How employees’ mental health can be looked after during COVID-19

StrategyDriven Managing Your People Article | How employees' mental health can be looked after during COVID-19Currently, employers are facing the most crucial test in a generation as the COVID-19 pandemic presents a massive threat to the psychological wellbeing of their staff. Remote working, furloughing en masse, and sector-wide uncertainties all pose major challenges to maintaining the mental health of the workforce.

With so many factors at play, from dealing with isolation to financial or health concerns alongside familial and caring commitments, safeguarding employee mental wellbeing is not an easy task. However, there are several initiatives you can take to protect and build mental resilience in your workforce.

Keeping people connected

Good working relationships are critical to both performance and emotional wellbeing. With remote working, there is a very real danger that the physical distance between team members can lead to social and affinity distance. Work becomes more task-focused rather than collaborative and, without face-to-face contact, important friendships and support networks disappear. In this situation, it’s all too easy for employees to feel isolated and overwhelmed.

Encouraging regular communication through online and video meetings, as well as emails and instant messaging, creates opportunities for both collaborative working and socialisation. This helps to retain the human element to the business, mitigating feelings of isolation.

It is also important to check in regularly with staff to discuss performance, as well as their mental and physical health. Allowing them to raise issues and speak freely, means you can offer support if needed and be proactive about potential problems before they occur.

Balancing work and life commitments

Balancing personal and professional life is also important for protecting mental health. However, with remote working, it can be very difficult to manage. With work notifications popping up outside office hours, and the demands of childcare or other significant responsibilities, home and work commitments run the risk of getting tangled up, contributing to stress.

Helping employees set a clear line between work and personal priorities by building mental barriers is key. Employers should encourage their staff to set a designated area of work, where they won’t be interrupted. It’s also important to remind employees of setting a schedule. A daily routine, perhaps starting with a call with a manager or the team, can help give employees an idea of when to begin and finish work. Defining a start and end time ensures they know when it is OK to ‘switch off’, turn away from the screen, and save those emails for the next day.

Highlighting support options

In situations like these, it is paramount that employees are aware of the resources available to them, and that they are encouraged to take advantage of them. Employers should consider building a community page where employees can connect, and HR managers can share tips, such as effective stress management and maintaining work/life balance.

You can also point them towards vital support networks. These might range from company-provided employee assistance programs and counseling services to links to organisations that offer guidance and support. The NHS and MIND are excellent resources you should consider.

Providing helpful resources demonstrates you care, and communicating clearly and openly that employees should not be afraid to seek help if they need it, will help them sleep easier

Beware the media

The way in which we consume our news can also have an adverse effect on our mental wellbeing. Keeping up to date with COVID-19 coverage is tempting and thanks to social media, these stories are highly accessible. However, it’s very easy to get lost in a sea of misinformation and fear.

Though organisations can not directly influence how their workforce is consuming media, leaders can and should provide clarity and guidance to their staff, communicating clearly about the situation and what it means for the organisation.

With the government announcement that employees should continue to work from home where they can, it’s clear that for many, remote working and social distancing will be the ‘new normal’ for the foreseeable future, prolonging potential dangers to mental health.

Businesses depend on their people, and people need support. If an organisation is to survive and thrive, taking a proactive approach to employee wellbeing – both mental and physical – has to be at the heart of a successful business strategy.

About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Will JacobsWill Jacobs, a graduate of the London School of Economics, heads social media and authors content at Cezanne HR, a leading supplier of modern Cloud HR and payroll software.

How to Get the Most Out of Virtual Team Meetings

StrategyDriven Managing Your People Article |Virtual Team Meetings|How to Get the Most Out of Virtual Team MeetingsWasn’t it obvious? The MFH (meeting from home) trend had to follow WFH. The spreading pandemic has forced businesses into a world full of remote work arrangements and travel restrictions. So, in-person meetings are out for the moment.

Meetings have been an essential part of an organization’s workflow. They offer a platform for information sharing, debating and discussing ideas, decision making, reviewing processes, and simply staying in touch with the team. They are also a critical part of an employee’s casual training and social learning.

