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Brains Trust

6 ways to build culture and boost morale when everyone’s working remotely

- July 31, 2020 4 MIN READ
Photo: AdobeStock
Working from home isn’t a new phenomenon, but COVID-19 has dissolved the concept of the traditional office forever.

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) survey data, almost half of all Australians working over the last month have done so from home, and more will continue to do so as states such as Victoria go back into lockdown. With more uncertainty, numbers and anxiety levels on the rise, now more than ever is the time to focus on company culture.

Changing the way we connect

One of the main challenges with remote working arises from the need for companies and their teams to change how they work and collaborate while still maintaining and building a strong culture.

COO at Nitro Software

What worked well in person—team syncs, all-hands meetings, brainstorming sessions, onboarding and orientation programs—no longer applies. Gone are the water cooler chats, coffee catch ups, and spontaneous hallway conversations that helped teams bond in organic ways.

The lack of face-to-face connection can have negative impacts on the physical and mental wellbeing of employees, potentially leading to increased disengagement and even depression.

With boundaries between home and work now more blurred than ever, leaders also need to be conscious of potential burnout among teams. We have a responsibility to be proactive in building and providing a range of resources to support those who need it most.

So the question begs, what can leaders do to keep teams happy and humming from anywhere – all while ensuring their job obligations are met?

Tip 1: Fortnightly sentiment surveys

To ensure teams feel their voices are heard, consider including anonymous fortnightly sentiment surveys into your business agenda. These surveys are a valuable way to check employee sentiment and efficiently determine how engaged, aligned and supported your remote workforce is.

Surveys should be short, concise, and specific, focusing on a particular area for improvement or insight. Their value and benefit come from their brevity: usually of between one to ten questions, making them quick to design and answer, and increasing participation as a result.

Tip 2: ‘No Meeting’ Blocks and Days

When working remotely, employees can often feel overwhelmed by an increased number of obligatory (and often, non-essential) meetings. With physical offices gone, managers can be quick to fill that time with internal meetings with teammates to share updates and information that simply could be an email or a quick phone call.

To avoid creating meeting fatigue at Nitro, for instance, we have implemented ‘No Meeting Blocks’, as well as ‘No Meeting Fridays’ to give our teams space to complete essential tasks without being interrupted by time-consuming, impromptu video calls.

As a result, we’ve found our meeting quality has improved and become a place for more effective collaboration, ideas and decision-making.

Tip 3: Virtual Coffee Dates

Loneliness was the most widely reported source of personal stress and lack of productivity for Aussies during lockdown, according to ABS survey data.

Without the ability to work in the same office, it can be difficult to gauge how teams are handling their new remote working situation. Leaders should look into scheduling regular virtual coffee ‘dates’ or catch-ups with their teams to not only check-in on workloads and wellbeing, but to create professional and personal goals to maintain engagement, growth and motivation. These sessions can also serve as a non-work-related way to bond with team members and create positive conversations.

Tip 4: Proper Work Set-Ups

The rapid shift to working from home saw many improvise to create ergonomic “workstations.”

While for some, that means working at a desk, for others it’s sitting on the couch or commandeering use of the kitchen table during work hours.

To ensure your team has an adequate set-up, consider allocating some of the budget saved from shutting down physical offices to reimburse proper office equipment for employees, such as a faster internet connection, a headset, an extra monitor , comfortable office furniture, and adequate desk space.

Tip 5: Encourage Breaks and Stick to Work Hours

Working from home means that there’s no distinction between work and personal time. It’s important to be explicit about when your day starts and ends in order to set work boundaries, as well as allow time to mentally switch off.

 At Nitro, for example, we encourage our staff to take as many breaks as needed in order to stay productive and sane. Taking lunch breaks in order to reset or even doing a quick yoga session can do wonders for an employee’s ability to stay rested and recharged.

Remember, just because you’re working from home does not mean people should be always-accessible.

Tip 6: Team Building Activities

Just like in the office, it’s important to foster team relationships. While our capacity to engage in offsite activities such as kickball or escape rooms might be off the cards until restrictions ease, there are plenty of virtual activities that teams can participate in from the comforts of their own homes.

One idea is virtual happy hours. Not only does taking a bit of time to socialise over a drink on Zoom help build personal relationships and provide social engagement, it also allows employees to unwind and celebrate the achievements for the week.

Building team morale in an office setting can be difficult enough, so it’s definitely more of a challenge to do so remotely. It’s important for leaders to put the hard work in now, to ensure a happy and healthy work environment is built for the future growth and success.

* Gina O’Reilly is Chief Operating Officer at Nitro Software

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