The secret to a happy, engaged and productive workforce while on lockdown.

To reduce the spread of COVID, companies have been directed by pandemic experts, medical professionals and governments to enforce ‘social distancing’ amongst their employees. However, these official guidelines are not entirely correct in their instruction. In fact, they should read ‘physical distancing’ (semantics!), as it is now more important than ever to remain ‘social’ and connected.

To many, home working is a new concept. Those used to the hustle and bustle of a busy working office environment are likely to struggle confined to a make-shift home working space, and as a result, may feel disconnected and isolated.

But with the assistance and integration of digital tools like Zoom video communications, Slack instant messaging and Asana work management to name a few, we can start to bridge the gap social distancing has generated and continue to build meaningful connections while working remotely.

As much as these tools are a huge benefit in improving interactions and empowering teams to collaborate at the touch of a button, what are the long term effects of distancing from our workplace communities?

Leaders have found themselves in uncharted territory, as they navigate the complicated job of ensuring they preserve company culture, maintain open lines of communication, promote productivity and all the while, monitor the wellbeing of their staff throughout the pandemic.

Most of these challenges lead back to one critical component, ‘employee experience’. Read on as we investigate some of the ways managers can spur a positive experience for their employees throughout enforced home-working.

  • Boost creativity and productivity with flexible working opportunities

On a recent business podcast, Eat Sleep Work Repeat, hosted by Bruce Daisley, the ex VP at Twitter, he spoke with Annie Auerbach, about her way of working flexibly and how implementing a more employee-focused operation, could result in all of us living a life we love.

Annie, the author of Flex and a thought leader in the flexible working space (1), said;

“I have been working flexibly for 20-years. I am the co-founder of a cultural insight agency called Starling. Starling is founded on principles of flexibility. My partner and I work flexibly over the week. Fridays are always working from home.” She continued,

Our business is founded on the fact that we need to be creative and come up with fresh ideas for our clients. We feel if we work really long hours, and compress our days full of client work, on a work-treadmill, that eventually there will come a point where we won’t be innovative, and we won’t be creative because we are simply not giving ourselves the space to have new inputs into our lives.

Flexibility is not just designing your own working week around personal commitments, it is also empowering employees to develop their own style and methods of working. Allowing people to perform tasks on their own terms means focusing on results.

  • Preserving company culture by reintroducing core values

Do your people know the values and missions of your organisation? It is right to be said that during a crisis, the real views of a workplace culture become apparent.

It is essential for company values and the feelings and attitudes of individual employees to align. Without this synergy, workplace communities can collapse as the purpose of work is lost, for example (2),

If one of your core values is Community, what are you doing as a business to support the community and how could staff contribute to an action to reflect this value?

It is essential during a lockdown situation, where teams are operating independently from the security of their workplaces and their coworkers, that employers take necessary steps to secure and maintain cultural consistency.

  • Introduce an ‘open phone’ policy and make regular touchpoints

It is crucial to make time for regular check-ins; Communicate frequently even if you don’t have new information to share;Uncertainty fuels anxiety.’

A 1-2-1 phone call or a weekly team huddle will maintain connections with workers during isolation and enable team leaders to gauge stress and engagement levels (3).

“You might want to hold a huddle each day, ideally by video, perhaps rotating responsibility for who leads it. Set the expectation that everyone is present and not distracted. Model what it means to show up as a virtual team player.”

There are various approaches to keeping open lines of communication from setting up a dedicated virtual ‘Zoom Room’ between specific hours for people to dip in and dip out, almost a virtual door knock, to a company-wide monthly meet-up, where senior team members present, offering a platform for people to submit questions ahead of time.

In an article by Education Executive (4), Craig Bulow talked about increasing employee engagement leading by example,

Belief in senior leadership is the number one factor in creating positive employee engagement. Give people the autonomy to get the job done in their own unique way; ‘having a go’ develops employees’ skills through experiential learning. Remember that empowering employees means steering clear of micromanaging.

By removing persistent meeting schedules and taking a more focused approach will leave leaders and their employees with more time to absorb information, inspire better problem solving and encourage new and improved ways of thinking and working.

A blog by Harvard Business Review provides tips on how to adapt a management style to fit social distancing and the importance of a more strategic approach to development during COVID (5)

Learning doesn’t have to stop in this new environment, but it may be more practical to use microlearning. Focus on sharing short lessons on a single topic in a five to 10-minute segment. These might cover a specific tool, behaviour, or skill. Rotate the delivery of these lessons among team members and allow them to identify their own topics for training.

  • Strike a balance between work and play with fun virtual ‘meet-ups’

Under stressful conditions, it is the leaders of an organisation’s responsibility to demonstrate hopefulness in the future and promote a healthy work/life balance. Introducing humour and fun are good ways to relieve anxieties and drive a positive message to employees while working away from the office. 

A virtual replacement for watercooler chats or social lunch breaks, where people can be their full selves and ‘kick-back’ will ensure companies maintain the social side of business operations, and keep up team morale and connection in what can be for some an unknown and potentially discouraging setting.

“Allowing people to message each other and have fun calls is a good way of doing that.”

At TwistedPair, we have been challenging the norms in terms of new ways of working for some time. We administer an agile and flexible working culture, which has, in turn, led to a more collaborative, team-driven and inclusive community. The constraints of COVID-19 have driven the senior leadership team to take an active approach to ensure the company culture is minimally affected during lockdown. The operations strategy for Q2 has incorporated out of hours activities, like weekly virtual ‘team beers’, quiz nights and group video calls, to ensure a happy and connected workforce is promoted and sustained during isolation.

To learn more about TwistedPair and our culture, please click here

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