Adapting your team to work from home
The truth is, no two workplace environments are the same. From traditional offices to ones with dogs and ping pong tables, to construction sites, retail, hospitality, and healthcare environments, they’re all unique – just like company cultures. But a workplace environment isn’t just the physical space that an employee works in. It also includes ways of working, company standards and processes.
So, although remote working might mean teams are taken out of their usual physical environment, it doesn’t mean that everything has to change. For example, you can give your team a sense of security and consistency by continuing to follow as many of your organisation’s norms as possible.
Standardising new communication channels
With your team now working from home, communication will inevitably become a little trickier than usual and messages that are normally conveyed in person will now be shared through alternative channels.
Thanks to communication tools like text messages and phone calls, and software services such as Zoom, Slack and WhatsApp, communicating with your team doesn’t have to be harder than usual. It’s important to put very clear guidelines in place that set the standard for what channel should be used in each circumstance.
Creating communication guidelines
Preparing and sharing a guide with your team is a great way to set out how each channel should be used. This way you don’t get one employee sending instructions via email and the other waiting for them on the instant messenger.
Your guide can look something like this:
- Email: Continue to be used for important announcements and general work correspondence
- Phone calls: Used to hold quick one-on-one progress updates and check-ins
- Text: Only used to check availability for phone calls
- Instant messenger/WhatsApp: Used for ongoing collaborative team discussions
- Video call: Used for meetings that require video and screen sharing capabilities
Setting behaviour expectations
Standardising these communication channels is also about setting and managing how people behave on them.
Just like when you’re physically in the office, there’s certain social behaviours that need to be kept when communicating. Virtual communication tools have their own rules and boundaries, just like face to face.
Examples of this might include:
- Using texts only during work hours and to see if someone is available for a phone call
- Keeping the status on their instant messenger up to date so people know if they're available
- Mark calendars when on video calls or at lunch so people know not to expect an immediate response
- Chose tone and words carefully as sarcasm doesn't always travel over virtual communication
Prioritise mental health and wellbeing
The overall mental health and wellbeing of employees should always be front of mind when using different communication channels, and especially so during challenging times.
Your team members may have different levels of knowledge with technology and devices and not be entirely comfortable using them. While some people may prefer it, not everyone will enjoy using an instant messenger for example.
Despite the necessity for remote teams to be using these channels regularly, a great way to promote employee wellbeing is to encourage a ‘switch-off’ period. This allows employees to go off the grid and move away from their devices. This time can be used for the employee to eat lunch, exercise, meditate or just take it easy, and can have a tremendously positive impact on their mental health.
Collecting and actioning feedback
When big organisational change happens, it’s critical to listen to employee feedback. Your people are the eyes and ears on the ground and are your most valuable resource in understanding what’s working, what isn’t and what should be tweaked.
Collecting feedback is a common challenge for all organisations, not just those who are working remotely.
There’s also a real potential for communication and collaboration to drop. Team members can start to feel isolated and teams can lose the feeling that their work is contributing to something bigger than them – a key driver for employee engagement.
Due to the mix of major organisational change, isolation and adapting to new schedules, it’s more important than ever to give your employees a voice to channel their honest thoughts. Businesses that can quickly adapt, maintain morale and keep productivity as high as possible will be those that come out on top.
As an employer or senior leader, it’s your responsibility to provide a channel that employees can feed into anonymously and confidently. A survey tool is a great way to collect actionable employee feedback, but a Google Form or a home-made questionnaire is also a great place to start!
Our top tips to encourage your team to share their thoughts and increase survey completion rates:
- Help your team to understand why you’re asking for feedback and how it will be used
- Run short but frequent surveys (we recommend 5 questions every week) so you can build a picture of how your organisation is doing and track progress over time
- Be selective about the questions you’re asking and ensure every question is clear and easy to understand
- Use a mix of multiple choice answers and open text answers so employees can bring up anything not covered in the questions
- Send reminders across multiple channels
- Close the loop! This is explained in more detail below
Collecting feedback is half the battle. The other, more important and trickier, half is ensuring you action this feedback. We call this ‘closing the loop’, and it can be done even if leaders are working remotely.
Set up a weekly video call with leadership or dedicate a slot in an existing call to discuss survey feedback – and make it your top priority for that call.
