Many entrepreneurs had to move rapidly to get their team and themselves working from home when lockdown started. And, as quickly as we settle into this new way of running our businesses, things are changing again. Some homeworking team members will now be returning to the workplace, at least for some of the week.
While those working from home may now be finding the novelty of working in their PJs and being able to put a load of washing on between calls and emails is rubbing off, those at the start of the trickle of the returning workforce will be faced with fresh anxieties; such as whether their journey is safe and how it will feel being in the office without many of their colleagues.
What can entrepreneurs do to support their team in this next phase? Now is not the time to get complacent about your team’s mental wellbeing. Indeed, you should be revisiting the concerns you had initially about keeping your team in touch and connected and, most importantly, retaining the sense of camaraderie that can be lost when people are working apart.
Increasing and maintaining camaraderie will be vital for startups and growth businesses in the current circumstances. Here are some ideas for taking action:
THE WORK ANGLE
Regular video meetings
Zoom, Skype, Facetime. All have been well-utilised over recent weeks. It’s not only important to speak regularly, it’s important to see your team members, read their facial expressions and body language and smile at one another! Ideally, these communications should be regular and scheduled. These give everyone points in the week to look forward to and to keep them motivated.
Really make sure that everyone is given a voice during these meetings. If there are too many faces on the screen, some might melt into the background. Make time for everyone to speak and be listened to. This is crucial for mental wellbeing and to enhance feelings of togetherness and team building.
Set working hours
While this may not be possible for all business models, if you can, give everyone a set working day. Give them a start time and set times for tea and lunch breaks and a finishing time. You can then encourage them to ‘have lunch’ with a colleague and get to know them better. Also ensure that they are able to separate work and home life. If they are staying at their workstation to finish a project and not leaving until 7pm, they are not likely to be motivated to start at 9am the next day and a lack of routine can be very demotivating.
Motivate your team to achieve together
There are few feelings as good as when you achieve something as part of a team! In the office, you can high-five when you hit a target or finish that project. That’s not so easy when you are all in different places. However, there are ways to help your team feel together when they are apart.
Remind your team of the core values of your startup/growth business. Discuss these in a group, focusing on how they can be applied and tweaked to fit with the current situation. Ensuring everyone engages with these values is critical for a successful business and even more so when working remotely.
You could encourage your team to have – and share – morning motivations, where they each write down “What I accomplished yesterday… What I am planning today… What the challenges are for today”. This is a moveable feast and one that colleagues can talk to each other about; “I had a similar challenge last week, this is how I approached it, and this is what worked”. “I have the same plan today, shall we speak later to see how we’re both getting on”.
Having regular brainstorming sessions is a good idea and entrepreneurs should encourage team members to call with new ideas. Again, voice or video calls are preferable to email, keeping communication verbal and more fluid and interactive.
THE PLAY ANGLE
Socialise “at work”
The culture of business has changed so much over recent years; it is far more sociable in its nature. So, keep this going. You will have to trust your team to spend an appropriate amount of time socialising within the framework of the working day but it is likely to be highly motivating and encourage that camaraderie if they can still have a virtual chat by the water cooler, using an app such as Tandem.chat or set up a group chat on WhatsApp. Alternatively, why not suggest they play an online game in their tea break? For example, they could play scrabble on Facebook or a site such as Lexulous or fans of Uno can play online either one-on-one or in groups.
Drinks after work
Perhaps your team like nothing better than a ‘quick one’ after work together or a curry night the Friday after payday. While that may not be immediately possible, there are other ways they can socialise after work.
It’s probably best to let them choose an activity they all enjoy but, for example, a cook and wine evening might be fun. Each team member can take a turn in demonstrating their favourite recipe and suggesting a chosen glass of wine to go with it. Perhaps one of your team is a fish expert and can tell you how to cook sea bass and recommend their favourite Sancerre to compliment it. Keep the pressure off. If they want to demonstrate how to make a pot noodle while drinking tea, that is also good!
Or go all out on a wine tasting evening with nibbles or a cheese board, taking it in turns for the choice of three or four wines, playing some favourite music in the background or sharing your chosen playlist.
Perhaps your team is more likely to hook up at the gym or gather for a casual five-a-side game. A team fitness challenge could be a great way for your team to socialise, while boosting their physical and mental wellbeing through exercise. Of course, they can’t go to the park and have a run together, but they could all go to their own local park and have a run at the same time. Then they could share photos on the chat group of your choice. Or make it a walk that they all do in different locations and chat throughout about what they are seeing. Perhaps one is in the countryside, one at the beach and another simply walking round their garden.
BRINGING THE TWO TOGETHER
Some startups may still be working at full steam, but others will have slowed down. Perhaps now is the time to get some training booked in. Again, to boost camaraderie, try to include team training that will benefit everyone, even if it’s not specific to everyone’s role. Training can be done via video calling. If you like to use outside trainers get in touch and see what they are offering.
If your team roles are diverse, you could make the training about something non-work related or have a slot each week where each team member spends some time giving more detail about his/her role. This will let your team better appreciate different aspects of your business and the pressures on their colleagues.
Organise a (non) away day
Of course, a great thing to build team spirit is an away day together. As impossible as this sounds, you may be able to replicate it and give your team some fun to take their minds off everything. It will take some creative thinking but perhaps they could all go fishing at their own local catch-and-return lake and have a competition to see who can catch the biggest. Or, instead of go-karting, they could play online karting games together. What about a day at the races? Your team could dress up, get the prosecco on ice, and bet on races being run abroad. You know your team. If you can, give them a fun treat!
If you’re a startup and haven’t yet you’ve paid enough attention to this – don’t worry. Now is a good time to get the wellbeing ball rolling with some fun, virtual activities. Support the development of camaraderie and you’ll support your team’s mental wellbeing and strengthen their ability to work together seamlessly.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Craig Bulow is the founder of Corporate Away Days, a corporate wellbeing events company delivering engaging, inspiring and exciting events focussed on Wellbeing and Reward activities. Corporate Away Days also creates, designs and builds corporate wellbeing policies and provides leading experts for interactive workshops, seminars and talks on improving mental health and overall wellbeing.