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The novelty is over – How to keep your staff happy working from home in the final stretch
by Tom Jenkins

Not another Zoom meeting. Not another morning catch up. Not another email. Not another company announcement. Not another ‘just checking in’ phone call. Not another… damn day working from my kitchen table, please.

I can’t be the only one feeling that way. Sure, working from home has plenty of benefits. Generally speaking, I’m more productive (apart from the days where the existential despair sets in during Steph’s Packed Lunch). I’m finally on top of my laundry and I’m saving a small fortune in train tickets, meal deals and 3pm ‘strategising’ in the pub near work.

But it seems for me, like an increasing number of people in the UK, the novelty is well and truly wearing off. While in May, 49.8% of Brits reported they would be ‘extremely’ comfortable doing a job that is 100% working from home, that number has since trended downwards, plummeting to 39.6% in November*. You’d think that the harsher weather would make people feel glad of being able to cocoon for the winter, but no, one in five are ‘not at all’ comfortable working from home all the time and are presumably clamouring for the tail-to-tail or packed train commute of their life pre-March.

It’s a trend also being seen in the USA, where 56% of people stated they would be ‘extremely’ comfortable working from home all the time in August, but just 49.5% said the same in November.

Nevertheless, these higher rates of satisfaction in American companies suggests that they are doing something right. There’s been plenty of bold public claims by tech leaders about home working, which has given their staff clarity in the strategy their employer is taking. Google, for instance, has stated publicly that their employees will work from home until 1 September but has quashed the idea that they will never return to the office. Here, employees are clear of where they stand and they have a tangible end in sight.

Or perhaps it’s a case where the grass is always greener. The USA as a whole has been much more reluctant than the UK to shut down. A notable recent example is Facebook, which has been accused recently of “needlessly risking” lives to maintain profits by forcing workers back to the office. I’m sure people are much more likely to want to work from home all the time if they haven’t been forced to for the past nine months.

Either way, companies on both sides of the Atlantic need to do more to keep their employees engaged. Let’s take an optimistic approach. Let’s say that by summer we can start doing radical things like hugging our friends or having a pint in a pub. That means employers have around six months to keep up morale and make sure their staff feel connected to their jobs from home before they can come back to the office if they choose. Here, we look at five ways you can do this:

Classes

Meditation, languages, yoga, baking and Pilates are just some of the classes available over Zoom. By investing in these fixtures throughout the week, you can give your staff some structure to their days while also providing them with a break and headspace. It’s important to offer an array of activities to suit everyone – don’t invest too heavily in one theme as you’ll alienate people. Try to get a mix of ideas – or even organise it based on employee feedback if you can squeeze a staff survey in before Christmas.

Monthly live streams

Leadership has proved an even more essential quality than usual during these times and the companies that are doing well are those where management is keeping employees connected. We’re a little bit beyond the ‘daily email’ stage of the pandemic, but a monthly live stream with updates from across the business could be an effective New Year’s Resolution. Attendance from the top brass is key, but make sure you include a range of voices every time. Giving employees the chance to present is a great way to reconnect them to their work.

Let people see results

It’s easy to feel removed from the results of your labour working from home. It’s not just the comradery of celebrating as a team, but if you’ve gone for months without seeing the effects of what you’re producing, it’s easy to become disillusioned. If your company has launched a new product, send samples out to your team. If you’ve published anything, send it to the people that have created it. It may be extra expense, but it’ll keep your staff engaged to their work for the next few months. Share positive feedback from your customers, too. Shouting internally about your success has never been more important.

Work with events

Spring is fortunately peppered with seasonal events that can provide a good hook for some fun. Valentine’s Day, Pancake Day, St Patrick’s Day, Easter and Earth Day are five occasions between January and May that provide opportunities for sending your staff themed care packs or having some fun over Zoom.  It doesn’t have to be anything expensive – an Easter egg, some hand sanitiser, a few masks and a card is just a sweet way of letting them know they are valued.

Make Zoom great again

Zoom socialising leaves a lot to be desired, but there are ways of doing it well. Most people are fed up with the quizzes, virtual escape rooms and endless drinking sessions hunched over a laptop but, if done sparingly, Zoom events can still bring people together well.

Here’s my unofficial five rules for a successful Zoom event:

  • Don’t make it mandatory. Some people just don’t like socialising over Zoom and shouldn’t be made to feel like they’re being forced to.
  • Don’t try too hard. Themed events are SO three lockdowns ago. Just keep it simple and to the point. People are there to chat, not to spend ages trying to figure out difficult tasks – they probably spend the working day doing that.
  • Keep it small. After-work drinks work well in person because people can break off into smaller groups, but there are very few things that people would be comfortable saying in front of the whole company. Use breakout rooms and encourage the big personalities in your company to move between them. Cliques aren’t necessarily a bad thing if they provide comfort.
  • Start it during office hours. The country is broadly split into people that are stressed because they’re doing knack all and stressed because they’re doing far too much. The chances are your employees who haven’t been furloughed have racked up more overtime than your HR director would want to admit. So, for crying out loud, don’t take up evenings with additional commitments. Let them clock off early and have a beer and you know what – chances are it’ll go on long after office hours if the conversation is flowing.

The positive news about vaccines has given us a light at the end of the tunnel, but we do not know how many months it will take to get there. What we do know though, is if the trend of dissatisfaction with home working continues, we are set to have an incredibly disgruntled work force by the time spring comes around. If you’re not already investing in going the extra mile for your staff, then you will need to start in a big way in 2021. They deserve it and they will continue to work hard if you can give them a reason to.

 

*Data based on a ContactEngine survey of 1,000 UK and 1,000 US adults monthly from May - November 2020.

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