But virtual meetings are plagued with issues like lack of employee engagement, technical problems, and distractions. Further, in the past, organizations have used conference calls, teleconferencing, and telecommuting as ways to partly support their operations and offer flexibility to employees. Being forced into a fully-remote way of working all of a sudden, most of these firms lack the professional skills needed to effectively conduct virtual meetings.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, use this effective guide (below) to run a successful virtual meeting and maximize your outcomes. Alternatively, you can consider hiring a virtual events organizer to help you conduct those virtual team meetings.

1.Define the Meeting Objective and Agenda

This may sound pretty basic; yet, it’s critical to spell out the meeting agenda with each standalone item having a clear objective. If possible, send a pre-read to each participant, allowing them to come prepared with the required data and supporting documents.

Plan your meeting agenda in such a way that you are able to wrap up within 30-45 minutes. A short-duration meeting makes it easy for everyone to focus on achieving the objectives. Encourage the presenters to minimize their presentation length. Background information can be provided when asked for.

Factor in enough time for all team members to share their views and suggestions. Remember the ‘go around the table’ session that we are used to before making a decision? You need to do the same thing virtually!

2. Find Ways to Improve Employee Engagement

Keeping employees engaged during a virtual meeting is by far the biggest challenge faced by organizations going remote. When employees are connecting to a meeting from a remote location, it’s natural for them to lose focus and interest in the online discussion.

Here are a few effective tips to make your virtual meeting more engaging and productive.

A. Commence with an Ice-Breaker

Virtual team members often feel isolated and may not be comfortable with the remote way of running a meeting. Starting with a virtual icebreaker, such as ‘Show us your work area!’ or ‘Give us a one-word recap of your day/month!’ can be a great way to get the ball rolling.

Such conversations can get everyone talking and ease up the atmosphere. Further, it will act as a quick pulse check, giving you an idea of the overall attitude and emotional state of the team

B. Make Sure All the Faces Are Visible

Meetings done via the video conference mode are the closest you can get to mimicking the familiar and intimate environment of in-person meetings. Ask your team to use a webcam, allowing everyone to see each other’s facial expressions and body language.

Top video conferencing platforms like Zoom and GoToMeeting can help keep the participants engaged with their advanced features, namely video and audio dial-in, screen-sharing, and recording.

C. Encourage People to Share Their Views

The best way to engage employees in a virtual meeting is to ask them questions or call on them to share their experiences or opinions. This will achieve two basic requirements for a productive meeting.

  • There will be no passive listeners. Even introverts will be encouraged to share their opinions.
  • People will pay extra attention to what others have to say.

D. Learn from the Experts

Find out how other fully-remote firms are functioning globally. For more than a decade, Toptal, the world’s largest remote firm, has been operating in a fully-remote environment with more than 4000 employees in over 100 countries. They have no physical office!

How do you think they operate? How are they managing their large distributed workforce? How are they able to run effective virtual meetings? Getting to know about their remote working experience will offer you interesting insights, helping you adapt to this suddenly remote work environment.

Go through their remote work playbook which includes time-tested strategies to building a productive remote organization of your own.

3. Set Up a Video Conferencing Etiquette

It is tricky to dictate meeting etiquettes in a remote working environment. Yet, laying down certain behavioral terms for running a successful remote meeting can help your employees know what is expected of them.

Communicate this basic list of etiquettes with each of your team members to keep your virtual meetings productive and professional.

  • Let’s start the meeting on time.
  • Come prepared for the meeting. This includes adhering to the bare minimum dress code you would follow in a regular office environment.
  • Ensure that the device and software used is working well. This includes the mic, webcam, WiFi connectivity.
  • Turn your video on. We can see you! Also, please maintain eye contact with the camera.Mute your mic to cancel out the background noise that you think will disturb your colleagues.
  • Stick to the agenda and keep a track of time. Any concerns can be taken up after the meeting.
  • Avoid multitasking.
  • Share your views but actively encourage your colleagues by hearing them out. Only one person speaks at the time.
  • Avoid too many body movements to prevent blurring.
  • Avoid negative comments. Let’s be positive and boost each other’s morale!
  • Intervene politely if a discussion wanders off the agenda.

4. Get Rid of Technical Issues and Distractions

Nothing kills the momentum at the beginning of a virtual meeting like a delay due to poor WiFi connectivity, software update notification, or damaged hardware. Such technical issues are most common with employees using their own devices. A simple system update notifications and alerts can get everyone distracted, thus wasting time and bringing down productivity.

