Many Australian businesses that are able to function with remote workers are closing their offices and worksites. Asking staff to work from home, employers are cancelling meetings, conferences, events and travel, and even banning customers and visitors from their sites.
Working from home is a wonderful career-enabler for many people, particularly parents and carers. But with the majority of the workforce at home, the workplace culture, workflows and relationships can be seriously tested.
At Worklogic, we have advised many employers about remote working. We have supported our own staff to work flexibly and remotely since we launched 13 years ago. Here are our tips for keeping your workforce engaged, connected and productive during this difficult time.
1. Use digital tools to connect staff socially
Most employers’ first focus is moving workflows offline, making data and systems accessible to staff at home, and keeping up productivity. Don’t forget that staff need to feel socially connected to stay engaged and enthusiastic about their work.
First, even if your offices haven’t yet closed, make sure your staff have access to, and know how to use, videoconferencing facilities and messaging apps. Many employees are already using Facebook or Instagram, but you can choose one messaging App as the business’ designated communication platform, even just for the duration of the office closure. Many of our clients use Slack, Zoom, Facebook Workplace, Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts. Slack, for example, can be set up with social channels as well as functional channels (eg Where_I_am, Client_comms, Announcements).
These digital tools can help to maintain social connection with colleagues, and continue relationship-building and camaraderie. They enable face-to-face collaboration – even amongst many people at once – and support cohesive team dynamics.
Also consider these ideas:
- Set up a regular Zoom ‘coffee break’ for 15 minutes – team members can bring their coffee to the videoconference and just say ‘hi’ to colleagues (with no other agenda)
- Encourage staff to post photos of themselves working from home
- Run competitions like ‘best photo with your pet’ or ‘best view from the home office’
2. Keep everyone informed
Send regular updates from the company about what is happening in business continuity, as well as social stories. Employees at home miss out on the ‘water cooler’ chats about company business, so keep them informed about promotions, new clients and product developments.
3. Continue Professional Development
Life goes on, even in times of crisis, and so should organisational development. Staff can access online training – such as Worklogic’s free webinars which can be watched on demand, anywhere, anytime – and all of our training can be delivered live via videoconference.
Our team-building program Mooski is entirely digital. Mooski is a delightful online team-building experience where colleagues get to know each other better. Over three weeks, participants reflect on their own individual traits, values, strengths and work relationships. We take a strengths-based approach, designed by experts to build resilience and adaptability in everyone. What better time to embed these skills and mindsets in your teams?
4. Look after each other
By working remotely, employees might miss out on out-of-office leisure. They likely won’t need to walk between ‘meetings’ or to get a coffee. Although your teams are physically disparate for an unknown period of time, that doesn’t mean that they all have to be trapped indoors. Subject to government advice, staff can still get outside and go for a walk. Suggest to staff that they get together (if healthy) with nearby colleagues to catch up.
Encourage people to look after their mental health as well as their physical wellbeing. Remind staff that the Employee Assistance Program can be accessed if they are feeling down or anxious.
Conferences and retreats are likely off-limits, but you can still demonstrate gratitude and investment in your people. Simple gifts and thank-you notes are a great way for managers to show they are thinking of their teams members, despite the distance.
5. Be mindful of other pressures on employees
Staff will be anxious about their leave entitlements, and how they will care for their children if schools close. If their family members become ill – particularly ageing parents – employees will need practical support to handover their work and down tools completely. Get early advice from your lawyers if the operation of leave entitlements is unclear. Support your staff with ideas for managing their personal commitments, such as my article for working parents about home schooling.
The potential impacts of COVID-19 will be an important test of our leadership and our organisational values. Planning ahead and getting the right tools in place in advance will make our teams and our workplace cultures stronger.
‘Like many of our clients, Worklogic has implemented steps in response to COVID-19 to ensure the wellbeing of our team and our clients, including limitations on travel. Worklogic has always operated a flexible working model, and we commonly use digital tools to collaborate and deliver projects. Worklogic is operating with a full team, and all our projects are continuing. This week all our consultants are contacting clients about current projects, and discussing how we will work within your continuity plans and any working restrictions. For example, witnesses can be interviewed via videoconference, and training can be delivered online. If you have any questions or requests, please let us know. Wishing you all good health and continued effective teamwork. Thank you’
About Rose Bryant-Smith
Rose is passionate about building ethical and productive workplaces. She leads Worklogic’s consulting projects on organisational values, risk management, business ethics and corporate governance. Rose also creates digital products to build better teams and is an acclaimed speaker and author.