How to prioritise team morale when you are working (semi-) remotely

By Robert Half on 13 July 2020

The health and wellbeing of employees – including their levels of team morale – need to be considered as vitally important to business success as they contribute to employee engagement, staff retention and employer reputation.

Employee morale and job satisfaction have long been considered to be key performance indicators, and while it was perhaps comparatively easy to build strategies to engage employees pre-COVID-19, the importance of fostering a supportive and inclusive working environment – whether at the office, working remotely, or in new ‘hybrid’ combinations - is even more paramount coming out of the pandemic.

Even when some members of your team can return to the office, it will not be like any corporate environment they have experienced before. Social distancing requirements will mean new rules around the size of meetings or the number of people in common areas (kitchen, break room), more separation between desks and more physical barriers (cubicle walls and the like). So, now it is more important than ever to focus on maintaining and promoting team morale.

Why does team morale matter?

High employee morale is linked to higher productivity and efficiency, in some cases, by up to 20%.

Building a positive workplace is an ongoing process, and it takes time and a comprehensive strategy to foster. With many employees having worked from home over recent weeks and with a workforce expected to continue to work in at least some form of semi-remote environment for the foreseeable future, companies need to pay extra attention and take the necessary steps to prioritise, and in some cases, re-build team morale.

5 steps to rebuild team morale while working remotely

It can be particularly challenging to develop a strategy focused on building team morale when line managers and employees are no longer in one centralised location. Moreover, while many businesses have begun to plan their re-opening, many workers are expected to continue working remotely for the foreseeable future, increasing the challenge for management to build team cohesion.

With the right focus, however, these challenges can be overcome. Here are five strategies you can initiate to help your staff:

1. Keep communication open

In times of transition or crisis, leadership and management need to provide a strong voice. Employees look to managers to see how they react to the current situation, and they are often the strongest determinant of whether a business will weather the storm, so it is essential that organisations are transparent and provide timely and accurate information.

But it goes both ways. Employees want to be heard and reassured in times of flux, so the lines of communication must be open to build trust and keep up staff morale.

Managers can organise more group meetings, increase the frequency and length of 1-on-1s, or simply provide a contact point to address questions from workers as they arise. Regardless of the method or channel chosen, all communication must be a conversation, not a one-way monologue.

While maintaining business as usual may not be easy in the current climate, ensuring staff are aware that the company’s mission and values continue to guide the organisation is one effective way to build consistency in uncertain times. Further, celebrating team wins – especially in difficult times – is important to acknowledge the importance of individual and teams’ contributions, reinforcing their value to the business, and to the team as a whole.

2. Consider a continued flexible work arrangement

While there may be workers who prefer to go to a physical workplace, it is likely that some may prefer the convenience of working from home. And at least for now, guidelines recommend many to continue working remotely, where practical.

Whether as just a transitionary measure or a long-term work arrangement, offer the opportunity to create a flexible work schedule and choice of locations. This will help ease employees back into a familiar work routine, while still allowing them to create business hours that best suits lifestyle. You may also offer the opportunity to allow team members to work in shifts, alternating between their home and the office throughout the week.

Agility in the workplace is more important than ever. An easy way to do foster an agile business is to consider rearranging staff resources and adjusting priorities as the workplace conditions changes. Taking full account of the resources available – both full-time and interim staff – and managing a dynamic blend of the two, will become a key skill as the situation evolves.

3. Continue to encourage team building

Team building at work matters, and it is just as important that management knows how to build rapport with their direct reports as with their teammates.

Effective work relationships are essential, in any situation, and they should not be neglected - even when staff are working from home. Consider virtual watercooler meetings, casual chat apps, and team building exercises, as examples. Ultimately, organisations should seek to foster a culture of inclusiveness and openness.

It may not be essential to know every facet of your employee’s life but being aware of individual struggles as well as achievements is essential to be able to address personal needs.

4. Prioritise mental health

Returning to an office environment after having worked remotely requires a change in lifestyle that needs to be adapted to, and change can be hard. The added stress can negatively impact employees, resulting in lower levels of happiness and wellbeing. This is costly on both sides: to the individual’s physical and mental health, most importantly, but on the business side, too.

Keep mental health in mind as your employees transition back to work. Offer guidance, ensure approachability and increase the awareness of the importance of mental wellbeing. This can include building awareness programs around mental health; offering training to managers to recognise the signs of emotional distress; and encouraging a healthy work-life balance.

5. Create a mutually supportive culture of empowerment

Allowing your employees a degree of autonomy is important for building a sense of ownership and meaningful contribution, which, in turn, contributes to employee satisfaction. It also gives them control in a world currently characterised by change.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach: what is empowering for one person may not have the same effect for another. Consider allowing individuals to set their own schedule; or give them greater creative control of their projects by focusing on the outcome rather than the method. Regardless, giving workers the space and encouragement to explore their own ideas and development can lead to positive workplace morale, even in a crisis.

It’s true that remaining agile and innovative in business often involves ceding some degree of control, and this can be difficult in challenging times. It’s important to look past this, however, as not only will boost workplace morale, but could have highly favourable business impacts beyond the pandemic.

Embrace the next “new normal”

Bringing a team back into a physical workplace after a period of working remotely can be a challenging initiative. But by emphasising open and transparent communication, prioritising mental health, and staying positive, it does not need to have a negative impact on team morale.

In fact, a potential return to work can be a good thing, allowing for easier relationship building – something that is essential for a healthy workplace. Instead of focusing on what employees are required to do, shift the emphasis on the new opportunities they have waiting for them in the office, and in time, team morale will rise back to pre-crisis levels.

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