Your business goals for 2020 probably didn’t include “navigate a global pandemic,” but here we are. An unprecedented crisis is requiring company owners and managers to find solutions to brand-new problems. As the spread of COVID-19 forces companies around the world to let non-essential employees work from home, one of the challenges that’s showing up for employers is: How do you maintain company culture when no one’s in the same place, and help employees work from home effectively? What can you do to make sure that your team comes back stronger than before when this is over?
Use Video For More Than Meetings
Video conference tools like Zoom and Skype are great for allowing remote teams to connect face-to-face. Because of COVID-19 your company may already be using these tools for meetings and conferences, which is great. (Getting the chance to occasionally see each other’s pets and families wander through the background is one of the tiny silver linings of this era.) But are you using video communication for anything else? Could you be using it more to help team members work from home effectively?
When most of your internal communication happens via email and channels like Slack, coworkers can start to feel disconnected. Nuances in tone get lost and details get left out, causing misunderstandings. Video messages have the benefit of including facial expressions, mannerisms and tone of voice. Video can also be the quickest way to pass on a message. Grab your phone, turn on the front-facing camera, record and drop the video in whatever communication channel your team is using. This method also lets remote team members express some personality and even humor – that can be big for maintaining culture when everyone’s spread out.
Be (Really) Open to Suggestions
Six weeks ago, few of us expected this would become our reality. Things are changing quickly, and effective leaders have to be prepared to roll with the changes. Some of your normal routines might not work. Some of the new structures you’ve set up in the last few weeks might not work out, either.
Meanwhile, your employees could be struggling with work challenges that you can’t see. They’re terrified of losing their jobs. They’re overwhelmed by the workload, their technology isn’t functioning correctly, they’re suddenly trying to take care of kids and work at the same time – there’s a lot you won’t know about unless you make it clear to employees that you really do want to know what they’re thinking.
Do employees feel encouraged to speak up when they’re struggling? Have managers been asked to do more checkins with their reports? Furthermore, have company decision makers made themselves available for feedback about WFH procedures? Can employees make suggestions or requests without worrying about negative consequences?
Do Only As Much Monitoring As Necessary
For a business owner or manager who’s used to being able to see their employees hard at work, a sudden new work from home setup could cause some anxiety. Your tech setup might not allow you to see exactly how remote teams are using their time. And because most people are stressed and a little distracted, maintaining a pre-pandemic level of productivity is already tough right now. It might be tempting to maintain some control by requiring employees to, say, do video checkins every two hours or account for every minute of their workday.
In certain situations, this level of oversight might really be necessary – but ideally, you can trust your employees to have some autonomy and still get their work done. Letting them have some space when possible is a sign that you trust your team to work from home effectively, believe them to be responsible and value their time and privacy. They’ll remember that when it’s time to come back into the office.
Build In Social Face Time
Whether or not your workplace has a literal water cooler, employees who aren’t used to working remotely are used to a certain amount of socializing at work. Even if it’s just small talk around the microwave, that personal time is important for team morale. The relationships that coworkers build is a huge component of a company’s culture.
An employer can maintain company culture by making sure employees still get some face-to-face, non-working time. In one workplace that might mean letting everyone finish work at 4:50 and calling the last 10 minutes of the workday “social time,” when everyone gets on Zoom and talks about what TV they’re watching. For your organization, it might mean letting individual remote teams schedule personal video mini-breaks throughout the day, where no work talk happens.
Organizing and/or approving some social time throughout the work week is a relatively minor way to help keep your workers’ spirits up during a strange and (for many people) lonely period. Keep in mind that if you have workers who are in quarantine alone, chatting with coworkers could be the only time they have any human connection all day. Facilitating that connection is good for everyone involved.
Keep Talking and Looking Long-Term
In the middle of an economic crisis, business owners have to keep the train on the tracks. That often means focusing on immediate needs and putting everything else on hold. But without any clear idea of exactly when this crisis will end, it could be dangerous to put your company’s future plans on hold – and it could stunt your employees’ development. While you’re hunkered down trying to get through the next week, don’t forget to let your employees see that you’re still thinking about the future.
So: How can you help your employees work toward their professional goals right now? Do you have a mechanism for soliciting and recording any new ideas or proposals for “later” that employees come up with now? Are you looking for and sharing resources that employees can use to develop their skills? These are just some of the ways a company can support their valued employees and maintain company culture right now.
While you and your team continue to adjust and move forward, the team at Commonwealth Payroll & HR is doing the same. We’re here to answer your questions and provide guidance to keep your business running smoothly during turbulent times. Reach out today.