Remember August? We could socialise indoors! Stay out past 10pm! Hug our parents! Implausible as it may seem now, many of us were also resuming our daily commutes and seeing our colleagues in person again.
Now it’s back to home-working for many of the UK’s office-based employees. With days also becoming shorter, and as we approach the time of year formerly known as ‘Christmas party season’, many of us may be feeling even more frustrated or isolated than during the nationwide lockdown in spring.
It can be hard to remain positive in the face of ever-shifting circumstances and daily news reports of mass redundancies and firm closures, with a recent survey revealing that 76% of HR professionals found that maintaining employee morale has been either “somewhat” or “very” challenging. If you’re struggling to keep spirits up at work, we’ve shared 4 tips for keeping your staff (and yourself) motivated during the winter months:
1. Schedule regular check-ins
When your inbox is heaving and you’re working in isolation, it’s tempting to remain focused on your tasks and forget to check in with colleagues. According to Shalini Khemka, CEO of the small business forum E2E, however, it’s important to keep in regular contact, “not only to catch up as you would usually in the office, but also to make sure you are supporting your staff and listening so that they are able to work to the best of their ability.”
To ensure you’re giving staff opportunities to communicate and share any challenges, schedule regular check-ins in advance (one-to-one chats as well as group calls). These don’t have to disrupt your day: a 10-minute phone call is often as productive as an hour-long Zoom meeting, and leaves you free to get on with your respective to-do lists.
Consider new ways to communicate, too: group WhatsApp chats and platforms like Slack offer quick, informal ways of asking for help and keeping in touch. Finally, remember to provide frequent, encouraging feedback. You might assume it goes unsaid, but that quick “This is great – thank you!” email could make all the difference to a colleague's day.
2. Show your support
It’s not enough to put a weekly catch-up in the diary – it’s important to demonstrate your support, too. According to Sajda Mughal, the founder and CEO of charity Jan Trust, good leadership means “extending further empathy to colleagues and understanding extra difficulties they may be facing during this time.”
Offering support may be as simple as providing a sympathetic listening ear, or it may mean taking practical measures such as ordering special equipment to make home working easier. Knowing we have an advocate who will take action on our behalf is often as important for employee morale as the action itself.
3. Stay social
You might want to leave Zoom quizzes firmly in April, but the opportunity to take part in social events (albeit virtual ones) may be a lifeline for others on your team. Planning a few fun activities – Halloween-themed drinks or a Thanksgiving supper club – outside of office hours also reminds you of each other’s human sides, easing communication when you’re back on task.
As Shalini Khemka puts it, “Team socials have helped staff stay motivated – on a Friday evening we’ll have a drink together. We’ve done more social activity on a regular basis than we would have done historically, albeit digitally, because it has had to be built into the diary rather than done in an impromptu way.”
Do, however, make it clear that any socialising is strictly optional – some people might find screentime in the evening as well as during the day a further source of stress.
4. Be transparent
Your instinct might be to protect staff from bad news or potential disruption, but they will inevitably have a sense of any major changes taking place behind the scenes. Trying to hide issues until strictly necessary can often prove counterproductive. According to Brigit Bloch, the founder of Brigit’s Bakery, a Covent Garden-based café which had to close completely during the spring, “We’ve been as transparent as possible with our teams to keep them abreast of all changes as soon as we know.”
Keeping staff broadly informed about the company’s financial position or performance puts any repercussions in context and lets them know that consequent measures should not be taken personally. Offering fair warning is also a way of minimising shock in the event of redundancy or pay cuts, and allows individuals to make contingency plans if necessary.