Working from home (WFH) used to be a greatly sought-after perk. Then the coronavirus hit and everyone found themselves in their home offices (or hastily cobbled together alternatives) overnight. For many, this seemed like a godsend at first glance. After all, the ability to finally work from home was just what they had always wanted.
However, as the reality of quarantines and shelter-in-place orders slowly set it, it became clear that for many employees the situation hardly resembled a long-desired perk. On the contrary, the stress of things like social distancing, homeschooling children, and even a lack of external remote-work options (think coffee shops, libraries, and coworking spaces) created an atmosphere in which WFH employees were more often trying to survive rather than thrive.
If you’re overseeing a team that is struggling with their WFH situations, here are a few suggestions for innovative ways that you can keep their spirits up, their productivity alive and well, and their focus on point — even as you all work from home through these difficult times.
Check In Regularly
Communication is the number one greatest factor for remote work. Without solid lines of communication, your team will end up isolated and collaboration will be compromised. While setting up the means of solid communication (i.e. video chat, Slack channels, emails, texts) is important, it’s also critical that you demonstrate how your team should stay in touch.
With that said, one of the simplest and best ways that you can motivate your remote and struggling staff is by encouraging communication through leading by example. This involves several factors.
For instance, the most obvious requirement is, you know, actually getting in touch with each employee regularly. Try to schedule consistent check-ins with each staff member to see how they’re doing. In addition to the act of reaching out, it’s also important that you:
- Avoid micromanaging their work: The last thing a stressed-out employee needs is their boss trying to correct and fix what they’re working on. Unless there’s a serious problem, focus on empowering rather than micromanaging during your conversations.
- Practice active listening: Throughout each interaction, don’t just talk, but genuinely try to listen to each employee and hear things from their perspective. Then, reflect their words back to both ensure that you understood them and that they feel heard.
- Demonstrate empathetic listening: The coronavirus has shed a ton of light on how viruses spread, their side effects, and just how deadly they can be. As a boss, use your communication to give your employees a chance to vent their stress and anxiety about the ongoing threat to their health.
Empower Your Employees
Along with communication and regular check-ins, it’s also important that you show your employees that you’re actively trying to empower them. This can foster a sense of community as you encourage everyone to get involved not just in getting work done, but in actually surviving the pandemic together. Points of empowerment to focus on include:
- Providing resources to help your employees look after their mental health.
- Encouraging employees to take advantage of flexible work hours as they balance work with things like eating, exercising, homeschooling kids, and generally caring for their homes.
- Proactively helping your employees access resources that can help them through difficult times, such as information for taking out personal loans or how to handle finances if a family member passes away during the pandemic.
Provide Forward-Thinking Activities
In addition to activities that empower employees to take care of themselves, you can also gently push them to become more invested in their work.
Provide opportunities for them to take responsibility for projects and tasks. Request your employees to get involved in creative problem solving together. Set up online idea boards and workflow platforms like Trello and Asana to keep everyone’s work in a shareable space. Provide opportunities for educational training and professional development.
Look for ways to get your staff to willingly commit themselves to their work. Help them feel invested and responsible for the success of both their careers and your organization as a whole.
Set SMART Goals and Reasonable Expectations
Finally, remember to set reasonable goals as you weather the ongoing challenges together. In particular, look for SMART goals — that is goals that are:
Resist the urge to conduct “business as usual” while your team is operating remotely. Everything from daily goals to team projects should be seen through the SMART goal lens.
Finding Inspiration in Tough Times
There’s no doubt that times are tough right now. The ongoing pandemic has created some of the greatest economic, emotional, and mental challenges of a lifetime.
Nevertheless, it’s still possible to motivate a remote team and inspire employees as they work from home. All that is required is a little outside-the-box thinking to apply traditional motivational activities to a virtual workspace. If you can do this, your team won’t just survive the pandemic, they’ll thrive.