So here we are. January 2021. Lockdown 3…
Let's face it, we're all pretty fed up now. To state what should be blindingly obvious, the challenge of engaging and motivating your remote team right now isn't just about the remote part. It's lockdown, it's 10 months of misery. Kids at home, trying to work in sub-optimal conditions, having barely left the house in weeks. In winter.
Whatever your industry or business context, even if your team is used to working remotely, there is nothing normal about the current situation.
We won't be in lockdown forever, but it's important to recognise that it is genuinely tough for people right now. It is, therefore, a good time to take some time out to check in and evaluate how your team is working. By doing so you can ensure that they remain happy, engaged and, perhaps most importantly, healthy.
Keeping your team healthy and engaged means accepting that results will be affected and that the challenges are different for everyone.
There's no silver bullet, but the most important thing you can do right now is listen and adapt your working practices to the needs of your team, both collectively and as individuals.
There are four themes that we recommend having a conversation with your team about (for which we've created a guide with some structured questions). These are goals, norms and routines, interactions and support.
As a general rule, your role in this conversation is to ask questions and allow the team members to articulate their needs and wants for effective remote working and for maintaining the social connection that's so critical to wellbeing and engagement. As lockdown is eventually loosened and people start to think about coming back to the office, then it will be time to revisit the conversation.
This is about re-assessing goals to ensure that your people maintain a sense of purpose and motivation without feeling overwhelmed or fearful of factors they can’t control.
If you've not acknowledged the likelihood that your people will lose some productivity, whether that’s from working remotely or the stresses of lockdown, you probably should. Are your team still working towards targets that they're not able to hit? Do they have too many things to focus on? Conversely, are they able to enjoy their work and have a bit of fun?
It is important to help people find the clarity and structure to be effective while making sure that they have the freedom to flex and make their own choices about how they work.
On one hand, people's routines have been disrupted by the lockdown. On the other, they may have new constraints forced upon them by, for example, having kids home schooling. By revisiting norms and routines you can make sure everyone has the structure that they need to continue working well together.
This is about recognising that people need both time for themselves and time with others, to varying degrees, and that isolation and overload can both be problematic.
Everyone has different needs, both for volume of interaction and the means by which you communicate. It's important to get the balance right between the needs of individuals and the collective, and to make sure that everyone can contribute and stay engaged.
Consider how to create opportunities to for team members give and receive both social support and more practical, performance focused support, individually and collectively.
Again, everyone has different support needs. For some, it will be emotional while others might struggle without the informal on-the-job coaching that they get from team-mates, and of course there's satisfaction to be gained for the 'givers' too.
Don't sweat this too much, but remember that open questions (i.e. who, what, where, when, how) will open up the conversation and closed questions (i.e. yes / no) will close it down!
Again, this isn't about your ideas - unless your team asks or really doesn't engage in the conversation. But then, that could be a sign of a wider issue.
If you would like some structured questions to drive a team conversation, download our guide to keeping your team happy, healthy and engaged during lockdown.