By Rebekah Wallis
The working environment your business fosters is fundamental to employee happiness and productivity. In a time where physical workplace environments have moved from the office to the living room, enabling a positive work culture is more complicated and yet more vital than ever before. Managers and leaders are facing a very new challenge - how do you foster a positive workplace culture with a remote workforce?
Employee health, both mental and physical, is a first step to empowering positive work culture. A workforce that feels unmotivated and depleted can hardly be expected to carry and promote positivity. Think about each of your employees as individuals, and react to their needs accordingly. While we’re experiencing lockdown as a nation, each individual is going through their own journey. For working parents, this may include juggling home-schooling in addition to the normal requirement of their job. In this case, encouraging a more flexible schedule would ease pressure and stress. As a leader, keep a close eye on your people. This may sound impossible in a remote environment, but a lot can be captured over a video call. Look for clues like body language, change in behaviours and tone. Our current situation is an extension of what we’re used to, but elevated, so talk to and ‘see’ your people as often as you can.
Engage your community
Maintaining a sense of community in a remote working world can be an opportunity for leaders to connect more authentically with their teams. Seeing this new working world as a chance to engage communities in your business will set you up for a more positive and tightknit workforce in the future. Human connection and a sense of community are both appreciated and respected in our current climate. Empowering this within your business will not only benefit your bottom line but improve employee retention as well as workplace culture.
Keep it social
In the office, we would connect in both micro and macro ways with our colleagues every day. It’s the simple touchpoints like making a coffee with a colleague in the office kitchen or having a chinwag around the water cooler that leaders need to manufacture in our new remote world. Now is a time to communicate, more. Call, message and touch base with all members of your team and ensure you create opportunities to communicate, even if they are virtual. Shared social groups via WhatsApp or similar can enable some laughs and ability to share the lighter side of the situation as well as work-related discussions and will also extend the team identity, values and connections into the future. Encourage social activity across teams too by providing the technology to facilitate this; for example, one member of my team is running daily wake-up yoga sessions for her colleagues across the business.
Transparent and compassionate leadership makes the workforce feel safe and secure. These are unprecedented times, and any attempt to maintain ‘business as usual’ leadership is not only transparent but also isolating. Your people want to hear more from you, not less, and sharing both your struggles and personal stories will comfort others. In some cases, you may have employees on furlough and while you can’t discuss work, you can check-in and connect without talking shop. Many of my team are on furlough, but I still find the time to touch base over a weekly video call where we also have some fun. While they may be unable to support from a work point of view, those furloughed will be back in the office in no time so it’s important to maintain your working relationship. Regular and open communication with employees is essential to maintaining an engaged team.
Virtual collaboration and communication
For those of us who can access technology to work from home, there is an abundance of tools that can be used to collaborate, innovate and socialise with teams. While the pre-lockdown workforce might have one been hesitant to partake in video calls, the new world is switching on camera mode with ease. Encourage this internally and with customers or clients, when appropriate. Turning on cameras not only engages teams with the task at hand but allows and encourages more organic and casual conversations to flow. Programmes like Microsoft Teams, Slack and Workplace by Facebook play a role in completing work while also allowing employees to communicate about non-work related activities. A tool as simple as a shared document can motivate collaboration and boost creativity.
Talking about the ‘new BAU’
I’ve had many conversations with my team about the future of work, I’m sure you have too. While businesses are planning and strategising for the next phase, leaders need to keep conversations open and honest about what the workplace might be like in our new normal. I’ve had interesting conversations with my teams about their anxieties for the future from both a health and lifestyle point of view. For some, they’re anxious about entering back into the world, both physically and mentally. Routines have been solidified, and for the people who once commuted to the office, there are no doubt anxieties around exposure and wellbeing. As a leader, be sure to discuss these concerns or anxieties, even if you’re yet to cement your recovery strategy. Again, it’s open and honest communication that connects us during such unprecedented times.
The steps you take now to encourage a positive, collaborative work culture will impact the future of your business. Adapting and changing to the new remote ways of working influences every element of a business and despite the distance, the UK workforce has been handed an opportunity to connect and communicate through the use of technology. We’re all in this together, and by communicating with honesty, compassion and authenticity with your teams we can come out of this lockdown a more united and connected workforce.