Companies around the world are adapting to work remotely to combat the coronavirus outbreak. With millions now working from home, keeping your team’s spirits high is necessary to maintain productivity. Working from home means more distractions, fewer ways to interact naturally with fellow employees, and more social isolation — all of which can lead to less productivity.
As a software company deploying its products internationally for the last ten years, Riaktr has developed and improved our applications and services over time to allow us to serve our clients 100% remotely if necessary.
Our team has a great deal of experience working internationally and in a digital environment. Working remotely is nothing new to our team. Project Manager Bob van der Vleuten explained that his team is doing well, and added, “It doesn’t feel much different because we are so used to working remotely. I am used to having most of the guys on video calls every day.” Nevertheless, he stresses the need for more social interaction and emotional support to pre-emptively combat isolation within his team.
At Riaktr, we’ve had a head start on working from home. We would like to share some of our takeaways in case your team is still transitioning to working from home. Here are some initiatives Riaktr is implementing to keep the team’s spirits high and boost productivity.
Stay home, but stay healthy
Working out is a great way to de-stress and a good way to keep your immune system in tip-top shape. Staying home, while a safe measure during COVID-19, might lead to increased sedentary behaviors, such as spending excessive amounts of time sitting, reclining, or lying down. If you are worried that your team’s motivation might be impacted due to the lack of physical activity, you might want to consider introducing fun ways to encourage healthy habits.
The Riaktr team is an active group that enjoys organizing hockey games together, with a good number of us who choose to bike to work, so the idea of slowing down was a big concern.
Every week, some people at the Brussels office would get together to do yoga before work. But as the team moved home, Mona Lazar, our HR Manager, took the initiative to spread the word to the entire company and began leading live yoga classes. This initiative had great results since the number of “Riaktr yogies” went from an average of five people per class to 15 or more.
Last week, we asked the team to share pictures of how they are keeping healthy from home. We had pictures and videos of our teammates running, jogging, golfing in their backyard, and so on. These small gestures can keep camaraderie alive online and remind the team to stay active can go a long way during these uncertain times.
Keep traditions alive online
When a team has a strong culture and traditions, maintaining a sense of normality during remote settings can seem like a challenge. One way you can keep this aspect alive is by adapting it to a virtual format of the original.
For instance, in the office, we have a long-standing tradition of trying to “hack” each other ‘s Slack messaging when one of us forgets to lock their computer. So, we’d send a message such as “I will bring cake this Friday at 5 pm” on the #general Slack channel. This usually means we have cake on Fridays, and some will continue with drinks after work. To keep this tradition alive, Sebastien Leempoel, our CEO, is now hosting “virtual cake time” on Fridays via Zoom.
The routine of having a casual conversation around the coffee machine could die when a team works remotely – but that routine can be great for team spirit. Bob van der Vleuten, our project manager for Craft, created a Slack channel named #virtualcoffeemachine with a link to a conference call so anyone who wants to drop in for a quick chat can join at any time.
Improve the way you work during COVID-19
Communication with your remote team, whether casual chats or work-related discussions, can’t happen as spontaneously as it does when you are sitting next to each other at work. Yet now is a time when communication and team alignment is crucial to maintain high motivation levels. Otherwise, your team’s productivity levels will also be impacted.
Communication isn’t easy when you’re working remotely, but encouraging feedback and discussion minimizes the margin of error. Take simple steps, like making sure the camera is on during the call, to improve communication in a remote setting.
“Communication mistakes are fixed faster when you are all in the same room. Making sure we are all aligned is much more challenging when the entire team is remote,” team lead Jordi Sicart says. “The first step towards clear written, visual, or oral communication is to define goals for individuals as well as the entire team.” Having regular stand-up meetings at the beginning of the day can ensure everybody has a clear objective. These morning check-ins are invaluable to maintain a sense of community and to stay focused on key priorities so that momentum and performance are sustained.
On the other hand, introducing new tools can assist your team during a transitional phase. For instance, for agile software development, teams have something called a “retrospective meeting” at the end of every iteration. This is when the team reflects on what happened in the iteration and identifies actions for improvement going forward, says CTA Thomas Jakemeyn. “Usually, we do it with post-its, which tends to be very visual and very interactive, however, we are now introducing a visual collaborative software called Miro that allows us to create a board for our retrospective meetings where everybody in the team takes part,” Thomas says.
Thomas goes on to say, “We didn’t feel the need to put in place more processes since SCRUM was already very useful for a remote setup like daily standups, sprint reviews, and sprint retrospective. However, since we spend a considerable amount of time writing code in engineering, we introduced Live Share which enables real-time collaboration between developers. This way, the engineering team members can write code together, as if they were in the same room.”
Thomas mentions that the remote set-up has had some benefits, like introducing more structured ways to review code. “Typically, when you change something in the code, you need somebody to review it. Before, it would be a bit informal and not structured; now we have a Slack channel for it. This way, it is easier to keep everybody updated and monitor the improvement.”
A good laugh to battle the COVID-19 pandemic
During a pandemic like COVID-19, leaders must be vigilant about the emotional needs of their employees. According to an article in Forbes, Trevor Smith, Certified Laughter Leader of the World Laughter Tour, Inc. says, “Humor is a great tool to use in a crisis that helps us look at that situation in a positive way that will help us deal with the crisis. Humor lightens one’s burdens, inspires hopes, and keeps you grounded, focused and alert. With so much power to heal and renew, the ability to laugh easily and frequently is a tremendous resource in confronting any crisis situation.” Humor can be an opportunity to boost employee morale and team spirit.
Some of the ways the team is staying positive include using Chromacam or Zoom to change the background during the stand-up meetings. For instance, Wim Hellemans, our Craft manager, might lead a discussion with the Teletubbies background one day and a photograph of the empty Riaktr office the next day.
Shooting the breeze with co-workers doesn’t necessarily come at the expense of focused work: there’s some evidence that small breaks boost productivity. In general, the team enjoys a good laugh on our #random group channel and lately, we’ve been sharing pictures, memes, and videos more often on our Slack channels.
As a manager, a top priority should be for your remote teams to engage in regular team socializing. This will help to build a genuine human connection with remote workers and builds trust and inclusion. This can be anything from team-building games like virtual gaming, a “share your photo” challenge, having movie night together while sharing the film on a video call. The possibilities are many.
Make the most of it
It’s hard to see the bright side of a pandemic like COVID-19, which has already taken and changed so many lives. But there are upsides to working from home: small joys and opportunities that you wouldn’t get to experience if you were in the office. In these trying times, those small opportunities are key to improving employee morale and team spirit while motivating yourself and your team.
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Marketing & Business Development Manager