Chances are, your workforce is completely physically separated for the first time—and your company may even be dealing with its first-ever work-from-home or remote arrangements. It’s a big adjustment: Gone are the desk-side jokes, the impromptu lunches, and the all-important HBO series debriefs by the water cooler/coffeemaker/mini-fridge full of LaCroix.
These casual conversations aren’t just idle chatter; they’re an important part of keeping everyone engaged and connected. So now that those physical gathering spaces are off-limits, how can your company’s managers still do their jobs effectively from a distance? Here are five tips to pass on.
Focus first on making teams feel safe and both mentally and physically well
If your company offers telemedicine and EAP resources, managers should help spread the word about using them. Also, they might encourage their own teams to take regular screen breaks to relax their eyes, step outside for some fresh air, and even meditate for a few minutes each day. And for those employees who are missing their office-issued standing desks and ergonomic chairs, why not offer some pointers on how to adapt their home office to be more comfortable?
Make expectations about schedules (and productivity) clear
Employees may be facing an entirely new landscape: home schooling, strategically-timed grocery runs, possibly needing to care for sick family members. Managers should make clear their expectations regarding the “new normal” work day, erring as much as possible on adjusting to everyone’s unique personal situations. They should also encourage team members to communicate clearly about when they’re on and off the clock; especially if they’re new to working from a home office, some employees may be tempted to think of work time as “anytime,” which is an easy way to burn out, fast.
Institute daily 10-minute standups
If managers don’t already hold short daily meetings, they should think about introducing them into their workflow for the short-term. A quick team touch base every morning lets everyone share what they’re focusing on for the day, what challenges they may be facing, and ask for any needed support. This creates some structure and routine while allowing for flexibility, especially in a time when each day may look and feel different from the next.
Encourage #watercooler conversations
Managers should create and encourage digital spaces where co-workers can meet up and chat about stuff that isn’t necessarily work-related: books they’re reading, what they made for dinner last night, which episode of Tiger King they’re watching….
If this idea triggers some managers’ worst fears about employees goofing off and losing productivity, they should know that science has proven, again and again, that we work better when we take breaks. Many of us are taking on new activities—sourdough loaf, anyone?—while others are getting a crash course in primary education. Give people a place to connect and share their experiences, as well as their fears, hopes, and reactions to the daily news.
Find creative ways to break up the monotony
With so many of our daily routines on hold, the days can start to blend together. Managers might mix things up by creating “theme days”: Hat Day (which pairs well with “I didn’t wash my hair” day), Everyone Wear Yellow Day, Weird Sweater Day, and the like. Or maybe teams take 10 minutes to participate in a virtual home scavenger hunt: what’s the weirdest thing in your fridge right now?
Teams should keep celebrating milestones as they normally would, too. Is it an employee’s work anniversary? Fantastic! Have a Zoom party or a virtual happy hour.
All that said, it’s important to remember that we’re all coping differently with surviving a global pandemic. Everyone’s health and home life are unique. So if the best someone can do is be present and do their work, that should be considered more than enough.