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Supporting your employees over a laptop

You’ve likely gone from physically seeing your team practically every single day to now not knowing when that next face-to-face contact will be.

While most companies have some sort of flexible working policy in place, there aren’t that many businesses that are totally remote.

That means, generally, a large part of the culture and of the support that’s in place revolves around the office, or around physical presence, be it 1:1 check-ins with managers or Friday socials.

Now those in HR, the People Team, managers and anyone else responsible for team members and employees are having to think about how they can effectively and impactfully support their teams over a laptop.

“Need help? Below is everything you need to know. Plus, I’ve included examples from us here at Sanctus, provided by our Head of Ops, Vic, on how we’re doing it. Feel free to use as a blueprint.

You’ll make mistakes, and that’s okay

It feels so important to start with this. This whole situation is new for literally everyone – there’s no textbook on how to get this right.

Yes, some companies are fully remote, but none have had to operate under a global crisis such as this, so in truth everyone’s trying to figure out what the right thing is to do.

When you’ve got a whole team or business to support, and not just yourself, I know it can be daunting.

But take some of that pressure off yourself – you’re probably going to get it wrong and make mistakes, and that’s okay.

Don’t be hard on yourself – just take note of what went wrong and make adjustments. No one’s judging right now 🙂

Have trust

You can’t support a team remotely without trusting them, it’s as simple as that.

Without trust, you’ll have a hard time getting anything else to work.

You need to trust that your team are working and you need to assume that everyone is doing the best they can right now.

Maybe productivity dips a little bit at first. Maybe people aren’t around as much as you’d like. Remember – this is new for everyone.

People are still trying to work out how they work best at home. They’re having to avoid housemates in their confined spaces and they’re probably spending time worrying about family, friends or themselves.

Trust that people are trying their hardest and it’ll make this process easier on everyone.

Set and respect boundaries

Boundaries are important wherever you work. They’re a bit clearer when you’re in person (i.e my headphones are on, leave me alone!), but when you’re remote you have no idea how people work best.

Be clear with the whole team from the get-go how you’ll be operating and what boundaries you’ll be working to.

How often do you want people online or at what times? When will people be checking messages? Should certain information come through Slack and others through email? When is something an email or when is it a phone call?

Set boundaries with the team and then make sure that they’re respected.

Keep up social interaction and connection

Social distance doesn’t have to mean social disconnection.

Not being able to leave the house as much or only seeing the same faces for hours on end is going to send people a little stir crazy, so do what you can to keep up social interaction and connection.

Although you want to avoid unnecessary meetings, are there some messages that could be turned into a 5-10 minute phone call instead?

Rather than having a big Slack conversation, why not quickly hit that call button and see smiling faces over the camera?

We’re getting plenty of video calls in (some of us from bed)

It sounds simple but just seeing and hearing the team at a time like this can help build that sense of team spirit and connection.

Also think about scheduling in more group video meetings together. One thing we did notice in the shift to remote was the loss of ‘office chit chat’. We were all business in our meetings and it felt like we were losing some of the warm fuzzy stuff that is a part of Sanctus’ culture.

So we now have a daily video tea-time together at 11am to have a quick natter, and then we also have lunch together on camera some days too. There’s been a lot of comparing mugs and commenting on each other’s WFH attire so far.

Ask people how they’re really doing

When you check-in with your team, don’t forget to ask them how they’re really doing.

Remember, this is a stressful and scary time. Given that pretty much everything has been impacted right now, people are worried about friends, family, money, jobs, holidays and anything else you can think of.

In short, there’s a lot on people’s minds.

Having a boss or manager genuinely check-in with them can make an employee feel valued, trusted and supported. It can lift a weight off their shoulders and motivate them to give a little more back to their business.

So don’t forget the emotional support alongside the business/performance support.

Check-ins

Extending from the above, this can be a nice way to structure meetings or calls. We have something called one-word/one-sentence check-ins, where for most meetings each team member let’s everyone else know where they’re at.

We’ve had people say “I’m bored”, “I’m anxious”, “I’m lonely”, “I’m quite enjoying myself” and pretty much anything else you can think of.

It helps let other team members know how we’re all arriving, and gives people a chance to get how they’re really feeling off their chests.

We’ve also started quickly describing where we’re physically at too – talking through what room we’re in or what’s around us. It can help to create a feeling that everyone is in the room together and to remove that feeling of one person presenting to many over a screen.

Reflection spaces

Taking check-ins even further, we have something called “Reflections” which is a space we run once a month for the team where we gather and simply ask the question “How are you?”

It’s one of the best spaces we have at Sanctus, and helps us connect as a team more than anything else.

People have used the space to talk about almost anything, and we’ve seen laughter, tears, anger, joy and every other emotion possible in this space.

Here’s where we used to hold team reflections

We’re keeping it up and running things virtually, but now moving it to once a week to get more of that connection time in.

We have a few questions pre-prepared centered around what we’re finding difficult or tough during these challenging times and also what we’re learning.

Side note – I don’t want this to be self-promotional but we’ve decided to open these groups up for free to the general public to give people a space to support each other right now. Here’s how to sign up if you’re interested for yourself or your team 🙂 

Sanctus Groups 🙂

Onboarding new team members

Got new team members starting in the middle of this crazy ol’ time? Yep, us too (hi Nicola!).

