10 Painless Ways To Keep Morale Up During COVID-19

In a recent brief study regarding how professional services firms have transitioned during the COVID-19 pandemic, a surprising 46.6% of employees felt their employer adapted very well to the situation, and only 14.6% thought they did not. For something as unprecedented as our current situation, things could have been much worse, and for some industries, they certainly are. The study found that the companies rated the highest already had a structure to work remotely in place, took proactive and decisive measures, and communicated effectively with their employees. It’s easy to be discouraged and depressed in this time of economic turmoil, which means keeping up morale with a remote team is a common worry for a lot of businesses right now.

WHY IS MORALE IMPORTANT?

High employee morale results in increased teamwork, better retention, improved relationships between employees and managers, more productivity, lower absenteeism, more considerable attention to detail, and more creativity — all things that add up to a more efficient and successful business. Improving morale for remote workers is even more critical as they often feel isolated and lonely, with the addition of self-quarantines and social distancing, and it becomes an even more significant challenge.

Here are ten things managers and organizations can do immediately to improve morale:

1. Adopt Deliberate Communication

A recent article in Forbes noted that deliberate communication is key to maintaining and enhancing morale. Err on the side of overcommunication. In a remote setting, communication can become a challenge because you aren’t able to see body language, which makes up 55% of non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication is amplified on video, so practice maintaining good eye contact, and not moving your head too much. If you are talking over the phone, be careful of voice modulation (tone) and try slowing down your delivery.

If you had an “open door” policy in your physical office, employees might find it challenging to know when it’s appropriate to message or call you. Advise your employees of your availability. Maintaining prior office behaviors can offer employees a sense of security. Streamline your communication channels whenever possible, so your team knows the best way to get ahold of you.

2. Be Clear About Expectations

This situation is new for most of us. Explicitly outlined expectations give employees an understanding of how their roles may have changed, and even something as simple as when to log-in each day will help to reassure them. Some employers allow more flexibility, while others require a more structured schedule when working remotely. Letting your employees know what is expected of them will reduce stress and anxiety. If you don’t already have one, create a Remote Work Policy and share it with your employees for reference. Continually update it as things come up, and let your team know each time there is a change.

3. Allow Employees to Have Autonomy

I know it can be difficult to believe that if you aren’t watching over their shoulder and they are at home, they aren’t working, but the truth is that remote employees tend to work more, not less. Providing employees with autonomy increases employee engagement and productivity and makes your team feel more valued. If you’re clear about expectations, trust that they’ll meet them.

4. Resolve Issues Quickly with a Phone Call

Not to beat a dead horse but, this situation is new for many of your employees. There will be hiccups along the way. Practice patience and empathy, acknowledge that things aren’t going to be perfect, and will be different but, don’t hesitate to address issues as they arise. Nobody can correct something they aren’t aware is a problem. There are often misunderstandings via written communication, and sometimes, you need to pick up the phone (or dial into Zoom) to resolve issues quickly.

5. Provide and Encourage Feedback

Feedback can be difficult, especially when you’re an avoider of conflict (me!). However, it’s a crucial tool to have in your toolbelt. It offers transparency, defines goals, and builds leaders. Companies that implement regular feedback experience a 14.9% lower turnover rate.

To give feedback correctly, listen to the person to whom you are providing feedback. Understanding their thought process is essential because, in most cases, the employee already knows they could be doing better. Always focus on performance and not on personality; after all, you aren’t discussing them, you’re talking about what they do. Be granular. “Good job” isn’t showing them what was right, instead explain what exceeded expectations. Giving them direction to help them continue the positive things they are doing helps them know what they need to do to change for the better.

Try to be open to receiving feedback yourself; after all, this is new to you too. Giving and receiving feedback is NOT about you. It’s about making your team better and getting through this together.

6. Align with Company Culture and Values

Just because your workforce is now remote, doesn’t mean your core company values and culture need to change. Define for employees your organization’s mission from the perspective of the current situation. Review and adjust goals as needed. If you have a weekly get-together, keep it, and do it virtually. Find ways to encourage employees to practice your company values every day. After all, the fundamental, most important things never change, no matter the situation.

7. Give Recognition

Do you remember those star charts in kindergarten, and how excited we’d get over getting a coveted red star sticker? I do, and your employees likely remember some variation of this, too. Okay, maybe stickers won’t cut it for an adult workforce, so think of something they’d like. Exemplary work on a particular project or the delicate way they handled a difficult client can go a long way toward giving them that feeling again. Don’t forget to recognize employees’ efforts even more now that you’re all working remotely. We all need additional encouragement during uncertain times. Recognition helps employees to feel more secure and encourages good behavior.

8. Encourage Self-care and a Healthy Work-life Balance

Having a healthy work-life balance can be more difficult when you work from home. It can be a struggle to remember to take breaks or to sign off on time at the end of the day. However, sticking to a schedule can help to keep employees from burning out. Ask your employees to have a defined workspace. Allowing them separation at the end of the workday.

Many employees will have family and other distractions at home. Remind them to set boundaries. Encourage the team to take advantage of virtual coffee or lunch breaks with other team members, apps at their disposal for “water cooler” discussions, share jokes, funny GIFs, videos, and memes — anything to make this time feel a little more normal.

9. Routines are Important

I read a book a while back that had a heroine that worked from home. Every day she would get up, go through her morning routine of getting dressed for work, putting coffee in a thermos, and then she’d get in her car and drive around the block. When she came back, she’d go directly to her office and go to work. At the end of the workday, she’d leave and drive around the block in the opposite direction and come back home, ready to decompress and relax.

Although this may even seem excessive, think of similar routines. Maybe start and end your workday with a walk, or even just time outside to ‘break up’ the day.. Having a daily routine is healthy, provides structure, helps to reduce stress and anxiety, encourages positive habits, and helps get employees in a work mindset.

10 Implement Remote Team Building Games and Activities

Not only do team building games and activities add to your company culture, but they also increase retention, productivity, and employee happiness. It’s also very different from in-person team building. You have to be creative and think outside the box. At Red Branch, we’ve played Pictionary with the whiteboard feature on Zoom, enjoyed 2 Truths and a Lie, and made up a game kind of like catch-phrase, but people had to guess the tv shows everyone has been binge-watching lately.

In a climate of uncertainty and change, don’t sacrifice the morale of your team and organization. Follow the ten steps above to keep morale, productivity, and the efficiency of your team-up. After all, we’re all in this together.

This article was originally published on the Red Branch Media blog by Andrea Pohlsander.