Keeping your team in the loop and motivated when they work at home

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

By Mark G. Auerbach

The recent pandemic transitioned many workers from in-house to at-home, and a team, who could meet in a conference room as needed, or walk down the hall to stay in touch, I s now navigating new communications avenues. It’s hard to be part of a team that’s dispersed, temporarily, or perhaps permanently. Many workers and employers have embraced the work from home concept, and it’s possible a work mode that was the exception may now become the norm.

Keeping everyone in the loop while using new, ever-evolving technologies is a challenge for managers and employees alike. Keeping a team motivated is more difficult. Some people are distracted by working from home—kids at home, spouse working from home, pets thrilled to have a new audience, etc. Managers need new techniques to keep this distracted audience in synch with each other and new tools to keep them motivated.

Small business owners facing the challenges of running a virtual office can learn from teachers, who also had to make the rapid switch to a virtual environment. Robert O’Connell, a math teacher at Longmeadow High School in Massachusetts, had to keep over 69 students interested and involved and entertained.

“I used Google Classroom for posting assignments, announcements, and resources for all of my classes,” says O’Connell. “For class meetings and instruction, I primarily used Zoom. For extra-help, some students used email and the chat feature in Google Hangouts, but I had students who requested Zoom or Google Meet sessions whenever they were confused by an assignment.”

O’Connell says “Google Classroom was a key part of class communication prior to the pandemic, and it remained a key part of my communications with students. When students were working from home in isolation, I sent more email messages to both students and parents with reminders about missing work and approaching deadlines. Teachers used Zoom and Google Meet to communicate with each other and provided needed emotional support.”

“Face-to-face communication is essential to team building with students, colleagues, and friends,” O’Connell added. “During Zoom meetings, students and colleagues were able to regain some of the fun and comradeship that existed in school, and they left meetings better prepared emotionally than non-participants to complete difficult tasks.”

O’Connell, with the help and feedback from others, set up an effective home office designed specifically for communicating with students and colleagues. His home office has evolved since the pandemic sent him home from school in mid-March.

“Be open to experimenting with the applications and hardware at your fingertips, and listen to the criticism and ideas put forward by students and colleagues,” he advises. “Sometimes a seemingly silly suggestion can lead to a simple solution to a communication problem using inexpensive materials already at hand or readily available. The second screen in my setup is an old LCD TV that was collecting dust in my closet. Before I ordered a new stylus pad, a colleague helped me wirelessly connect a first generation iPad to my computer to serve as an electronic stylus for recorded lessons. Once I played with the technology, I was better informed about my needs, and I was able to make modifications.”

Daily check-ins

Suzanne Hendery, chief of Marketing, Communications and Community Impact at Renown Health in Reno, NV, held a similar position at Baystate Health in Springfield, MA, for many years (where we first became colleagues and friends). She leads a staff of 26 full-time professionals in-house. Consultants, free-lance designers and photographers, agencies, and other professionals are brought onboard Hendery’s team as needed.

As the pandemic changed work modes, her entire staff began to work remotely, and in-person communications moved to online and video. “Every day at 10:00 AM, we have a Daily Management System ‘Huddle’ on Microsoft Teams,” she says. “This video conferencing software allows us to see all team members, share files and print materials, and manage all our projects for clients. Each day, I check in with a phone call with my directors and managers to be sure they have what they need and give them early notice on any changes. I also send group emails on professional development and online educational opportunities,” says Hendery.

Hendery’s key to team building isn’t high-tech. “I make daily calls to check in and say thank you and to be sure they are doing okay in terms of health and wellness. Recently, I’ve been meeting every member of my team for coffee (masked and social distanced) on the back porch of my home to visibly see they are doing okay, see how I can help them progress their career and education, and that our management is effective and supportive.”

Hendery takes extra time to acknowledge her team’s achievements and accolades through social media (a lesson I learned from her years ago). “Every morning, while making a cup of tea, I check in on Twitter and LinkedIn to see what my team and colleagues across the country have posted and share them widely,” she says. “I wish I could expand to cover Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and other platforms, but don’t have a band-width at the moment.”

Hendery acknowledges people as a partner regardless of their rank. “ I started in this field in an entry level position, and knew how much it meant when a VP or senior leader spoke my name, acknowledged and read my work, and sent me any appreciation,” she says. “It built my confidence, my passion and dedication, and with that I did better work. In life and in work, it is all about the amazing people I get to work with, create with, celebrate with; we are all partners on this journey!”

“Always start with the positive,” says Hendery. “Recognize the effort and good intention, use every moment to teach, demonstrate good work and deeds, do what is right, share the ‘why’ and be transparent and open.”

Hendery acknowledges the role models she’s met along the way. “Mark Tolosky, the former president & CEO of Baystate Health, was a leader I partnered with for 20 years, and he made every person feel valued, special and appreciated. I learned so much from him and try to practice it daily. My current mentors, Sy Johnson and Dr. Tony Slonim at Renown Health, are also very gifted writers, speakers and big thinkers who are kind, smart, bold and have integrity. That matters.”

Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn. Mark also produces ArtsBeat in print in The Westfield News, on radio for Pioneer Valley Radio and on radio/TV on WCPC15 and 89.5fm/WSKB

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