Strategies to foster a stronger team whilst working from home long-term

The last few weeks has seen an unprecedented shift across the country from working in offices to working from home. Entire teams are working remotely and in truth this is a far bigger challenge than having just the odd person working from home.

Whether you are small business owner, freelancer or contractor – now more than ever it is important to keep connected, engaged, aligned and motivated.

How do you make your team feel like they belong from afar? 

Employees need to feel they are part of something bigger than themselves or their immediate teams. I believe, right now, we all feel part of something so much bigger than ourselves, but this is something we cannot control so having some sort of routine is essential. 

If you create a routine for your employees, they will keep focused and maintain goals they set for themselves that relate to the business strategy.

Businesses across the country are asking themselves these questions and they have not had time to sit round a table and discuss ideas, concepts or have long workshops finding solutions. It's a now or never scenario.

Here are some straight-forward strategies to keeping teams engaged, motivated and delivering.  

1) Information access for all

It is important to make all the information your employees need to do their jobs available in one place. Be it Dropbox, virtual VPN or sharing Google docs – there is a multitude of ways to share data effectively and its essential that everyone can access company files and information despite not being in the office. If you are an employee, ensuring you save documents and essential files onto shared drives is also equally important – there is nothing more frustrating and time consuming than not being able to find something because a colleague has saved it locally to their desktop!

Employers also have a responsibility to keep their staff updated and informed on the business’s stance towards COV-ID-19 and how they are protecting staff and prioritising their health and wellbeing, which is paramount at this time.

2) Keep focused

Set an agenda and retain your ‘to do’ list each day, ticking items off as you go, just as you did in the office. This helps foster a sense of continuity and achievement and allows you to prioritise tasks.

If you are one of the many parents juggling childcare whilst working, then try to take it in turns to look after children, setting shifts. This way one of you can work whilst the other handles the children – it isn’t possible to do both simultaneously.

3) Keeping up appearances

On a personal note, make sure you get dressed every day and make yourself look presentable. You don’t have to wear formal ‘work’ clothes but making an effort will help bolster your confidence. It will also be significantly less stressful when a colleague or client suggests a spontaneous video call out of the blue.

4) Take care of your health

It is absolutely essential to try to do some exercise and eat healthily during this period of stress and isolation.

Taking regular breaks from your screen, getting outside during your lunchtime, first thing in the morning, either walking or exercising will do wonders for your  productivity. The fresh air and sunlight will also be beneficial for Vitamin D intake, helping you stay more focused and alert.

5) Delegate dynamically

Virtual delegating  can work. In these hectic times, it isn’t possible to do everything yourself. Just because you are not physically sat next to your colleagues doesn’t mean you can’t allocate work to them to ease the load and spread ownership throughout the team. Don’t labour under the misconception that because you can’t brief someone in person you are unable to share complex tasks. Set out what you want the person to do, write it up, and prepare a detailed brief on their respective area of ownership. Schedule a video call, take them through it, to ensure their full understanding, and then email them the schedule so they can follow it and ask any questions.

6)  Cut the clutter

A messy workspace can make it challenging to focus and add to stress levels. Make the effort to clear away work-related items and turn off the laptop at end of the working day. You need a break from the screen, and it is important to delineate between ‘work’ time and ‘rest’ time in order to properly switch off, rest and recuperate – essential in this time of increased stress.

7)  Master video call etiquette

You know all the rules about getting dressed into ‘work’ clothes, and just wearing pyjamas all day. There are also some handy tech tips you can implement to make you look and sound more professional on a work conference video call. If you are using Zoom – one of the most popular formats for company calls, blurring the background can help keep the focus on you, and not have colleagues inspecting all your family photos on the wall behind you! You can also pop filters on to artificially brighten and soften the lighting – ideal for a dark work environment. To keep noise interference to a minimum, it is a good idea to mute the microphone unless you are speaking. Investing in a good headset allows you to type, take notes, and speak simultaneously whilst retaining the sound quality – a time-saving life saver.

8)  Make time for virtual team socials

It shouldn’t all be just about work – after all, many of us are starting earlier and finishing later than we would if we were still ‘in the office’ and commuting home. Therefore, ensure you schedule time with your team-mates.

Tap into the technology available to you, be it Microsoft Teams, the  House Party App, Skype or Zoom and come together with colleagues for a virtual end of the week Friday drink. Try not to discuss work in this session, but chat about anything else - Netflix, the plethora of virtual fitness workouts doing the rounds or just simply the meals you are cooking up during lock-down. Having a chat and conversing with colleagues about topics outside of work will help you bond and forge a deeper understanding of what each can bring to the table.

9)   Employee culture

If you've never really had an employee driven culture now is your opportunity to foster one and once the Coronavirus induced lock-down is over,  keep it that way.
Hopefully you will be having more meaningful conversations with your team and you will be listening better. Make sure you pick up on the nuances of someone who might be struggling. Speak to your managers and make sure they speak to that employee outside of the group chat.

Don’t expect everyone to be ok and if you get a text from an employee saying they would rather not be on the group chat, be understanding and empathetic. Having empathy rather than showing irritation will create far better and more robust internal business relationships in the long run.

Simply showing you ‘really care‘ will make a world of difference to the relationships you have at work and in turn your employees will be more loyal, more productive and happy.