How to boost remote team morale in lockdown [ft. silly video]

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Lights, tunnels: end of. Writing this in New Zealand, where the State-mandated lockdown has just dropped down a gear, a return to a form of normality could be just weeks away. Workers will return to offices, children will return to school, and sanity will settle once again upon working parents, like a softly falling snow…

Of course at any moment that normality could be whisked away with a fresh round of lockdown – while elsewhere around the world millions of employees are still working remotely, with no clear idea when that will change.

Consequently, managers everywhere are doing their best to keep staff morale high in their remote teams. So here are our tips for keeping spirits up, with examples from the Unleashed team thrown in for good measure.

Read on for the serious advice (and stay for the ridiculous video).

Keeping remote staff morale up, tip 1: address reality

It doesn’t matter how many dress-up Zoom meetings you schedule, if the reality of your new work from home situation isn’t working for your staff, they’ll quickly become disengaged. It’s important then to ensure the basics of a productive workspace are set up.

Adequate internet, safe workspaces, functioning equipment – these were week-one priorities, so if you haven’t checked each team member has these basics covered, you need to move quickly. And while you’re doing this don’t neglect some of the less noticeable impacts on your staff.

Kids, for example. Are parents balancing homeschooling their children with completing work? Are furloughed spouses or the sudden addition of grandparents to a ‘bubble’ adding extra strain? It may simply be unrealistic to expect your staff to be as productive as they were before. If so address this new reality with them in a compassionate way.

At Unleashed for example, working parents are gifted time off without a proportional reduction in pay: hours away can be taken as either holiday or leave without pay, and on a two-for-one basis – lessening the impact of taking time to manage family life.

working from home Working from home with children isn’t all soft-focus joy. Photo credit: Anastasia Shuraeva

Tip 2: Assemble a team (for all things remote)

Don’t leave getting remote working right up to chance: assemble a team to manage this and carve out time and resource for them to get it right. Consider branding them internally so that everyone is clear where messages come from and why.

At Unleashed a cross-discipline team manages all aspects of the remote working culture, from the technical and legal to the downright silly. They’re known as the Awesome Everywhere team (because their job is keeping Unleashed staff awesome everywhere) and their logo is a cartoon unicorn (because… well. Just because).

Branded team logo

Internal branding for your work from home team helps your messaging stand out

Tip 3: Make human connections (with your camera on)

Psychology researcher Professor Albert Mehrabian famously came up with the 7-38-55 rule of human communication. This states that 7% of a message is transmitted through the meaning of the words spoken, 38% comes through voice and tone, while a full 55% depends on visual body language cues, like facial expression.

The insight here is obvious for Zoom-dependent teams: switch cameras on.

The level of nuance lost when visual cues are gone can be catastrophic for effective teamwork. Whether it’s an expression of goodwill during feedback, or the sense of urgency around a priority task, missing out on visual prompts can be corrosive.

Of course, even with the best HD camera, the way these cues are transmitted is still worse than old-fashioned face to face. But the way remote meetings are conducted can make a big difference here. Communications coach Marti Fischer encourages leaders to let staff connect first at the start of video calls for optimal productivity. Simply allowing banter before beginning business, or using a more formal ‘one thing from each team member’ round of chat, allows staff to connect – and leads to better business outcomes after.

Tip 4: Establish virtual team norms (together)

In his Remote Leadership Toolkit video series, Dan Pontefract encourages teams to set norms around remote collaboration by answering 10 core questions:

  • What do we expect of each other?
  • What do you expect of the leader?
  • What do leaders expect of employees?
  • How will we communicate? And what are the ‘rules of engagement’?
  • How do we still have spontaneous conversations?
  • How often should we meet?
  • How will we learn from each other?
  • How will we recognise others?
  • How do we look out for each other?
  • And how will we have fun and be human?

While many of these we’ve touched on in the post above, it’s worth expanding on the final two in particular, especially as lockdowns grind on and stresses build.

Tip 5: Support each other (and have fun)

People and Culture Manager Lisa Coleman heads up the Awesome Everywhere charge at Unleashed, and has just rolled out a buddy system at the firm. This peer support network is a proactive way of catching pressure before it becomes damaging – and the exec team has its own safety valves in place as well.

Team yoga keeps morale highWeekly yoga sessions led by staff help keep morale high at Unleashed during lockdown

“In the exec stand-up and P&C meetings we always start with a pulse check,” says Lisa. “Just a 1-10 of how you’re feeling, and if you do it regularly it means you get to know how people mark themselves. For example a 7 might be a low score if someone is generally a 9.

“Our P&C team do regular random check-ins with staff. And we’ve also got things coming out to get our musicians together, to carry on our food culture with some cooking lessons, to carry on our family-first thinking with an organised story time led by our office manager – plus some quiz nights and lunches too.”

Beyond that there are sessions planned for managers who have requested training on remote leadership. There’s also a weekly Thursday morning Zoom yoga session hosted by one of the staff (pictured above: here’s looking at you, Will McTavish). And – we’re not too proud to admit – the occasional inter-team dance-off Zoom challenge.

We did promise a silly video after all.


Follow Unleashed Software on LinkedIn for more business advice and strategies to get through Covid-19


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Greg Roughan - Unleashed Software
Greg Roughan

Article by Greg Roughan in collaboration with our team of inventory management and business specialists. Greg has been writing, publishing and working with content for more than 20 years. His writing motto is 'don't be boring'. His outdoors motto is ''I wish I hadn't brought my headtorch', said nobody, ever'. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with his family.

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