I won’t lie – we were nervous about this one. We make a huge effort to get people settled in – we’re talking fun snacks on your desk as you arrive and lots of time to just chat and get slowly settled in.

But, apart from the snacks, there’s no reason things can’t be done remotely. Screens can be shared for onboarding presentations, team lunches can be shared together over camera and new joiners can be booked in for virtual “speed dates” with the rest of the team over their first couple of weeks.

This was just before total social distancing was advised, hence George & Nicola being together!

Nicola has even dived straight in at the deep end and is running our first ever team lunch-and-learn virtually, so it’s not all bad considering there’s no face-to-face!

Try not to drop routines

Stick to regular routines as much as possible and try not to throw the calendar out the window so you can keep up a sense of normality.

Keep regular meetings in place in the diary, and think about what else you can do to bring a bit of structure to people’s days.

As I mentioned earlier we have daily tea-time at the same time each day now. But, you could also try having daily stand-ups so that each team member can talk through what they’re going to be working on that day.

Don’t forget about tea-time! Apologies for the shameless product placement.

It’s also important to keep your 1:1s and catch-ups in the calendar too. In the face of times like this and when working virtually it’s easy to let these things slip. So we’re maintaining business as usual our end.

Be honest with people

Be as honest and as clear with people as possible.

Given that people are confined to one space, they can feel a bit like they’re trapped in an echo chamber. Anxious thoughts or worries get exacerbated, and with not many places to run or to unwind, those feelings simply get amplified further.

Leaving room for doubts or for worries in people’s minds and lives is only going to heighten anxiety, especially where they can’t just quickly grab their manager.

Do what you can to be as honest as possible. Provide clarity – don’t leave things half-said and allow room for doubts to fester.

Over-communicate.

Let people know they’re doing a good job.

If you want to see more from someone, jump on a call and let them know – don’t send small snippets through Slack.

Let your team know they can ping you with any worries, fears or questions they might have.

It’s likely there are things they want to ask you, but until they have permission to do so, will keep things bottled up.

The more you can lead by example with honesty and transparency, the more you’ll get this back from your team.

Regular updates from the business leaders

To continue from the above point, when there is such mass uncertainty in the air, people crave clarity, decisiveness and leadership.

While there’s always an opportunity for us to get a little more comfortable with the unknown, where possible, leaders need to provide reassurance and communicate the current status of the business.

Our founder, James, has been keeping the team up to date on what the Coronavirus means for our business in terms of our future and finances. Plus, the leadership team has been working to craft a clear priority for the business, which for us right now is pivoting our Sanctus Coaching to an entirely virtual model. This has been getting regularly communicated to the team too.

Our founder, James, sending a transparent email overview of the business position to the whole company

Try not to drop benefits

I know people are now in a period of needing to watch their cash flow and of tightening their belts, but where possible, try not to cut benefits.

Certain benefits are needed now more than ever to support employees through a difficult time.

It won’t always be possible to keep them I know, and no judgements if you need to make savings in certain places.

But, as with the above section – be honest about this. Let the team know the situation. Keeping people in the dark will only break trust among the team.

Our side – we’re using our own product and having virtual Sanctus Coaching for all of our team. There can be some anxiety among teams about how things will operate virtually, and we had the same thing from our team with Sanctus Coaching, even though it’s our own product!

But we found that after people gave it a go, they were really grateful to have the benefit in place, and that’ll be the same for many other benefits right now.

Don’t forget to celebrate and have a little humour!

At a time when the prevailing mood is one of sadness or anxiety, it helps to bring a little humour, laughter and positivity into people’s days.

Probably our quickest (and free!) win is sending stupid memes round to each other – they make the world go round don’t they?

But, also, don’t forget to celebrate each other and your wins – company wins, individual wins, even personal wins.

Every Friday in the office we had something called “The Celebration Station” at 5pm, where we’d come together and talk through the wins from that week. We’re keeping that going virtually now, and it’s a great way for us to wrap up our weeks together and get some more of that good ol’ connection in.

Look for the positives

I know the situation right now isn’t ideal. But there’s no escaping from it – it is what it is. So how can you look for the positives right now?

With Sanctus, we’re using it as an experiment to trial remote working. We have a flexible working policy, but we haven’t yet taken the step into the world of fully remote working.

We’re seeing what we like and don’t like, and once this has all blown over, will implement parts of this into our culture moving forward if it works well.

The team knows that too – so it’s in everyone’s best interests to make a real go of this.

We’ve also decided to spend some time trialing and launching new products – we’ve had to pivot our whole model to go remote, so we’re seeing what else we can offer at this time to support people with their mental health.

It’s united the whole team in a way that we haven’t had for quite a while, even when we were in the office.

Although we aren’t physically together, it feels like we’re more of a team than ever.

Look after yourself

To finish off – don’t forget about you.

If you’re having to run a team remotely, then I know it’s not easy. Whatever you’re doing, you’re doing your best, and your team will thank you for that 🙂

Don’t forget about your own mental health, your own needs and your own routine.

Keep all of that in tip top shape and then you can better support your teams too.

Stay safe x

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