Make sure you do a thorough assessment of the system your employees are using. Encourage them to use office devices that are equipped with the required software, thus tackling such distractions.

Before starting the meeting, assess the quality of the WiFi network at your employees’ disposal. In case they are using a poor-quality connection and unable to afford a better one, consider reimbursing a portion of their monthly data connection expense.

Finally, though virtual meetings offer the convenience of connecting with the team from any location, things can go haywire if the attendants connect from an inappropriate place. For instance, the living room is the busiest place in a house. An employee connecting from here will experience distractions from family members, visitors, and pets, derailing the meeting decorum.

Encourage employees to log in from a quiet place like their study or bedroom to avoid such distractions from creeping into the meeting. Ask them to use the background screen and put their mic on mute when not in use for a seamless video conferencing experience.

5. Appoint a Master Yoda

I find Star Wars, the American epic space-opera, entertaining yet full of leadership lessons. The character Master Yoda is wise, authoritative, and plays a central role in inspiring, coaching, and aligning the thoughts of the team. He also calls out unacceptable behavior that’s letting the team down.

You need a Yoda by your side to point out any inappropriate or slack behavior without sounding disrespectful. In such a case, like the Star Wars’ Yoda, the assigned person can help keep the meeting conversation candid.

Further, the Yoda will help keep the virtual team receptive, guide the conversation, and ‘take the pulse’ of the team on certain critical questions or business decisions.

6. End on a Productive Note

At the end of the meeting, clearly outline the next steps with the time frame and accountability. This will fuel the agenda for your next meeting and so on. Have a minute taker who notes down the key meeting proceedings and future action areas. The minutes of the meeting should capture the What, Who, and How of each action item and share it with the team.

Also, capture employee feedback through online survey tools like SurveySparrow or Poll Everywhere. The feedback from the attendees will help improve the quality of virtual meetings in the future.

Summing Up

Technology is an enabler. But it cannot replace real human connections. The current pandemic situation has forced all businesses to rely on technology to connect with their employees. In such a scenario, running successful virtual meetings can be an overwhelming experience, especially for firms that aren’t used to a remote style of working.

Use the effective tips shared in this guide to get the most out of your virtual meetings.

About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Pratik DholakiyaPratik Dholakiya is the founder of Growfusely, a content marketing agency specializing in content and data-driven SEO. He regularly speaks at various conferences about SEO, Content Marketing, and Entrepreneurship. As a passionate SEO and content marketer, he shares his thoughts and knowledge in publications like Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, The Next Web, YourStory, and Inc42, to name a few. He can be reached at Twitter @DholakiyaPratik

The Demotivated Employee: What Causes Employees to Lose Their Motivation?

StrategyDriven Managing Your People Article | The Demotivated Employee: What Causes Employees to Lose Their Motivation?Think of the last time you started something new… you were so excited that you couldn’t sleep the night before… you woke up without the alarm… etc.  That is what motivation looks like. It may have lasted a long time, or perhaps it dropped off like a waterfall once you got to work. Has this ever happened to you?

It’s likely that you can relate because most of us, at some point in our careers, have had this happen to us. In fact, my colleague, Dr. Cathy Bush and I, have heard lots of stories from MBA students describing similar situations in their professional lives. Because we’ve heard these stories so much, we decided to do some digging to figure out what was causing employees, who were once highly driven and committed to the work, to lose their motivation. And what we discovered were five sources of demotivation or factors that contributed to employees losing their motivation. However, not only did we identify the sources, but we also pinpointed behaviors that leaders can execute to prevent demotivation from occurring in the first place. Or, if it does happen, to help repair the damage that’s been done and to help employees regain their “motivation mojo.”

So, here are the five sources of demotivation and what leaders can do.

