When the COVID pandemic first hit the United States, many companies had to quickly adjust to full-time remote workplace environments. Leadership and People teams scrambled to figure out the best way to enable productivity, motivate employees, and boost morale during uncertain times. Some of these efforts included setting up premium Zoom accounts for everyone, shipping out large monitors to employees, and hosting virtual weekly happy hours.
Now that we are roughly eight months into remote workplace settings, many companies are pivoting to what is now the new normal. Folks in People functions, like myself, are challenged with finding creative ways to conduct work that both empowers employees every day and drives the business forward.
In this article, I unpack the challenges companies have faced during COVID, provide creative solutions to keep your employees engaged, share what we are doing at Arturo, and offer my thoughts on what is coming next in 2021.
First, let’s quickly cover some of the common challenges many workforces have experienced throughout the last eight months.
Common Workplace Challenges During COVID
- It’s difficult to forge relationships
Building meaningful relationships with colleagues is a crucial part of ensuring employees have a satisfying and rewarding workplace experience. This is especially true for new hires. Working virtually, across distributed remote offices (or homes) has made the ability to forge real relationships very challenging. This is hard under normal circumstances and COVID has magnified this challenge. And while web conferencing solutions allow employees to meet face-to-face virtually, they are not an equal substitute for in-person conversations. Keep reading this article to learn about what Arturo is doing to foster employee relationships.
- Misreading the tone across email and messaging apps
When you physically come into your office everyday and have the ability to talk with your co-workers face-to-face, you can read their body language, their mannerisms, and you can get a sense of their mood. In-person working allows you to have a better understanding of someone’s reaction to an idea because you get to hear their tone. During the times of remote work, it is much more difficult to read between the lines of an email thread or long Slack thread. Some people may take tone for granted when writing an email or sending out a message.
- Respecting the workforce’s time (during and outside of work hours)
Because your remote employees have all of the tools to work at anytime, they may feel they need to work all of the time. The lines between “working hours” and otherwise can easily become blurred when everyone is working from home. Many folks’ working schedules are different – some like to get up early and crank out a bunch of emails while others may like to respond to messages right before they go to bed. Additionally, messaging channels like Slack can often be distracting when there is a feeling to respond immediately. This can cause employees to feel like they have to work all the time. Without clear communication in place – such as working hour agreements and response expectations – your employees may feel like they need to constantly be checking in with work throughout the entire day. Later in this article, I share what we’re doing at Arturo to ensure we respect everyone’s time.
- Employees want the social aspect of an office but they don’t want it to feel forced
One perk that many start-up companies offer are outside-of-work events and activities like Friday happy hours and kickball leagues. During COVID, some companies are trying to replicate these social activities virtually, but unfortunately they don’t have the same impact – especially when they feel forced. And it makes sense if you think about it. Your employees have been sitting in front of a computer for the last 8, 9, or 10 hours. Do you really think they want to sit on another Zoom Happy Hour? Simply turning your happy hours virtual and hoping it sticks is not the solution.
- Keeping the team motivated
Without in-person interaction, it may be challenging for some employees to feel motivated throughout the day in front of computers for long periods of time. Start-up offices are typically filled with the buzzing energy of teams that are all working towards a shared goal. This can be especially challenging for extroverts that thrive in team environments.
- Variations in time zones
As companies begin to hire a distributed workforce, it’s important to consider everyone’s time zones when scheduling all-hands and team meetings. While the ability to hire more people across many geographies can be a hiring and recruiting advantage, leaders must keep in mind everyone’s working hours. This challenge is closely linked to challenge number 3, all about respecting your employees’ time before, during, and after working hours.
We can all agree that managing a remote workforce during COVID has not been easy. But, it is not all done and gloom. Below are a few creative ideas you can implement at your company to keep your employees engaged.
How to Keep Your Employees Motivated During COVID
- Switching up schedules
Some companies are looking into how to handle work life balance to truly respect everyone’s time while working remotely. Some creative ideas include:
- Flexible schedules for parents
- 6 day schedules @ 6 hrs/day
- 4 day schedules @ 10 hrs/day
- Meeting free afternoons or day
At Arturo, we encourage no less than 10 hours of focus time on employees’ weekly calendars.
