their greater accomplishments lately. Let them know ahead of time that you’ll be discussing accomplishments and challenges so they can come ready. Eventually, they’ll get into the habit of self-evaluating where they’re truly at in their work life.
As a leader, the team is looking for you to guide them in the right direction. You are their reference for what self-care in the workplace looks like. You also need to be prepared to respond if a team member needs support. Do you have mental wellness resources through your workplace? Do you know how to access them? Be proactive and offer up these resources during the group meetings so no one feels singled out but everyone is aware of what tools are available if they need them.
Research shows establishing a regular gratitude practice can significantly impact your mental health in a positive way. We’ve covered how leaders can establish a gratitude practice, but now is as good a time as any to encourage this in your employees. Perhaps you could pass on some tips you’ve been using in your own work life, like giving compliments that are really specific to the person. Instead of “great job” and “well done,” tell your employee what you really appreciated about a project they worked on. Encourage your employees to do the same for each other. When they help each other out, have them recognize each other for it. You could even set up a virtual gratitude wall where everyone contributes on a regular basis what they are grateful for at work. Gift your employees gratitude journals so they can start a regular practice of reflection at home. The opportunities are endless!
Schedule Show and Share
Remember in kindergarten when you got to bring in something really special? What about setting up something similar with your team? Include a share out into your weekly huddle agenda. You could even base it around a theme: a memento from the weekend, something associated with a favorite hobby, something from their childhood. These moments provide opportunities for your team to grow and connect, learning more about each other as individuals.
Socially Distanced Meetups
Depending on where you are, this may be a hard sell as we head into winter. But it’s worth doing some digging (better yet, have your chief of staff do some digging) to find out if any of the restaurants or event spaces have set up heated outdoor spaces where you can meet comfortably and responsibly. Of course, work with your team’s comfort level and respect those who decline the invite. But if you have a small group that’s willing to mask up and meet, it will make a huge difference seeing each other in person during this time.
Schedule a Virtual Coffee
This is a really great option for those who might not feel comfortable meeting in person, or a nice habit to establish with your team in general. But how do you make it different from the one-on-one check-ins you’re already doing? Make work a taboo subject during this virtual coffee. Use it as an opportunity to check in about how things are going at home, what hobbies or interests they take on outside of work, and to share more about yourself as a person. Employees feel more grounded when they feel heard by their supervisor, and when their supervisor proves they’re human, too.
Compassion is seemingly at odds with the high-pressure, go-go-go pace of business. However, research shows that is simply not the case. A compassionate workplace environment, in fact, leads to greater well being and tenure within a company because employees feel valued and perceive their managers as more effective leaders.
With many of us taking a huge slow down since we started working from home, now is the ideal time to introduce more compassionate policies and rhetoric into your organization. Reevaluate your PTO and family leave policies, determining if there’s any incremental changes you can implement. Minimize the focus on short-term goals and do whatever you can to keep your team from functioning in a pressure-cooker environment. Remind everyone to take things one day at a time, give each other (and themselves) grace, and focus on top priorities.
A note to those in middle management who may not make the final decisions for how the organization functions, overall. Many of these suggestions are simple ideas that can be introduced at any level of management. They are also great suggestions to bring to your own manager as a way to enhance the remote work experience and success of the organization during this unusual time. If you’re worried about pushback, start with your favorite tip and work slowly through the list. You might be surprised at your potential to change your workplace culture during this time.