  1. Individual differences. Your personality, attitude and competence play a role in keeping you motivated. For instance, when we work in positions that are suited to our personality preferences, we’re more likely to keep the motivation that we brought to the work and to contribute in meaningful ways. Or when we’re feeling good about our ability to complete tasks or to perform well in our job, we’re more likely to be motivated. While this source is primarily attributable to the individual, it doesn’t mean the manager doesn’t have a role to play too. Because of the pandemic, employees may have new responsibilities and find themselves in situations where they may not be prepared or have the necessary skills. It’s important for managers to pay attention and help their employees to “get up to speed.” The sooner you do this, the sooner your employees can gain the necessary competence and confidence to perform their new tasks successfully and fulfill their job responsibilities.
  2. Stress. It will come as no surprise that stressful work conditions can cause employees to burn out and dread going to work. While stress can give us short-term boosts to meet deadlines, it can become debilitating, adversely affecting our health and well-being, when it returns frequently or lasts for long periods of time. How leaders respond during times of stress is critical. Given the sudden changes and uncertainty that have occurred as a result of the pandemic, employees are stressed. So, as a manager, take the time to have a one-on-one conversation with your employees to talk about how their adjusting to the new changes and to see what’s working and what’s not. This will give you the opportunity not only to listen and to empathize, but to work with the employee to address stressors the individual is dealing with.
  3. Organizational culture. Culture is a big deal. The significance of culture is rooted in the fact that it consists of core values that permeate every part of the organization from norms to decision making. People often choose to work for an organization because the culture “fits” their preferences for how they want to work. Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn (2011) have identified four cultures that are indicative of most organizations: clan, adhocracy, hierarchy and market. Each of these cultures has a unique set of values that influence multiple facets of the organization from the flow of information to how firms integrate standardized processes and procedures. If there’s a “mismatch” between the organizational culture and how an employee prefers to work, there’s a chance the employee will no longer be motivated. So, leaders should pay attention to how social distancing and remote work are affecting their culture. For example, adhocracy cultures are characterized by lots of collaboration and teamwork in order to drive innovation in the marketplace. Replicating those values in your new “virtual” culture will be important, so employees continue to work in ways that are congruent with the values that caused them to choose your company.
  4. Conflict with co-workers.Conflict is going to happen. It’s inevitable. When you bring together people from diverse backgrounds, with different ideas, agendas and experiences, you’re going to have conflict. So, don’t be afraid of it. Conflict, if it’s managed well, can be healthy for the organization. How so? Well, when conflict surfaces because employees have different ideas about how to roll out a new product, as an example, this can be a good thing for the organization. Why? Because the manager can use this opportunity to create a hearty debate that allows employees to really “drill down” on which idea makes the most sense based upon data. This can result in the company achieving a better outcome than if everyone simply agreed upon everything from the outset. Being able to do this in a way that doesn’t result in hurt feelings and winners and losers, will require leaders to create the cultural conditions that allow employees to see conflict as something to be embraced, rather than something to be avoided.
  5. Leadership Styles. We’ve heard the saying, “people quit their bosses, not their jobs.” How leaders behave when managing their folks has a profound impact on employees. When managers show that they trust employees and allow them to give input to decisions, they create an environment where employees feel valued and are more likely to be committed. However, when leaders fail to keep employees informed with timely and relevant information, or don’t ask for their input on decisions or ignore obstacles that are getting in the way, employees will lose their motivation over time. Because these “failures” adversely affect employee engagement and motivation, leaders should pay special attention to them during this time of crisis. Given all of the uncertainty and angst about how the virus may affect the business and jobs, managers must ensure that communication is honest and ongoing. Employees can handle the truth. It’s important that you tell them. Keeping employees informed about what’s going on, removing obstacles that are getting in the way of their remote work and soliciting their input, where appropriate, can go a long way towards helping employees to maintain their motivation, in spite of the difficult circumstances.

Imagine if we lived in a “work world” where employees woke up every day excited to go to the office? It may sound like “pie in the sky,” but actually it’s not. If it were, then we wouldn’t have the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For™ list. By attending to the five sources of demotivation, leaders can create workplaces where employees are highly motivated and engaged. So, in the words of the great philosopher, Yoda, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Let’s stop causing employees to be demotivated, and instead, behave in ways that cause them to keep their “motivation mojo.”

About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Tara PetersTara Peters, Ph.D., is a gifted educator, TED Talk speaker, bestselling author, and international consultant with a client list that includes Coca-Cola, Allstate, Walmart, and Ocwen. A professional educator for more than 26 years, she currently serves as a professor at Northwood University’s Richard DeVos Graduate School of Management and as academic dean for its Texas campus. She is the co-author of the new book The Demotivated Employee: Helping Leaders Solve the Motivation Crisis That is Plaguing Business.

4 Ways to Optimize Your Team for Success

StrategyDriven Managing Your People Article | 4 Ways to Optimize Your Team for SuccessIn today’s modern world, words like “leadership” and “optimization” can feel a bit like cheap buzz words that are thrown around casually at business seminars.