Before the session, take time to individually review responses, recognise patterns and pull out key areas for discussion so you go in prepared.
During the session, discuss actions that can be taken to resolve those areas of concern.
After the session, communicate the feedback you’ve received, the actions you’re taking and the timeline you’re working to with the whole business.
Transparent and open acknowledgement that you’re working on feedback can go a very long way. Don’t forget you can reinforce the importance of giving feedback by announcing new initiatives and letting everyone know these initiatives are rooted in feedback.
Organising team activities
Team bonding most easily takes place when you take your team out of the regular work environment and into a casual activity together. Lately there’s been a shift away from stiff corporate team bonding activities to things like escape rooms, lunch clubs, Friday drinks, and more laid back settings.
How do you gather the team when they’re all in isolation? It takes a little bit more planning, but it’s not impossible.
Each month we produce a free ‘culture calendar’ for our customers to use as a source of inspiration, prompts, and tips for their own company culture. The reception to our calendars has been incredibly positive, much more so than we imagined they would be.
When we designed them, we did so with a diverse range of workplaces, personalities, and varying levels of commitment in mind. Because of this, they’re easily adaptable to teams working from home, and they’re available for free.
Examples of team activities for working from home
Run a bookclub
We recommend and have a partnership with Blinkist, which has a library of over 3,000 non-fiction books that are condensed into ‘blinks’ and can be consumed through text or audio in 20 minutes or less. The online access and huge library make it ideal for work from home teams!
Organise care packages
Instead of workplace snacks, organise care packages which you can send to your employees. Even if it’s the form of a Woolies or Coles gift card to stock up on hot cross buns and chocolate for Easter, then host an afternoon tea on a video call. Use your office supplies to give employees a few envelopes and stamps so they can send hand written letters to each other. It's a nice surprise to receive one!
Make recognition a priority
Task managers with sending one or two pieces of recognition per day. At the end of the week, encourage them to have a round-up of all the recognition being sent to their team. This gives visibility on their achievements and allows them to celebrate together.
Challenges help keep the mind active and help keep morale high when social interaction is low. We’ve initiated a burpee challenge at Perkbox where people film themselves doing three burpees, share it on Slack and nominate three people to take up the challenge.
We’ve also seen teams create small competitions while on a video call. Since beginning to work from home, we’ve been having ‘best dressed’ competitions with prizes – and the team have been having a blast coming up with outrageous outfits on the fly!
Making employees feel ‘seen’
In remote work settings, it’s more difficult to give each employee the emotional reinforcement they need to understand the benefits of continuing to be productive.
Emotional reinforcement has a variety of definitions, and the key to providing it to your team while they work from home is having a solid understanding of what each individual employee needs.
Don’t be afraid to ask
During times like these, if you find yourself in a predicament where you aren’t quite sure what your employees need in order to feel like they’re being noticed, just ask them.
By contacting them directly and asking what they need, their direct response will give you everything that you need to bring those requests to life.
To feel seen from a distance, some employees might need frequent and personalised check-ins. This means giving them a phone or video call at least once a day to see how they’re faring.
For these employees, simply ‘checking in’ provides a sense of reassurance and keeps them from feeling neglected.
Substitute work environment for added responsibility
Other employees might need to be given more responsibility than they normally have in order to feel connected in a remote setting.
In regular settings, these employees feel seen by performing their job and working in a group environment. By replacing the group element with added responsibility you make those employees more visible. They’re then far more likely to remain engaged while working remotely.
Offer additional incentives
You might find that an employee tells you that some employees would like additional incentives to help them feel seen while working remotely.
Work together with those employees to set achievable targets while they’re working from home. You can also discuss what types of incentives they feel will motivate them and you can work out what your business can offer. It’s a sure-fire way to stop them feeling isolated.
Of course, it goes without saying that an incentive offered to one person on the team needs to be offered to everyone else.
Recognition is another type of emotional reinforcement that some employees might need in order to feel seen while working from afar.
Some will prefer the recognition to be given quietly while others might prefer for it to be shared with the rest of the team. Acknowledging your staff’s achievements as often as possible creates a sense of appreciation and belonging – regardless of where the employee is working from.