Over the last few weeks, many businesses both in the UK and around the world have had to adjust to working remotely. Not just the odd employee here and there, but the entire workforce, all day every day. 

The initial challenges of this change have been addressed; teams are set up to work remotely where possible and we’ve downloaded video conferencing software. However, managers are now facing the next hurdle: how to keep their teams engaged, motivated and productive when working from home. 

According to a Harvard Business Review report, working from home is likely to reduce motivation.1 During the study, they found that when people had no say in where they worked, motivation was reduced considerably further. Three negative motivators were identified that often lead to reduced work performance, each of which are likely to have spiked during the coronavirus outbreak: emotional pressure, economic pressure and inertia.1

So how can managers lead and motivate teams effectively within this unprecedented context, when colleagues need support and encouragement perhaps more than ever before? Here are some tips to help get the best out of your team while working from home:

1. Adopt a new mindset

Our working environment has changed in every way, so it’s important that team leaders understand and adapt to this. Colleagues will be trying to manage their working days around a new reality which may involve small children at home and/or the need to maintain physical and mental health with daily exercise.

It’s important  managers understand and adapt to this, supporting their team members with setting their own working schedules, working hours and agendas. Trust your team to adapt as needed, focusing on outputs and outcomes rather than dictating how and when they achieve them.

2. Take a personalised approach

According to leading management consultancy, McKinsey: “in a landscape-scale crisis, people’s minds turn first to their own survival and other basic needs. Since each crisis will affect people in particular ways, leaders should pay careful attention to how people are struggling and take corresponding measures to support them.” Think about each of your team members’ situations and personalities and how you can support them as individuals.

This could mean regular check-ins with some team members, whereas for others, it might mean setting objectives and leaving them alone to meet them. Team members who are in lockdown alone may appreciate virtual team social catch-ups so they feel less isolated and know their colleagues are there to support them – in the current remote working climate, this can be just as, if not more, important than catching up on work projects.

3. Find new ways to communicate

On a practical level, finding ways to facilitate team collaboration is an important aspect of ensuring continued productivity.  When done well, collaboration tools and video conferencing might even increase your team’s effectiveness, as meetings become highly efficient and people find new ways of developing ideas and progressing documents together.

Online collaboration tools such as Google Docs enable your team to work together in real time and make edits on live documents, eliminating duplicated effort and version control. Virtual conference tools such as Zoom have free versions and allow multiple participants to join at the same time, creating a feeling of a genuine meeting and helping effective discussion and collaboration. Group chat tools such as WhatsApp and Slack allow teams to discuss projects or create social groups online, helping with both productivity and the more fun side of work that we all miss when not in the office.  

4. Set clear expectations

To help team members stay productive and on track while working remotely, it can be helpful to break down large projects into small, trackable goals. Managers can then empower individuals to deliver against these, enabling them to easily tick tasks off their list, helping create a much-needed feeling of positive momentum. Goals and tasks should be recorded in a place accessible by the whole team using collaborative tools to keep everyone updated on progress.

As well as helping with organisation and productivity, this approach can also help teams think and operate strategically by breaking down big goals into smaller chunks.

5. Keep the feedback coming

Working at home can leave people feeling isolated, especially under such challenging circumstances, which can lead to self-doubt and a feeling of stagnation. This makes the giving of feedback and praise more important than ever. Make informal catch up calls or video conference sessions with team members a priority; encourage your team to check in with each other and be alert to when someone might be having a bad day or missing the chats around the kettle with colleagues that we used to take for granted. 

Whilst going for a team lunch or post work drink isn’t currently an option, you can find new ways to help colleagues enjoy work and celebrate success such as an end of week online team social, recognising weekly progress and achievements for the group. To make them fun, build in activities such as a pub-style trivia quiz or team challenge, asking each team member to take it in turns to provide a round of questions or play quizmaster for the week. There are lots of ideas online for putting a quiz together – this one from Stylist is one of our favourites. 

6. Provide support in tough times

Finally, be mindful that colleagues will be facing challenges outside of work during lockdown. Worrying about loved ones who are ill or isolated, the demands of being a carer with little of the usual support available, financial issues, health fears or simply missing family and friends will all be causing anxiety and stress. If you have an employee assistance programme (EAP) or similar service in place, make sure to remind your team about the resources available to them in case anyone needs additional support. 

If teams can put these measures in place, they may find that they can not only survive but thrive through the new remote working dynamic, leaving them stronger, closer and more efficient when we all return to the workplace.

1 Harvard Business Review

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