When the world changes as it has due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we don’t really have all that much say on the matter.

The circumstances are such that people are being forced to change the way they live their lives. Things we used to take for granted, such as sporting events, entertainment, groceries, and human interactions aren’t such a granted thing anymore.

Something else that’s been taken away is the freedom of going to the office for work.

The shift to fully remote work

Working from home has always been considered a luxury for few. Complaints about the daily commute and office politics aren’t what we’d call a rarity. And many people relish the idea of being able to roll out of bed and work 9-5 in their pyjamas. I am personally enjoying makeup free Zoom meetings – it will be tough to revert back to “normality”. But now that people have been forced into working remotely, they’re beginning to understand the many challenges involved and that the long coveted WFH isn’t (only) the hyper-convenient form of bliss many might assume. Why is working remotely during COVID-19 so challenging?

Sure, some workers are undoubtedly wired to benefit from the nature of remote employment. Still, most people have spent their professional lives in the traditional office structure. There’s undoubtedly a significant learning curve and adaptation process involved with this shift.

All those who can work off a computer could be told to work from home. Providing them with a computer, display and keyboard requires little more than money. However ensuring low engagement and isolation do not chew away at morale and productivity, requires more care and attention. The pitfalls of remote work arise when there is a global pandemic causing massive disruption, but also exist when the pandemic is not the reason for you business to work remotely.

Your employees aren’t only facing the standard obstacles faced when working from home. They are also dealing with pandemic-related panic and anxiety. That includes worrying about the health and safety of friends and family, on top of mounting concerns about job security. We’ve previously discussed about this topic.

Now that all is set, and employees are on board with the plan and working remotely, leaders are tasked with the difficult task of keeping their people engaged. If you are not sure where to start, below are some helpful tips.

Introducing gamification strategies

There is a lot that could be said about workplace gamification and related strategies. For the purpose of this article we won’t dig deeper into that (perhaps we will leave this for another write up) and focus on key benefits.

In a nutshell, gamification is the introduction of gaming parameters and frameworks into non-gaming scenarios, such as work.

While your team is stuck at home and only able to interact through video chats, there are techniques that can help keep them connected and aligned.

The benefits of gamification include:

  • Increased engagement;
  • Boosted productivity;
  • Promotes comradery;
  • Helps teams work towards a common goal.

In fact, surveyed employees claimed that gamification makes them feel more productive (89%) and happier (88%) at work.

Gamification is a great motivational technique during normal circumstances. It’s even more essential while your employees are stuck at home. Competition (when friendly) and collaboration are two strong components of games, which applied to objectives can act as strong motivators for those working towards them.

Boosting morale with rituals

One of the most challenging aspects of being forced to work from home is the lack of stability provided by a physical office environment. People who have worked from a classic office environment for most of their career are used to structure and having to “be somewhere.” Furthermore, when business stability is on the fence, it’s up to leaders to offer that sense steadiness to their employees.

An article in the Harvard Business Review shows examples of this kind of ritualism, discussing it through the lens of management availability.

Here are some ritualization techniques that are being applied:

  • 15-minute morning check-ins are a perfect tool to address any overnight changes and create a game-plan for the day. The Coronavirus pandemic has proven to be fluid and adjusting day-by-day should be made into a ritual.
  • At the beginning of meetings, each participant can share  one word to describe their current state of mind before elaborating further with a sentence (they’re also allowed to pass).
  • Weekly meeting themes are being utilized for some lightheartedness and humour, such as everybody putting on a hat or – I share mine – setting their favourite zoom background based on a specific theme.

Managers must take the bull by the horns on this front and push for these kinds of positive rituals. Doing so will cultivate a sense of togetherness while everyone is isolated.

Centring leadership around empathy and helping others

With many businesses seeing a reduction in work, there has been a need to reduce the workforce and keep onboard only employees whose work is required for production, or required to keep the company running. Unfortunately, this also means a high level of pressure for those who have not been left at home. From an individual perspective, they will feel like they have to give more because they have been given this responsibility; from a company perspective, more will be required from them as they will be having to cover for different areas (and often hours) than they did in the past.

Productivity shaming, even when unintentional, weighs a great toll on people.
Because of this, instead of taking some time to relax after the 8 hours of (uninterrupted) work, we will tend to spend those extra couple of hours “we’d be commuting to work anyway” to finish up those last few tasks that normally could have waited for tomorrow.

Right now, your focus as an organization shouldn’t be to squeeze every bit of value from each employee. But ensuring those who can, and need to work, have the means and clarity to do so, at their (current) best.

Now is the time to define the parameters of productivity around helping other people cope. When all this is over, employees will remember the way they were treated during this crisis.

If your approach is callous, demanding, and uncaring toward everyone’s given situation, you won’t be fostering a sense of loyalty.

Remote work should not be lonely work. Plenty of software and services are available to keep your team connected. Use them, but do not forget each person is different and will be comfortable with different levels of engagement. Especially if you are working in different geographies or have family commitments, people may have few overs of overlap – ensure they are not left out.

Check in with people to ensure your initiatives are not counterproductive, or could perhaps be done better - there is not shame in trying, as long as you do not give up.

People want to feel connected, so as long as you make the call, they will pick up.

Got questions or thoughts you'd like to share? Drop me a note on Twitter @Lauren31v or share it with the folks @HumaansHQ. 👋


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