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It’s one thing to be able to access the business applications and collaboration tools you need to stay productive when working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s another to maintain the sense of belonging, social cohesion and personal connection essential for your psychological wellbeing.
If you or your people are unhappy, overwhelmed and generally not coping with a new remote working environment, then you’re not doing anyone any favours. The business included.
At times like these, any employer worth their salt places a high value on meeting their employees’ emotional needs through online activities and communications. Social connection is the key.
What could you do, as an employer, team leader or employee, to deliver a good helping of warm fuzzies to your virtual workplace and teammates? Check out these ideas!
1. Nothing beats the first coffee of the day
Schedule a regular time (even daily) to catch up over a coffee using the video conferencing tool of your choice. Arrive with your coffee, and chat! Consider doing this first thing in the morning to replicate the normal round of ‘hellos’ you exchange when everyone arrives in the ‘real’ office. Start the day with a smile, a sense of togetherness, and a purpose. You could do a quick round up of how everyone is feeling and what they’re up to for the day.
Note: The operative word here though is ‘quick’. This isn’t a full meeting, just a ‘touching base’ moment to launch the day and make sure everyone is ok. Try to agree to and set a regular cadence and stick to it. Establishing structure is important for those who have never worked out of the office before.
2. Let’s do (BYO) lunch
Missing your lunchroom socialisation, or popping out with friends to grab something from the local café? How about setting up lunch dates with workmates or teammates over video chat? You can keep these limited to select groups or teams, or open it up to everyone in the business.
3. Afterwork drinkies!
Friday afternoon drinks and nibbles are a cultural norm for many workplaces. Issue a team or open invitation to clock off at 4pm on Fridays to join in a video conference with a beverage of choice, a bowl of peanuts, chips or heaven forbid, celery sticks. Chat about weekend plans, goals and projects. While weekend ‘plans’ may seem laughable while you are in lockdown during a pandemic, there are plenty of creative ways to keep entertained and busy, so sharing ideas can make a fun contribution to a drinks meeting.
4. Team activities
It doesn’t take much to bring people together. It can be something as simple as sharing book, movie or recipe reviews, or the best memes of the day. Attending online yoga, or competing to keep up daily step counts up. Think online quizzes. There are a proliferation of web-based competitions, games and activities you can participate in as a group, or set up using your internal applications or comms tools.
4. Virtual noticeboards
Share photos of your food, your family, your workspace, your pets, your garden, memes or YouTube content that resonates in chat groups. Give others a sense of where and how you are working to bridge the distance between you. But also respect those who prefer to maintain their privacy.
While we are talking about taking care of employees’ emotional wellbeing in this time of working from home and social distancing, it’s also important to put in place some boundaries.
1. Don’t ignore personal time
Working from home doesn’t mean employees or teammates are available 24/7. Coffee and lunchbreaks are a legal entitlement, so if people opt to close out those times and not be available, that’s their choice and right. Normal working hours still apply.
Note: If you wouldn’t usually ring or message a teammate or employee after 5pm to discuss work, then don’t start now.
2. Don’t force people to participate
While those unused to working from home may welcome a range of social activities and meetings, the experienced home worker may in fact regard these events as disruptions to their highly organised workday schedule, and as impacting their productivity.
Yes, there are certain meetings that must be had, but make sure you are enhancing someone’s day, not constantly interrupting it.
3. Don’t expect it to be business as usual
Cut people some slack (including yourself). The move from a structured workplace, where momentum is set by the business and the team, to working at home, is a struggle for some. It may take some time to establish a new routine which allows managing a home workstation or office when you or they are sharing with children, pets, partners, extended family and flatmates.
Not everyone has a private or even shared space where they can safely leave their work tools set up on a semi-permanent basis, let alone do battle with intrusive noises from computer games, the television and normal household cleaning noises. (An offer to supply noise cancelling headphones could be a thoughtful move!).
Note: You may also need to accommodate new flexible working hours where parents need to share childcare while still working fulltime jobs.
With the right attitude and technology in place to support your workforce, the transition to working from home needn’t be painful. It does require an investment in collaborative file-sharing tools, video conferencing tools, and instant messaging. And if you already enable anytime, anywhere access to your business applications, you’re on sound ground.
These tools all help you make social connection a reality in a virtual world. You may not be able to replace handshakes, a friendly smile and wave from a colleague, hugs and in-person hellos and chats, but with some thought and effort, you can help overcome the ‘remote’, in remote working.