We are in the midst of unseen, even unimaginable times. Suddenly the standard way of doing things has changed. For us human beings, any significant change surfaces fears, anxiety and discomfort like nothing else. People are afraid of whether they will still have their jobs and incomes in a couple of months. The tendency is to fall into survival mode naturally. The focus of the entire world at the moment is on the lower band in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Any stressful situation can be leveraged as an opportunity to elevate your leadership to the next level. Instead of just getting by and existing, use this opportunity to thrive. How can you do that?
As the game has changed, the way to play the game must change too. What you are used to doing in the past will not work anymore in these times.
A common concern I am hearing from executives is how do I keep the team motivated and engaged during these times. The usual water cooler chats are not happening anymore. Most people are used to only discussing work during the scheduled virtual meetings. The connection that people felt seems to be intangible and less real now. I noticed different people dealing with work from home scenarios differently. A particular director who is usually very high strung seemed uniquely relaxed while working from home, while another typically cheerful VP seemed extremely stressed and wound up.
Here are a few ideas to keep the team engaged during these times:
Accept, accept, accept: It cannot be business as usual. Even if you are resilient enough to keep going at past levels of productivity, you must recognise that that kind of pressure can break a few people. One of my clients complained that his manager is single and is using this time to push others and work extra hard. However, my client has little kids at home, and both he and his wife are finding it very difficult even to get basics done. Empathy must be practiced by the bucketload right now.
Keep yourself in the maximum mental health. If you are not feeling great, how do you expect to inspire others? Try a few things with yourself. You can then share those tips with your team. The stress-energy that used to get automatically expended may now exist in your body as these uncomfortable emotions. Letting go is extremely important in whichever way you choose to release, such as exercising, meditating, reading, or other hobbies, talking to people, or even sleeping it out. Start by empathising with yourself. Extend kindness to yourself first.
Each person is handling this situation differently. Ask open-ended questions to understand where each team member is at. What are their particular strengths and challenges in the current environment?
Organise virtual happy hours or coffee chats. Some teams are getting everyone together and talking about topics other than work, being vulnerable, and sharing more personal tidbits.
Reach out for short unscheduled water cooler chats virtually. Pick up the phone and reach out to a co-worker to connect with them—just like running into them in the break room.
Some companies have assigned a virtual room where people can come to hang out if they feel lonely or have some free time.
Exercising together could be a good stress buster and bonding activity
Feel free to share your real self. With many people working from home, they have kids and families around that become part of the calls, whether we want it or not. Instead of being embarrassed about it, own up to the situation. For example, if your child barges into the room, feel free to take a few minutes to get them settled and then come back to the call. Trust people to understand.
Some leaders are restless and feeling that they are not doing enough to help solve this at the team, organisation or at a global level. I had this experience personally. I had to remind myself that every little thing helps. The most crucial thing is to stay focussed and do what you do best.
It’s important to recognise that these aren’t normal times, and your productivity is likely not at its peak right now. And that’s okay.
- Set some daily goals
Setting daily goals can help you to make your day as productive as possible, but be realistic with the goals you set. Don’t make them too big or you could end up feeling disappointed with yourself.
Write your tasks down in a list, and then break those tasks down into three or four smaller tasks. Reward yourself when you complete a task.
Little things like, once you complete a task, get up from your desk and go for a walk outside.
It will not only motivate you to complete tasks but will also provide you with a boost of endorphins that physical exercise provides.
- Plan your day to include work and relaxation time
Working from home can make it hard to shake the temptation to work non-stop, or becoming easily distracted by television or other things around the home… and then feeling like you aren’t completing your tasks you set for yourself.
By planning when you will work and when you will relax can help you to manage a healthy work-life balance at home.
For many, the conventional 9-to-5 schedule with a lunch break in the middle of the day and a mid-morning or mid-afternoon break helps to stay focused.
After 5 pm, put down the work, go for a walk, make some dinner, and relax for the rest of the night and deep dive into that Netflix series that you’ve been itching to watch.
For some, that may not work as you have children at home who need assistance with online learning. So why not arrange with your manager to work in shifts? i.e. get up early; but don’t forget to maintain your routine, and work for several hours. Then take a break to undertake other tasks and then log back, when the time is right to complete the rest of the day.
The most important thing is that you can dedicate a chunk of your day to work and then keep your work out of your relaxation time.
- Try the Pomodoro technique — social distance style
The Pomodoro1 technique consists of working for a period of time and then taking a break. It could be every 25-minutes you take a five minute break, or every 90-minutes you take a 10-minute break, etc, just work with what works for you.
For many, taking regular breaks to chat with your colleagues in the office, is a natural part of the work day, (and you are subconsciously following the Pomodoro technique) and so working from home can be hard when you’re sitting alone at a desk.
Thanks to the many video conferencing platforms—like Zoom, Teams or Facetime—you can still work with friends virtually!
Schedule times throughout the day for a quick chat or video conference with your colleagues, or if you are working on something as a team, why not arrange a 25-minute brain-storming session, and then go on a five minute (virtual) group walk around your neighbourhoods?
You’ll be motivated to stay focused with everyone while the timer is running, and you’ll get a chance to catch up with friends on your breaks.
- Schedule virtual get-togethers with friends
Social distancing can be the hardest part of this pandemic, especially people who enjoy the social aspect of getting together. But that doesn’t have to stop and you don’t have to say good-bye to your social life.
Why not schedule virtual get-togethers with your friends? Ideas like Friday night drinks, Netflix parties, virtual trivia nights or even group dinner parties, where you all decide on a theme and then compare how you’ve interpreted the theme.
Not only will it ensure that you keep in contact with your family and friends, but you can have fun, and it gives you something to look forward to.
- Prioritize your mental health
Taking care of your stress levels and anxieties at this time is vitally important. If you are feeling you’re not motivated, have a look and see what your blocks are.
To maintain on top of your mental health, make sure you incorporate a bit of exercise into each day, even just a walk around your block, or neighbourhood.
Take time to eat balanced meals and try not to work through lunch – step away from your desk and take a lunch break.
Maintain good sleep patterns, and don’t stay up until two in the morning. Do you normally go to bed at 10pm? Well, continue that, and ensure that you get at least eight hours of sleep a night.
Allow yourself time to enjoy TV and social media but set limits on how much news you are consuming. One suggestion is to set times when watch, read or listen to the news, i.e. 30-minutes in the morning as you’re getting ready and then again whilst you are cooking tea.
- Be okay with not being highly productive right now
You may find that some days you are highly motivated and get through more tasks than you had planned, but other days you have no focus at all. It’s okay, nothing is normal right now, and we all need to listen to ourselves.
Go through your list, and prioritise what ‘has’ to be done, and what can be moved to the next day. Don’t forget to talk to your supervisor or manager, or even your friends if it isn’t work related.
We all place expectation upon ourselves, but at the present moment, it’s okay to expect less from yourself right now.
By talking through how you are feeling, and setting yourself smaller goals, with some additional fresh-air breaks, you will find that your motivation will increase.
Staying motivated can be tricky, but you can help make it a bit easier for yourself by setting realistic tasks and taking time to care for yourself.
Though this pandemic can feel like it will be endless, it will eventually pass. Staying motivated can help refocus our attention away from these stressful changes and towards a more hopeful future.