On the first day back from maternity leave, one of our partners learned that our state’s stay-at-home order was extended a month and that her baby’s daycare would be closed indefinitely. Another colleague found out that her dad was showing symptoms of coronavirus and needed to be admitted to the hospital. (Thankfully, he is recovering — without the virus back at home).
Several others are working while keeping children entertained and homeschooled, all while worrying about at-risk family members and friends. Our college intern is settled back in his childhood home, balancing online classes and remote work.
While adjusting to our new challenges, we remind ourselves that we’re among the lucky ones. We’re equipped to remotely provide communications support — arguably needed now more than ever — efficiently and effectively from anywhere.
What we’re not used to, and where we have admittedly struggled as the pandemic continues without a firm end in sight, is maintaining a connection to one another during this time of social distancing. It strains our agency’s team-focused culture.
Our small, close-knit team thrives in an open office environment with a supportive team member just a desk away. We’d often take a walk around our vibrant work neighborhood to grab ice cream or coffee and discuss a client challenge. The last hour on a Friday afternoon was designated as “Beer Friday.” Right before the outbreak, as the weather became warmer, we were starting to escape to our rooftop deck for meetings.
Now that we’re settled into another month of working remotely, our leadership team has focused on working better together and keeping our agency’s supportive culture at the front and center. Here are seven ways that you can help your team do the same:
1. Remember that everyone’s situation is different.
I came across these words on Twitter (author unknown): “We are all in the same boat. We are not in the same storm.” It’s a powerful reminder that each person in our agency is navigating this life-changing period of time individually. Remember that each team member’s personal situation is vastly different — and will require communication, flexibility and understanding as the situation plays out.
2. Keep the routine.
Our team and client meetings are now video chats, even the one-on-one meetings. We’ve implemented two agencywide check-ins: a weekly staff meeting on Mondays and a 30-minute group “happy hour” on Thursdays. That meeting is solely for fun: the new baby mentioned above made an appearance, as have pets and a few virtual cheers.
Keeping some semblance of structure will help team members stay focused and connected to one another.
3. Communicate expectations.
We’ve quickly learned that working remotely is not the same as being in the office, so up-front alignment with your team on communication expectations is critical. Start by discussing what the best communication channels should be (email, IM, text, phone call) and what an expected response time is for client needs and internal responses.
For us, preferences vary by team member and client. Check in frequently to ask what’s working and not working. Consider using a shared calendar to block out time and indicate availability, a step that has worked well for our team.
4. Communicate openly and often.
We’ve always made a point to share financial updates (good and bad) with our team. Right now, taking the time to communicate openly, honestly and frequently is critical. Be transparent and acknowledge that it will be rocky as clients adjust work scopes and everyone continues to adapt to working remotely and balancing at-home duties. Provide updates as you learn them.
We’ve communicated that we are investigating the government’s Paycheck Protection Program and our team has appreciated the transparency and honesty.
5. Continue to foster personal growth.
Your team wants to add value and feel rewarded, and that shouldn’t change during a pandemic. Don’t lose sight of opportunities for a team member to take on a different project and grow in their position. Right now, there are countless webinars and virtual learning opportunities available, making it easy to continue encouraging a culture of learning, especially if anyone has extra time.
6. Celebrate milestones.
We’re big believers in celebrating birthdays and employee anniversaries and recognizing agency achievements. We’ve made a point to recognize employees as part of our meetings and through one-on-one outreach. Don’t lose sight of lifting up other employees during this time.
7. Prioritize health and wellness.
We’re living through a global crisis and everyone is processing feelings around the unknown. We cannot turn it off. What are you doing for your team to help them feel supported emotionally? One thing we’ve done is mail notes of inspiration to simply let them know we are thinking of them and that we are grateful for their support and hard work during this time.
On a personal note, I wish you the best as we continue to navigate the personal and professional challenges ahead. Please share your tips. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bridget Castellini is the managing partner of Wordsworth Communications and has over two decades of strategic communications experience. She is proud to cultivate a culture that attracts the best and brightest talent.
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