- Rules of engagement + communication
Communication, communication, communication! Let’s say you are an early bird that enjoys plowing through your inbox at 7am or you are a night owl that sends out emails at 11pm. We have all worked with both types of these people and at times we have felt the pressure to reply at 7am or 11pm. Communicate your working style with your employees and level set on your expectations of them. Do you want them to respond at 11pm? Most likely not. Leaders and managers should communicate working styles and response expectations with your employees. It’s important to distinguish which channels require an immediate response (i.e. Slack vs a phone call).
- Meaningful meetings only
This is a big one. First, take a hard look at all recurring meetings and ask yourself the following questions: Are they necessary to have every week or month? What is the goal of this meeting and is that getting accomplished every time we meet? Is it imperative that everyone on the invite list is present? Do they have an opportunity to contribute?
Next, implement meeting agreements company-wide. Each meeting of more than two people should have an agenda, each invitee should understand why they are invited, stay within the allotted time, and provide opportunities for a collaborative discussion if the meeting calls for interaction. Within the meeting agenda, identify if the meeting’s purpose is to make a decision or to have a decision. Also, prereads (within the meeting description) are important for meeting participants to show up well-informed and ensure a good use of everyone’s time.
- Set up employee cohorts, mentorship programs, or committees
This is a new strategy we’re trying out at Arturo to foster employee relationships beyond functional teams. These cohorts can be set up in a randomized fashion. Or, you can group new hires into a cohort so they get to know other employees across departments during the onboarding process.
At Arturo we have also set up a mentoring program for all employees. Every new employee is assigned a mentor. Employees are paired together and have the flexibility of setting up how often and in which format they will meet. It’s a great way for employees to build bonds and professional development outside of the manager-individual contributor relationship. We have also organized various committees, such as health and wellness, to provide opportunities for employees to get to know people outside of their team and work on shared projects. Participating in a committee is completely optional, and people who care and want to drive a certain initiative forward will sign up. If these are mandated, the effectiveness and outcomes will drive low team engagement.
- Credits towards lunches
At Arturo, we set up every employee with a DoorDash account for them to use towards lunches. Employees are encouraged to take a break from work, enjoy a meal on the company, and converse with another colleague on their schedule. Services like DoorDash, Uber Eats or Grubhub make it easy and convenient for your employees to enjoy what was formally an in-person perk.
- Reallocate funds to additional employee benefits
As more companies are setting up for long-term remote working, they are not renewing their office leases. This frees up funds that can be redistributed to supporting your employees mental and physical well being. Establish rewards programs around health and wellness to encourage everyone to take the time they need to care for themselves. Or apply the freed up funds to professional development and training programs. The better your employees feel, the more productive they can be at work.
- Treat your employees like people, not resources
These last eight months have been trying times for all of us. We all have our own personal lives, families, and adversities. With that being said, it’s crucial to treat your employees like people rather than just a resource. Think about your workforce as humans versus a business output. I advise leaders to take these action steps that we’re employing at Arturo: Talk to your employees. Get their feedback on what is working and what isn’t. Ask if they feel supported, motivated, and excited about the work they do everyday. Listen to their feedback (this is key). Tell them what you’re going to do with their feedback. Make a plan and act on that plan. Improve and iterate.
Looking Ahead to 2021
As companies continue to adjust to the new normal, here are a few thoughts on what we will see throughout the rest of this year and into 2021:
- More distributed workforces
Many companies see that they can effectively run their businesses with remote employees and no central office. This opens opportunities to hire the best talent regardless of where they live, across the country or possibly international boundaries.
- Giving employees breaks for relocation
As people are staying home more often, many want more space – a bigger house, a home office, a yard, etc. During COVID we have seen many people move out of major cities and into less populated areas. Some companies are onboard with employees moving and in fact may provide breaks on relocation. Another option is to open a smaller headquarters office space, in a place where a majority of employees currently live, and people can choose to come into the office depending on how they feel. This is something Arturo has begun to explore as we continue to grow.
- Networking opportunities with other companies
I am seeing more and more leaders want to learn about what other companies are doing to empower their employees. This exchange of ideas and information is happening across company and industry lines like never before. Employers are more eager to both learn how to continue to improve and share what they have found to be successful. It’s very encouraging to see as we move into this next year of the new normal.
We’re working diligently to keep the Arturo team motivated, enthusiastic and proud of the work we accomplish. And we are growing! If you are interested in becoming a part of the Arturo team, check out our open positions today.