Thanks to Michelle Gyimah for this week’s blog. Michelle is the Director of Equality Pays, a gender equality consultancy dedicated to closing workplace pay gaps.
We’re now halfway through week 7 of lockdown with thousands of employees working from home. This has been described as the biggest working from home experiment. Its success and impact going forward depends on employer motivation to implement more flexible working post-Covid. For this to happen, employers need reassurance that their employees are productive whilst working at home and employees need to find ways to keep their morale up during this time.
Below I provide 5 tips on how you can keep your staff going through this time of uncertainty.
1. Manage and review expectations. We are all trying to work as best we can during this crisis. This means nothing is 'business as usual'. Morale in your team will drop dramatically if you are not able to be flexible with your expectations.
"90 percent of employees say that flexibility in their work arrangements contributes to their morale."
Like with flexible requests under normal working conditions, it is best to review on a regular basis whether your expectations are right and if agreements are still working. The situation changes daily and as we’re all navigating work and home issues on a day-by-day basis, previous plans on how you and your team will work may need to be revised.
This is especially important for those with caring responsibilities with the current closure of schools and nurseries. Families are dealing with the pressure of home schooling whilst working, as well the general anxieties of the global pandemic.
Approach your expectations of yourself, your team and stakeholders with a mixture of common sense and empathy. This will ease pressure on your team and raise their trust in your ability to lead them through this crisis. With such an emphasis on employee health and wellbeing it is important to remember that managing expectations can play a key role in helping your employees maintain higher morale at this time.
2. Focus on outputs. With so many people working from home with a lot less supervision, your focus as a team leader needs to shift from direct management to measuring outputs. This is about moving away from the expectation that employees are at their laptops all day as if they were in their normal place of work. Most of us work seven-hour days but very few of us actually produce seven hours of work. A more sensible approach would be to place more trust in your employees to figure out how they can work and agree to measure their performance based on their outputs not hours worked. This really is key in helping to keep productivity levels high.
You might be pleasantly surprised to find that most people can deliver a sizable chunk of their goals in a lot less time, but you have to have open conversations about this and to trust your team to find a way to be able to deliver the outputs that you want from them.
A SoCloud survey revealed that 77% of remote employees say they're more productive when working from home. This productivity can only be gained through allowing employees to work out when and how they can produce their best work.
With everyone working in very pressurised situations, ongoing micro-management and inflexibility will lead to reduced levels of productivity as people burn out and lose faith in their ability to do their jobs. Placing this trust in them to co-create a working pattern that works for them and you is a real morale booster, especially as no one knows how long we will be working like this for.
3. Model flexibility. The best thing to do during this time is not to recreate normal ways of working as if everyone was still in their normal place of work. Remote working is a form of flexible working, so to continue keeping morale levels high, embrace flexibility. A really positive way to do this is to take care of yourself as a team leader and let your team see you doing this. Your team is looking to you for cues on what is and isn't acceptable. So be vocal about allowing people to book time off to work flexibly. When you're planning an online yoga session, spending time with your children, going for a run, whatever you are doing that is not work-related, put this into your calendar. This visible permission will relieve a lot of stress and anxiety. Working from home in these conditions for long periods is stressful for many reasons. Your employees will appreciate knowing that they can take time out of work to decompress as and when they need it.
Seeing you find ways to manage your stress and anxiety during this time gives your team the permission to do the same for themselves. This is the heart of remote working trust at its best. This means that when they are in work they are as fully present and as well rested as they can be.
4. Prioritise personal connections. During this time people want to be heard and cared for even more. To help facilitate this make it a regular thing to call your team, check in on them and talk about anything with them. It doesn't have to be work related.
A poll of 1153 workers published in Harvard Business Review found that 46 percent of them said that the most successful managers check in frequently with remote workers, rather than just leaving them to work on their own. These workers also said that managers who are always available during the remote employee’s work hours — an always-on listening channel — were best at helping workers feel supported and cared about. The polled employees also noted that they appreciate a bit of awareness by managers of the employee’s personal life — ‘water cooler chat’ - about family, hobbies, challenges etc.
This is even more important as your team will be feeling the impact of working from home and isolation. Everyone will be facing different challenges, whether they are parents trying to manage their children, have elder responsibilities or live alone. Creating and keeping up those personal connections is a big morale booster that everyone needs on a regular basis.
So make a concerted effort to find out what's going on with them and give people the space to congregate and to spend time during work to be social with each other. Some examples would be to organise virtual quizzes and games, have channels where they can talk about films etc., organising online book clubs, team lunches etc.
5. Seek feedback. There is no blueprint for dealing with this crisis and none of us are sure what the new working landscape will look like or how long we’ll all be working from home for. Providing that you are putting trust and empathy at the heart of your leadership, most people will forgive you if you make mistakes. One key way to understand the impact of the actions you are taking to support your team is to ask for regular feedback.
An Office Vibe survey found that:
Four out of 10 workers are actively disengaged when they get little or no feedback; 82% of employees appreciate positive and negative feedback; and 43% of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week as opposed to 18% of low engagement employees.
Employee engagement right now is important to keep morale high. This is a learning for everyone so seeking feedback and acting on it will instil more trust between you and your team, raise productivity and help your team get through this time intact.
When it comes to navigating this crisis, it is fair to say that for a lot of us we may be throwing out the rulebook and navigating new ways to lead.
Remote working is entirely possible as long as we focus on how to support our teams in how to be productive, but without forgetting to raise their morale.
Michelle Gyimah’s unique understanding of employee engagement and workplace challenges enables her to embed practical application into her consultancy.
Michelle is a passionate advocate for enabling women (and men) to progress in their careers in a way that suits their outside of work responsibilities and lifestyle choices. She does this by empowering workplaces to radically rethink how they can support their employees to thrive at work.
Michelle has over 12 years’ experience of working at the Equality and Human Rights Commission and holds a Masters in Human Rights from The University of Manchester and is a regular contributor to numerous national business magazines, international conferences and lives in Valencia, Spain.