As the second lockdown comes to a close and the first vaccines are being administered, it feels that it will still be some time before we revert to our previous “normal” working lives. How quickly the early feeling of freedom and liberation of homeworking has turned to the yearning for a return to office life. A place where the internet always works, the printer is full of paper, and we can see people in three dimensions!
Where office workers have pretty much worked remotely for the last nine months, what have we learned from the experience and how can we continue to build on creating a workplace culture which encourages collaboration and engagement?
Communicate, communicate, communicate (then communicate some more)
Even the most disciplined and motivated of people can struggle with maintaining a strong work ethic from the confines of their home. To avoid workers feeling disengaged and to keep a semblance of workplace culture, managers could try the following:
- pick up the phone or use video calls rather than communicate predominantly by email – not only does this tend to deal with queries more quickly and avoid further clogging up inundated inboxes, it gives employees that chance to check in with each other and remember the art of small talk;
- depending on the size of the company or your team, try to have weekly team meetings via zoom (or equivalent platforms) to see how everyone is doing. You can then work out whether a separate one to one meeting needs to be set up with individuals who may be struggling; and
- keep everyone informed on the organisation’s policies and procedures regarding the pandemic and remote working to reduce any potential anxiety or stress. Knowledge is power!
Beware of Zoom fatigue – this has really hit home over the last few months. It is therefore important to maintain a balance between connecting with colleagues and whether in fact a video meeting is even necessary at all. Studies have shown that much more energy, concentration and focus is needed when engaging on a video call – use this technology wisely.
Keep walking the ‘factory floor’
The usual signs of strained working relationships are harder to spot when everyone is working in isolation. To help reduce any frictions from unnecessarily escalating you could consider:–
- which support avenues to put into place to help your staff, such as, confidential counselling services, mindfulness courses or contributing towards yoga classes or equivalent;
- a ‘buddy’ system whereby colleagues can talk to each other in confidence; or
- an employee survey to keep track of how everyone is feeling and ask for any constructive feedback. Take the time to consider it and act upon it.
Bring back the fun
Thursday and Friday night get-togethers at the local pub may be out, as are chats in the kitchen whilst making coffee – but that does not mean employees cannot form supportive relationships and a sense of camaraderie whilst working remotely:
- host a virtual Friday night drink trolley, quiz, painting or even a cooking class; or
- make lunchtimes a time for wellness, by encouraging staff to get outside. This could be done by setting running or walking challenges, or, if colleagues live close by, a face to face meet up for a coffee and a walk in the local park.
In uncertain times, a company with a strong, positive culture provides an anchor for employees who may otherwise be experiencing difficult and anxiety filled upheavals in their personal lives. Remote working provides a unique opportunity for organisations to strengthen its culture, turning values that may have appeared to be mere sound bites during the good times into tangible benefits to employees’ mental, physical, and professional lives.
“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”
– Simon Sinek, author, Start with Why
Emily Plosker is an Employment Lawyer at BDBF, employment law specialists in the insurance, academic, medical, legal, and financial services sectors. Contact us on 020 3828 0350 for employment law advice.