On the evening of Monday 23rd March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson made an unprecedented address to the whole of the UK, announcing the country was officially now in lockdown. No one should now be traveling to work unless it was absolutely impossible for them to work from home.
In what is without a question the most extraordinary year in my lifetime (and certainly my 16-year plus professional life), this announcement came as no great surprise on the back of weeks of increasingly desperate news. As a result, most businesses, including my own, had already put in steps to ensure all staff could work from home. At Arrows Group, we shut our UK office on Wednesday 18th March and, thanks to the hard work of our IT team, mobilised our technology and infrastructure to facilitate home working for all.
From a technology point of view, from day one of the lockdown things ran pretty smoothly. But, this is only one piece of the puzzle. What very few companies will have had to deal with before is perpetual remote working and how, against a background of economic uncertainty and non-stop harrowing news updates, that impacts the happiness, motivation and mental health of its people.
At the time of writing, now almost a month into remote working, I can say candidly that I have found my personal motivation has gone through waves. I have been amazed at how quickly it has been possible to find normality in this way of working. But there are challenges. I have two small children at home and, while my partner is now on furlough and able to look after them, for the first week we were sharing responsibility. Keeping to a fitness routine – so important at this time – seems to require more effort. And, like so many of us, what my job role entails on a day to day basis has changed considerably.
Arrows Group is a Technical Recruitment and Workforce Solutions consultancy. In times of economic uncertainty, recruitment tends to be one of the first things to be cut by companies. Naturally, we are no longer asking our clients about their pipeline for new roles! This has necessitated new conversations. Core to our business is understanding how we can help our clients and their worries today are very different from those of a few months ago. In the last weeks, I have had many, many conversations with senior individuals responsible for staff (one of the results of lockdown is that people are more accessible than ever before!). It’s very clear from these that this question of maintaining motivation is a consistent concern, and one of the most important ways we can help is by sharing our expertise around employee engagement.
Based on what we are doing at Arrows Group and my own professional expertise, these are some of my top recommendations for maintaining employee motivation and happiness in a time of lockdown.
1. Be swift, decisive and clear with your plans
In the earliest stages of the impact of Coronavirus and lockdown, the main preoccupation of many of our people was what would happen to their job – would there still be a job, what would that look like if so, would they be put on furlough? (looking after employees on furlough is an entirely separate article in itself).
When there is such sweeping uncertainty, it is very hard for anyone to maintain motivation or even to know what to motivate themselves towards. That is why businesses need to be swift, decisive and clearly communicate plans to all their people.
With recruitment having suffered a hammer blow, there was no option for us of ‘business as usual.’ To mitigate expected losses as much as possible, our step one was pay reduction at Board and Senior level. At the same time as communicating this to employees, we also shared what stages two and three would look like – stage two being making use of government support and making cost-savings within the business. Stage three, which is not yet in place, will be moving people to a four-day week if needed.
With many companies having to make redundancies and put people on furlough, this means those that are still working may have very different looking teams around them and need to adapt their role significantly. As is always the case, communication is key. Without this, confusion, anxiety and a lack of motivation will reign.
2. Balanced use of contact channels
Many companies incorporate home working as part of their regular working practices. But, the majority of the time would still have typically been spent face to face with colleagues in an office. Having all colleagues constantly working at home requires finding effective and motivating channels of communication.
Video conferencing has sky-rocketed from a relatively small part of the Arrows Group communications mix to our prime channel. We are clearly not alone – Zoom has now become one of the leading apps in the UK, most famously used by the UK government for cabinet video conferences. At Arrows Group, we use both MS Teams and Zoom (although we are conscious of growing reports of safety and privacy concerns connected to it).
The growth of video conferencing has brought pros and cons, including in terms of employee motivation. When you are in the office, there is a habit of mainly talking to the colleagues physically closest to where you sit. Video conferencing means everyone can now interact face to face – as a result, I’ve ironically had the opportunity to get to know some of my colleagues better than when we were in the same building! On the negative side, we initially found our video meetings were running a lot longer than our office-based meetings used to. We normally have a 30-minute meeting rule. With no-one knocking on the door of our video call to say time is up, people taking extra time to share their screens, and agendas not initially being set in advance in the same way that 30-minute rule was going out the window. An hour and a half of video conferencing more than once a day is a sure-fire way to drain your motivation to do any of the actions coming from said call.
Video calls also involve sitting in a static position. At Arrows Group, we often conduct our internal office-based meetings in ‘walking’ style; no seats allowed! This keeps the meeting focused, keeps the duration down and promotes fitness. I am now trying to introduce more one-on-one telephone conversations alongside group video calls to allow people to get up from their seats at home – both parties should encourage each other to be on the move around the house or even the garden if they have one. This is a great way to get the energy flowing!
Balanced use of communications channels is important for motivation. For social interaction, it is important to see each other via video call. But these should still be structured, purposeful and not unnecessarily long.
3. Recognise changed measures of success and continue to reward employees
In the normal course of events, Arrows Group employees have monthly revenue-based targets, with rewards for the highest achievers.
It would be absurd to maintain the same expectations of what success looks like from our people, given that the business landscape has so seismically changed. This is a time where most of us are having to be extremely flexible, adapt our roles, listen and understand the marketplace. But that doesn’t mean we should stop incentivising employees – it just means changing what ‘good’ looks likes.
Instead of rewarding revenue generation, we now recognise individuals who develop unique examples of going above and beyond to look after their clients. We send small gifts with personal notes to their home – a bottle of wine for example – as our thanks. The messages and photos we have had in response suggest this small gesture is appreciated.
4. Promote camaraderie and stimulate mental health through fun
Each person’s working from home situation will be different. Some might revel in not having to travel, and benefit from a spacious home with outdoor space. Others will miss their normal interaction with colleagues desperately and find being at home day after day isolating and oppressive.
As employers, we can go a long way to supporting our people by promoting colleague camaraderie. Part of that is keeping in touch regularly through the working week – again, via video and telephone calls instead of e-mail. We can also play a significant part in boosting spirits and mental health by bringing fun and enjoyment into the week.
We have trialed a number of activities to bring our people together including some unexpected surprises! Every Thursday at 4pm we host a video pub quiz – this works as a race between a number of different teams, each on individual video calls, to complete the answers to a quiz set by our HR Manager. This allows for some friendly internal competition between teams, bringing together our UK and Netherlands offices – and is open to those on furlough too. Currently, our UK perm team are quiz champions! Every Wednesday lunchtime we hold a live personal training session via our Arrows Group Instagram account – we encourage family members beyond Arrows Group to join in at home too and we get some very entertaining photos of people taking part with children simultaneously climbing on them! We hold a Friday video wrap up for the whole company. One week, we booked a surprise video guest who signed in – a fantastic drag queen, Janet, who brought some extra fun and glamour to the proceedings. And, using our Slack channel, in small groups daily inspiration topics are suggested and we all contribute images we feel represent that theme.
These are testing and rapidly changing times and every business is bound to have successes and missteps through it. With hindsight, there are certainly some things we could have done differently / better. But what holds true is that a company is simply a sum of its people and now more than ever businesses need to do their best to ensure they are happy, motivated and cared for.
If you would like to discuss ways to support and motivate your teams during these extraordinary times, contact Charlie Sell on firstname.lastname@example.org