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Keeping your WFH Team Engaged

By Kaymie Owen, CMP

Remote work is no longer a privilege, it is our new normal. Last  month Amazon, Google and Microsoft all announced teleworking staff should remain home through October and Twitter along with Facebook announced that employees can work from home permanently. Most studies show, where teleworking is possible, remote workers to be more productive, plus, a new poll shows at home workers are happier. However, many teleworking employees are working longer hours and burnout is a concern.

Transitioning the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) to a virtual office was not challenge free, however it has amplified our sustainability and productivity. Teleworking is not only reducing MEA’s transportation carbon footprint but our revised electronic grant processing is also having a positive impact. Previously, grant applications were tracked on paper, hand passed in special folders and required wet signatures for approval. This pandemic accelerated MEA’s transition to 100% electronic applications and grant approval using secure, e-document signatures. MEA has cut our grant processing time approximately 50% with our electronic process. Feedback on our electronic grant applicants has been positive overall. MEA has been able offer assistance via email or help applicants on the phone with specific questions. MEA is reviewing options to survey our customers to see how we can make further improvements to our online services. 

Employing strategies to ensure your team stays healthy and productive are extremely important. We have found that ensuring two way communication is one such strategy.  Encouraging regular feedback from staff will help managers see if the team is struggling to find balance. Most organizations send out an annual, anonymous employee satisfaction survey. Now is an excellent time to do a pop-up survey to gauge where your team is mentally. Ask if staff is comfortable with the content and frequency of communications from leadership. Ask if they have all the equipment or software they need to continue to effectively work from home. Ask your team to rate their work / life balance using a scale of 1 – 10 (1 being very balanced & 10 being not well balanced).

An Edelman survey found that 63% of employees trust their employer more than they trust government or news sources for information about COVID-19. Senior leadership teams can leverage this opportunity to strengthen trust internally during this crisis. Communications professionals can assist leadership to hone their storytelling skills now. Use your pop-up survey to determine the best means of employee contact, be it regular email updates, live Q & A sessions or a video message.

One best practice of remote work that seasoned teleworkers know is how to break-up their workday. When hit with writer’s block or a project hurdle, teleworkers will take a mental break and return to their task refreshed. Getting outside if possible, to safely walk around the block or start a load of laundry or taking a snack are all options. Keeping your remote team engaged can be as simple as scheduling a virtual water cooler chat each week for 20 minutes. Managers can add gamification to the workday to keep employees focused and encourage healthy breaks. Send out a video conference Bingo card before your next long video meeting. Another gamification idea is to set a weekly challenge for your team. Send out a list like the one below to your team on Monday and challenge them to complete all the tasks by Friday at noon. Customize the list for your team as a way of connecting while we are all in social distancing mode.

MEA successfully hosted our annual team retreat last week under a summer camp theme. Following best practices from Meeting Professionals International, MEA planned  an immersive event for staff. Advanced communications helped attendees prepare for presentations and brain breaks during the retreat like a simulated kick-off hike, a campfire lunch, an afternoon snack break, and closing ceremony. Our online platform enabled  us to host a guest speaker to explain how increased productivity at work is linked to happiness. Did you know your brain performs 31% better when happy than when neutral, stressed or angry? Learn more here

Sample Team Challenge

  1. Do a quick work out in the middle of the day
  2. Read or listen to Burnout is real – how to avoid it
  3. Share your favorite quarantine related meme on Google Chat or Slack
  4. Telework outside for 20 minutes
  5. Give a virtual tour of your workspace
  6. Join a meeting in your PJs
  7. Crank up music from your favorite band when you were in HS
  8. Do a virtual lunch or snack time w/a colleague
  9. Write a remote work Haiku
  10. Have a virtual water cooler chat with some co-workers