With Sydney’s current lockdown unlikely to end any time soon, it’s essential for businesses to explore ways to boost morale, maintain a happy, productive workforce, and keep positive company culture during this time.
At Zeller, we know a thing or two about building culture and creating a thriving workplace. Founding the business in January 2020, we’ve grown the team from four founding members to over eighty employees, navigating five lockdowns in the process. During this period, all new employee onboarding was virtual, and most of the Zeller team didn’t meet each other in person until the 2020 end of year holiday celebrations. Some team members were even shocked to discover a person’s physical height — having only seen them on video calls throughout the year from the neck up! We’ve learned a few things about managing times of uncertainty for employees across the business through the highs and lows of the pandemic.
Lockdowns impact employees differently
Firstly, it’s important to be acutely aware that every individual in your team will deal with the impact of lockdown differently. Changing family dynamics, home-schooling, the isolation of living alone, or simply not being around people can impact team members in unexpected ways. Leaders must be attuned to individual circumstances and be ready to support the mental impact this can have on employees.
Monitor your team closely to see how behaviour and engagement change over time and ask for feedback. If teams are feeling overwhelmed by meetings, designate a meeting free-day or limit meetings to mornings only to give your teams reprieve in the afternoon to get through their to-do lists.
There will never be a one-size-fits-all solution for remote working, so concessions must be made on a flexible and ongoing basis to ensure each member of your team feels fully supported. As restrictions change, so might your team’s position on their preferred working environment. There may be those in your team who thrive on the company of colleagues and workplace interaction and may not empathise with those who prefer to work entirely remotely. When lockdown lifts and the transition to a hybrid workplace begins, business leaders must be cognisant of the needs of their workforce to ensure an overall balance of remote and in-office working is maintained and that staff satisfaction is not compromised as a result.
Don’t zoom in to social activities
Many leaders may feel the need to compensate for isolation with extra-curricular activities over video calls. “Zoom-fatigue” is a very real phenomenon, and the solution isn’t always spending a Friday evening together having a drink in front of a screen. Ask your teams and leaders for feedback on how they’d like to engage socially during lockdowns and expect this feedback to change over time if a lockdown continues for longer than expected. In a similar vein, don’t see a lack of attendance at video call social activities as a signal of disengagement — sometimes people would prefer to take that time to sign off after a long day and spend time with family rather than playing trivia.
Go with the flow
Working from home during a pandemic has been a challenge for many of us—especially when it comes to switching off at the end of the day. Give your team as much flexibility as possible, and don’t fear that extended work from home periods leads to lower productivity. Research shows that 40 per cent of employees are working longer hours; many factors can lead to this, including the fact that employees no longer have to factor in lengthy commute to the office, so they log on early or stay online later. Remind employees to switch off, go for a walk, and get outside for exercise during the day. Make it fun and encourage participation by asking team members to share photos of their time outdoors on shared communication channels such as Slack. Good mental health at work and good management go hand in hand, and there is strong evidence that workplaces with high levels of mental wellbeing are more productive.
Get creative with fun team activities
During Melbourne’s longest 2020 lockdown, the Zeller team put together a virtual scavenger hunt by creating a shortlist of things people had to head outside and find in their local area during their exercise breaks. It was a great way to build culture, healthy competition, and engagement in a rapidly growing team during the lockdown. We had team members running around outdoors in their local area, searching for random items while tuning in on their phones. It was not only incredibly entertaining for everyone, but a creative and fun way to break up the day and build camaraderie.
I’ve learned that no lockdown is the same; everyone is met with new challenges no matter their circumstance. To make sure everyone feels heard, constantly ask for feedback from employees and make sure you act on it. It’s always easy to get lost in work during lockdown with no break between locations, however as a leader, it is key to lead by example and support your employees as a matter of priority.