This article is a guest post
Corona has turned team structures upside down
With the outbreak of the Coronavirus crisis, teams were suddenly forced to start working from home. This resulted in all their usual team structures to be turned upside down. Lots of teams experienced how their teamwork and personal work organization changed entirely within just a few short days. In many cases, not for the better.
We are each faced with a challenge, not only in terms of our ability to work but also how we deal emotionally with changes forced by a global pandemic.
Less information | Less interaction | Less purpose
Fear influences our behavior
When unexpected threats arise, human instinct kicks in. Our basic needs for things such as security, belonging, and recognition are called into question. How we choose to respond or behave is restricted. Some go into the offensive and some retreat.
What has this got to do with working from home?
Many of us are being forced to ask ourselves the difficult questions: Will my company survive this crisis? Will I still have a job? These are tough questions to have to face while being kept away from the usual workplace and colleagues.
This isolation from our team adversely affects the feeling of belonging that many of us need. We miss the regular small talk or celebrating little achievements from our daily work. How can we feel recognized if the successes aren't as visible anymore through being alone?
This is where good leadership becomes essential. Here are some tips through which leaders can help satisfy these basic human needs, effectively, despite the current circumstance.
Meeting the needs of your workforce
Transparency can play a massive part in giving people within an organization a sense of security. This needs to go beyond the regular information they would receive under normal conditions. They want to know how the company is handling the situation and what measures are in place to combat the challenges still to come.
Under normal circumstances, the top-down information stream only happens once solutions are in place and can be made official. Unfortunately, waiting to communicate things in times like these cause ripples rather than calm waters.
Being able to rely on our technical amenities also plays an essential role in giving us a feeling of security. A computer and an internet connection are the most critical tools in helping us stay connected with our teams, thus allowing us to continue working.
Management needs to ensure that this infrastructure is in place and functional. Not only physical equipment but also an increase in the visibility of the support team could prove vital in keeping morale up.
However, people in leadership roles can only provide support to others when they are informed about issues that exist. Many people may be hesitant to always report seemingly "insignificant" problems that seem to crop up more often while working from home.
This is why managers should seek out opportunities for open dialog with their teams and identify the areas that need support. This could be anything from lack of media competence, to problems in organizing their workload.
When the whole team suddenly finds themselves working from home, specific logistical questions have to be answered. When can I reach the relevant contact person if I have a problem? What are our core working hours? How do we track our presence or communicate any absences?
These things can be tackled through holding daily stand-ups, allowing teams to communicate on their current tasks, or giving information on where they might need support.
For those that miss the social aspects of being in their office environment, even the setting up of a remote lounge for digital coffee breaks can give people that feeling of familiarity they've been missing. Exchanging tips on child care or dealing with being indoors almost all the time is the small talk some need around the virtual water cooler.
Communication via video meetings has become a staple, so having this available is a must. Many people may find the switch from face-to-face to video, odd at first, and may feel more comfortable joining virtual meetings without turning on their camera.
However, the range of communication is much greater with video. It makes the interaction more personal, multifaceted and enriching. Team morale has a chance to develop when the nuances of communication with video are allowed to take place.
Management should take care that video conferences are well-moderated and don't go on for too long. Meetings shouldn't last longer than 45 to 60 minutes and, ideally, contain enough breaks: 15 minutes of break for each meeting hour. This gives the participants time away from the screen, the opportunity to stretch their legs and recharge.
In an ideal situation, companies would create a video conferencing culture in which each and every team member can invite others to a video conference and moderate them independently.
As a manager, it is crucial to ensure that feedback and recognition are given more space than ever. Not only does that mean expressing appreciation for the results of the team's work but for other things too, e.g., how quickly the team has found its way in this new situation or which good ideas have led to productive collaboration. Here, it is essential to ensure that every member of the team (especially those who are quieter) receives feedback and knows that they are seen and acknowledged.
Depending on the role within the company, some employee's tasks have disappeared entirely. Take those in sales or customer service, who typically visit their customers. This can lead them to feel like they've lost their identity within their company and feel like they're no longer needed.
This could be the perfect time for those employees to learn new skills through the support of management and their team. Why not create a Slack channel for the team to talk about the things they've learned each day? You can integrate personal learning goals into the team sprint or create learning challenges on specific topics. These are all ways to ensure the team stays motivated and feels recognized.
Where do we go from here?
Teams need supportive and empathetic management to work effectively and reach their goals together, and not just in times like these. The current situation simply brings certain issues to the forefront, which companies should be looking at anyway. How to remain innovative and able to function in extremely insecure and complex markets should be things we always think about.
Such challenges require management to evolve, mastering a systemic approach, and finding tools to enable teams to take on responsibility for themselves.
Read more about working from home