With lockdown stretching into another week, working-from-home is becoming business-as-usual. With no exit strategy yet in sight, how can you keep your staff motivated amid operational uncertainty, worldwide worry and cats on keyboards? From Zoom fun to getting things done, here's our guide to maintaining staff morale when WFH.

1. Communicate

Whether you choose to email, phone, text or Zoom, effective communication is key. From operational info like team objectives for the week, to keeping people up-to-date about the current situation, your people need to know what’s going on. Take time each week to think about what your team need to know, how the information will affect them, and the best way to communicate it to them. For example, you’d want to have a conversation about furlough over the phone with each individual, whereas a team ‘to do’ list could be discussed via group chat.

2. Ease isolation

It is easy for colleagues to become isolated when everyone is working at home. The usual watercooler breaks and catch-up-cuppas that keep people connected are gone. To keep staff feeling part of the team, make sure your team communication has space to chat. Slack is a great way for team members to shoot the breeze, or set up a private group in Facebook or WhatsApp.

3. Set a routine

Everyone has a different situation at home. Some may be:

  • juggling WFH with young children
  • fighting for space in a house share with other professionals
  • WFH whilst supporting an elderly relative

So you can’t expect everyone to sit down 9-5 and complete a perfect day’s work. However, many people do appreciate having a routine. If you think it is suitable for your team, discuss a routine that works for them and help them stick to it. That could include anything from set start and finish times, taking a lunch break, going for a walk, or taking a screen break every hour. Here at Team Transmit, people can opt into an ‘activity hour’ channel where colleagues share a dance track on the hour, every hour, to get people up and moving.

4. Check-in (but don’t check-up)

Start the day with a check-in to make sure all staff are feeling happy and ready to start the day. Take the opportunity to establish their ‘to do’ list and check they have all the information and resources they need. Remind them you’re there if they need any advice or support. Check in again at the end of the day to thank them for their hard work and answer any questions they might have.

5. Offer support

Pastoral care has always been part of any proactive manager’s to do list. Now, more than ever, you need to consider the support needs of your staff. Many could be dealing with:

  • Stress trying to adjust to new ways of working
  • Anxiety about the future, their job prospects, their health, their loved ones
  • Money worries
  • Illness, or even bereavement, in their family

Make it clear that you’re there for your team, whatever their worries. As the captain of the ship, you’re probably experiencing some of these emotions yourself, so seek help if you need it.

Senior managers could explore online counselling services for staff during the pandemic, to support their mental and emotional health.

6. Share good news

Goodness knows, we’ve had our share of bad news recently. The pandemic, the predicted recession, the people flouting lockdown…Share some great news with your team instead. Whether that’s a happy article you found of Facebook about an elderly army veteran raising money for the NHS, to positive outcomes at work, like new clients or customer feedback, spread some happiness.

7. Be thoughtful

A kind word or a thoughtful gift will always be remembered. Show your staff they matter by:

  • Asking how they’re doing, like, really doing
  • Remembering birthdays being celebrated in lockdown or weddings that have been delayed
  • Sending gifts through the post or online – like vouchers or letterbox gifts
  • Be generous with praise and recognise people are doing well in really difficult circumstances

8. Have fun

If you’re a fun-loving team, keep that nonsense up. Social media is awash with ideas for virtual team building. How about:

  • Zoom lunch – share lunch with your colleagues online once or twice a week
  • Fancy Dress Friday – get dolled up and meet online to judge the best fancy dress
  • Pub quiz – have a team quiz online; nominate a quiz master to create the questions, or why not share photos of each other as kids in advance and work out who’s who
  • Share kids, cats and birthdays – work is part of our homes now, so let home become part of work too; share the stupid things your pets or partner do to make WFH that little bit easier…or more aggravating!

9. Don’t forget furloughed staff

Don’t forget your colleagues on furlough. Whilst it can be tempting to think of furloughed staff as one less person to worry about right now, they still need to be included and communicated with. Don’t bore or bother them with updates about projects or work. But do keep in touch, share good news stories and keep them involved.

10. Ask what they need

Most importantly, ask your staff what they need. Some might love some extra hand-holding whilst others might enjoy their new-found independence. A Zoom quiz might delight your extroverts but make your introverts quake with fear. Ask them what they'd prefer and find a solution that works for you and for them during these crazy times.

And finally...

Finally, remember this. You’re not working from home. This isn’t an occasional Tuesday afternoon at home to focus on writing that big report.

This is trying to work from home during a worldwide pandemic, an unknown situation that we’re all just trying to get through the best we can.

It is ok to be wobbly and wonder what to do. It is ok to feel stressed by the mess and noise of family life. All you can do – and all you can expect of others – is do your best in the circumstances.

Check out our Coronavirus advice hub for more information for small businesses and entrepreneurs during COVID-19.