The outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent shelter-in-place orders that have followed have forced many employers to switch from in-person working environments to virtual environments.
The sudden nature of this shift has many workers feeling isolated, lonely, and generally down, feelings that are only increased by the constant stream of virus updates on the news, social media, and everywhere in between.
While HR leaders cannot stop the outside stress from impacting their staff members, they can help make working from home as easy as possible.
In this article, we’re going to look at ways CHROs and HR leaders can help their teams keep morale as high as possible during these uncertain times.
First, Some Background
Before we dive into actual tips, I wanted to give you a little background on Careerminds. No, I’m not going to launch into a sales pitch here. Instead, I want to talk about our virtual work environment.
The Careerminds team has been working remotely for about a decade - long before many of the tools that people today can’t live without (Slack, Teams, Trello, Asana, Google Suite, etc).
The good news for workers that are just coming into the virtual working world is that all of these tools make the process a lot easier and truly do help to foster engagement, productivity, and team building. Technologically speaking, there has never been a better time to work remotely. We just wish it was under better circumstances.
For Careerminds, we are always switching up what tools we use to maintain a baseline of engagement and project management. You can read all about the tools we use here.
Besides the tools, we have other tips that we’d like to share with you to help your team navigate this new way of working on the human - not technological - level.
Avoid ‘All Work and No Play’ As Much as Possible
Productivity and project management tools are great for actually getting work done and making processes easy to understand without being able to pop into someone’s office to ask for a quick update.
However, many of these tools need to also be used to build friendships, strengthen teams, and provide social interactions that may not necessarily be about work.
Consider this: by simply working in an office, staff members get way more social interaction than when working at home. Even walking to the bathroom and saying hi to people on the way, eating in the breakroom, getting lunch, going to a happy hour, slacking off at the watercooler, and striking up random conversations about pop culture all make a huge impact that goes unnoticed. That is until it is taken away like it was in the middle of March.
When working remotely, many of these things need to be planned in advance. This is weird because all of these things, in an office setting, happen organically and without any forethought.
“In an office environment, you might have a break room, communal dining area, or even a ping pong table where people can mingle and destress to keep morale high,” reports Perkbox.
“Social activities should still be encouraged among remote teams. Most of what you do in the office can be done virtually – bar ping pong of course! This means employees can be encouraged to meet up virtually to game online during lunch breaks, or you could introduce a video call slot to allow employees to chat about their day over a cup of tea.”
To fix this, we recommend using your productivity tools as ways to create situations where workers can open up and talk about whatever they want.
Virtual happy hours are something we enjoy at Careerminds. But that isn’t the only thing that you can do. You could have simple calls to just chat. Slack channels to discuss food, movies, books, what have you. You basically just need to make spaces for people to be people and not workers.
The problem with working from home is that most, if not all, of the tools that people use are designed to get work done and not to recreate the way it feels to actually be a part of an in-person team.
By taking steps to help workers feel more connected and comfortable, you may help them feel less isolated and more socially enriched. This means that leaders need to understand that quote-unquote ‘slacking off’ is part of work and helps actually build teams and keep them functioning. Having workers perform their roles and only talk about tasks is not a great way to keep people engaged or connected even if their work is still being performed at a high level.
Breaks, Boundaries, and More
Another thing that can seriously impact morale when working from home is not having typical breaks and boundaries in place. Anyone, even when there is no outside factor forcing it, can struggle with these boundaries.
For example, it’s very easy to keep working past your normal working hours by constantly staying online or on the phone. Virtual workers need to follow their standard working hours to keep a boundary between personal life and work life.
If someone works 9-to-5, they should do their best to make a schedule to log in at 9 and log off at 5. These lines can get blurry when your commute is literally walking from one room to another.
To that end, we also suggest that workers make an office location. It doesn’t need to be an entire room or anything special, but it should be a place where work is done and almost nothing else. This may or may not be possible based on people’s unique situations, but it should be attempted.
By making working from home reflect working in an office, workers will be able to disconnect appropriately.
Boundaries also extend to managers, too. If a manager is working a ton of overtime when they don’t truly need to (outside of emergency situations, for example) they send a signal to their workers that they, too, should be working all of the time. Make sure your managers also have boundaries when requesting tasks, emailing after hours, and things like that.
Another tip is to establish normal break routines. If lunch is at noon, try to keep lunch at noon and disconnect during that time. Workers in an office get breaks and so should workers at home. It can be very easy to get chained to a desk for a whole eight hours without stopping. This should be avoided.
Breaks can also go too far the other way. Workers still need to work, but the typical situation seems to be that workers, without the distractions that come with an office, can get more work done in a timely manner at home.
There are even studies to back this up.
“According to one study, remote employees work 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts, resulting in more than three additional weeks of work per year,” reports Business News Daily.
“29 percent of remote employees said they struggle with work-life balance, and 31 percent said they have needed to take a day off for their mental health.”
The solution the team found? Taking more breaks and setting boundaries.
“The most effective way for remote employees to stay productive, according to the Airtasker survey, was to take breaks (37%). The research found that office workers took shorter breaks than remote workers, though longer breaks have been shown to increase productivity,” Business News Daily continues.
Right now, managers also need to be aware that their staff members might be distracted by other things, too. For instance, children. Kids across the US are either out of school for the rest of the year or are attending classes remotely. Either way, parents now have an added distraction in their homes.
There’s nothing HR can really do about this except be supportive. We’re all going through this situation with different challenges.
The same can be said about having a spouse or partner around. With everyone suddenly working from home, many people are finding it hard to find a place in their house to work from. Some couples have to share a room and be mindful of each other’s meetings and schedules. Others have to crowd around a kitchen table and attempt to get their work done.
As you can probably see, all of these situations are different and it would be impossible to go through all of them. The takeaway is that we all need to be flexible right now because we have no idea what type of stress or situation our coworkers might be facing.
Getting Dressed Can Help
When anyone talks about working from home, they immediately all say the same joke: I guess I don’t have to put on pants anymore.
While this is technically true, we guess, getting dressed in the morning is a great way to create a transition into working and will help keep you feeling normal.
“Don’t underestimate the power of putting on clothes suitable for public viewing. It makes you feel human [and] confident and helps draw the line between being at work and being at home,” said Heather Yurovsky, a career coach with the Muse, in recent interview.
This all goes back to treating virtual work like in-person work. The more things you do to get closer to that goal, the happier you will likely be working from home.
Getting dressed every morning is just one way to create transitions between work and home. You can add eating breakfast in there, watching the news, reading a book, taking the dog for a walk (safely!), having a cup of coffee on the porch, or really anything you want.
After work, you should attempt to do the same. The goal, after all, is to bookend your day in a structured way that helps you transition in and out of work. This will immediately help you establish boundaries as well.
The Warp Up
Suddenly needing to work from home is an immense challenge. No one was pre-warned of this shift, no one had time to prepare. However, as the lockdown continues, we need to settle in and get as comfortable as possible.
We hope some of these tips will help you do just that.
If you have any other tips about working remotely that have worked with your team, drop us a line. We’d love to chat!