Whilst there are definitely some companies that use these buzzwords to try to seem modern, being one of those companies and one of those managers that understands they don’t cut it anymore is a skill that will propel your business to the next level.

Working for Change

When we think of optimizing a team, invariably those team or personality questionnaires get thrown around, then glanced over by someone in HR only to be thrown in a drawer and never looked at again.

If you’re serious about being the change you want to see, it’s time to do some serious thinking about how you can lead your team to success by being the leader they need, not the manager they have.

Here are four things you can implement for optimizing your team for success

Lead With a Coaching Mindset

There has been a LOT of talk in the last few years about leadership coaching and the need for good leaders in organizations. Coaching in the workplace has become something that great organizations encourage as they know they can get more out of their leaders, and in turn, more out of the wider workforce.

Implement some of the coaching techniques into your day and see the difference it will make to your team.

Ensure Systems and Processes Are Up to Date

Nothing will frustrate a team more than having processes and systems that just don’t work. Take a transport management system as an example; teams need to ensure that everything is running smoothly and that they aren’t slowed down by a clog in the system or angry customers ringing up needing an update.

A good system allows clients to log in at any time, and employees to bring up information at the drop of a hat.

Give Them the Tools to Do the Job

Along with a system that doesn’t work, equipment that doesn’t work properly is a huge bane on team output. For example, if your video editor needs a high-performance laptop with a killer graphics card to do their job, listen to them and work to find a solution.

Employees will be happier when they can work to their full potential without technological hindrance.

Play to Strengths, Not Weaknesses

Employees from all sorts of backgrounds can be a huge benefit to your company. This is especially true for neurodiverse employees. Conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, autism, and other forms of neurodiversity can be a huge benefit to your company, but only if you are willing to play to strengths and not weaknesses. GCHQ in England understand this and specifically recruit dyslexic employees for their ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking.

Richard Branson of Virgin is a hugely famous entrepreneur who is also severely dyslexic. He set up the charity Made By Dyslexia to showcase some incredible stories and share the strengths of this diverse way of thinking.

How to Equip Your Employees to Work Remotely

StrategyDriven Managing Your People Article | How to Equip Your Employees to Work RemotelyWhen you’re forced to shift the operations of your business to a completely remote format for your workers, as many companies have been recently, you might not know exactly where to begin. Most business owners won’t have planned for a situation where none of their employees are permitted to be present at the business’s physical location.

If you are among those companies that are finding themselves in a bit of a tough situation at the moment, in that you don’t have all the resources on hand for your employees to properly perform their jobs from remote locations, it might take a bit of time to get everything in order, but there are plenty of options available. Read on for tips on how you can best equip your employees to work remotely.

Get the Right Tech

The first thing that your employees will need to have at the ready is the right tech to do their jobs. While your offices are probably set up with desktop computers, printers, and other equipment that your workers need to do their work, few people have everything they need to do their jobs from home. Furthermore, it isn’t necessarily advisable to allow your employees to use their personal computers for sensitive work.

As such, it is a good idea to look into laptop rentals for your employees to use throughout the shelter-in-place protocols. You can rent as many laptops as you need for as long as you want. Moreover, you can ensure that these laptops have all the necessary software installed on them, allowing your employees to work remotely.

Increase Accessibility

Once your employees have the right equipment on hand, they will then need to have access to your company’s files and servers. Perhaps your physical offices are set up with hard drives that contain all your business’s digital files and data, or maybe you have a cloud-based server that is only accessible by computers at your offices. Both scenarios present a challenge.

Start by investing in a cloud-based server, if you do not already have one in place. There are many benefits to doing so, benefits that will last beyond the remote working order. Not only will your employees be able to access company information from remote locations, but you will also be able to enjoy automatic software updates to your systems, which will help to keep them running efficiently and securely.

Focus on Communication

As well as the right equipment and access to files and folders, you will also need to ensure that the lines of communication between employees, teams, and management are open. Use communication tools such as Slack and Zoom to ensure that you are regularly meeting with your employees and checking in.

There will certainly be some hiccups and rough patches during this process, but as long as your workers know that they can reach out and collaborate with you to troubleshoot any issues, you should be able to keep things running effectively until your employees can once again return to your offices.