By Michael Jones, Global Head of Training at The SR Group (Frazer Jones, Taylor Root, Brewer Morris, Carter Murray)
Like most companies at this time, The SR Group has allowed our employees to work from home in a bid to help prevent the spread of Coronavirus and to keep us all safe and well. Predicting that this might happen, I spent much of my weekend thinking about what I can do as a manager to help keep my team-members and colleagues feeling supported and positive when they're working remotely and isolated from each other. Here's what I'm doing to lead my people during this unusual time:
Have conversations with your team prior to them leaving the office to find out how they're feeling about extended working from home.
It's easy to presume that most people will jump at the chance to work from home for an extended period ("finally, time to binge-watch Game of Thrones from Season One all over again!") but actually there is a lot of nervousness about the whole situation. From the conversations I've had, it's evident that there's a variety of different worries people have ranging from fears of being lonely and isolated, questions about how to balance work and personal life, concerns about how school closures will impact and even issues related to not having IT equipment, or reliable mobile and internet connections. That's not even taking into account people being scared about the current health crisis and what's to come.
During difficult times, people look to their leaders for guidance, support and reassurance. Take the time to sit down with your team-members and communicate with them about what's happening and what the company is doing, or planning on doing. Talk individually to your direct reports about how they're feeling and what worries they might have. Without being flippant, reassure them and make them feel safe. Empathise if they're scared and show compassion if their personal situation makes them more at risk or is causing them a greater level of concern. Working from home doesn't mean that they're going to be working alone - we're all in it together and we'll all get through it together.
Agree a communication plan, using a variety of channels - including video conferencing
Working from home can be lonely and feel isolating (unless, like me, you have a furry friend to keep you company), and it's easy for out of sight to feel like out of mind. During this time, it's really important that, as a manager, you keep in touch with all of your team members and communicate more often than you might usually.
Explore collaboration tools like Trello and Microsoft Teams which allows you to set up project plans, do video conferencing and use instant messaging to help keep people feeling connected. Set up a WhatsApp group and encourage teams to chat throughout the day, swapping pics of their desk set-up or what they're having for lunch to help keep spirits high and preserve team cohesion. Encourage people to pick up the phone instead of emailing and be sure to reach out to your more quieter team-members.
You can also set up a daily kick-off meeting, hosted by video (using Microsoft Teams or FaceTime), where everyone agrees daily aims and shares their key priorities. This encourages everybody to get dressed for their day (at least the top half, maybe!) and helps keep people focused and productive.
Keep team-members focused and productive, with useful tasks and activities to complete
As best as possible, it's important to maintain a level of 'business as usual' - for the sake of your team, as well as the organisation you work for. These are unusual times and we don't know what the next few weeks will hold for us, but the best thing we can do right now is keep our team members focused and maintain their productivity.
At The SR Group we still have clients with vacancies that need filling, with new and exciting roles being registered every day, and existing and new candidates ready to move jobs (most of them have up to three month notice periods, which will hopefully see us on the other side of this situation). We've set up video interviewing facilities so that our clients can keep talking to top talent, our consultants are calling their candidates and contacts to help support them during this time, and we're encouraging our recruiters to keep doing what they would normally do (albeit from home) so that when things improve (which they will) they'll be able to get back up and running quickly.
Maintain a positive and upbeat tone, and look for creative ways to keep things light
As the days go by and the novelty of remote working (very) quickly wears off, your employees might start to become a little demotivated and get a bit stir crazy. In an office environment you have the opportunity to have regular breaks, chat to your colleagues and partake in some friendly banter or idle chit-chat about the latest show you're watching on Netflix but at home there's less opportunity for that (my dog just isn't interested in engaging with me when it's nap-time!). You know what they say "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" so find ways to inject a little fun and light-heartedness into remote working.
Build extra time into your video conference meetings to catch-up and share updates on how people are and what they've been doing to keep sane during their period of self-isolation. Our team has been sharing videos of their furry companions (Lucas my Labradoodle was very unimpressed at having his morning nap interrupted today), photos of our desk set-up (all beautifully clean, organised and totally staged, of course) and tomorrow's theme is 'wear (and show) your ugliest or craziest socks' (that should be fun!).
Leaders set the tone, and influence how others feel and respond to things, so it's important that you stay positive and upbeat, and find ways to keep your own spirits up, as well as your team's. Whether it's playing your favourite music throughout the day, watching a funny episode of a TV show during a break (for me it's Friends or AbFab - every time) or sharing silly photos (appropriate and suitable, of course!), let's all work together to keep each other sane during this time.
It's an unusual time and we don't know how the next few weeks will pan out but if we stay positive and productive, and keep close to each other, we'll get through it and emerge stronger and more resilient. Good luck everyone, keep safe and stay sane!