Keeping your team connected when we’re all working apart

Working from home is great, but the reality is most people usually do it one day a week and plan their schedule accordingly. After a couple of days at home people generally feel it’s time to go back to the office as they miss seeing other people. Research conducted by Gallup a few years ago cited that 40% of the week was the optimum time spent working working at home as after that we start to miss the social interaction that being with our colleagues gives us.

We find ourselves now in a time when a lot of people are working at home for an unknown length of time. As a leader you can take some simple steps to help your team feel that connection even when they're not in the office. 

To stay engaged people need four things from their leaders; compassion, trust, stability and hope. Not everything is within your control at the moment, but how you lead your team is. Here are some tips for keeping your team engaged and looking after their wellbeing in this time of uncertainty for everyone.

1. Ask them what they need from you - Instead of scratching your head and wondering what the best way is to help people through this, have a quick team call, or a one to one conversation with each of them and ask them what they need. Some people will be happy with a team catch up once a week while others will prefer a quick 10 minutes each day. People will appreciate you listening to them as individuals and feel valued. It also gives them a chance to share their circumstances with you. You never know what somebody has going on in their life, and there is always a way to help them meet their personal obligations and get the work done. If you don’t know about it though, you can’t help them.

2. Put a structure in place for your team - When people are working at home, they can feel they should be ‘always on’ and this is not good for their wellbeing, or their productivity. Encourage your team to have a start and finish time and take regular breaks. Let them know that outside of those hours you will contact by a certain channel (maybe text message) if they are needed. If they don’t hear from you, they should switch off outside of their allotted hours. This means when they return to their work they are refreshed and the quality of their work will benefit from that. If you are a team that are on call in some way, think about putting a rota in place so eveybody is not constantly having to check their email 'just in case'.  

3. Set a regular catch up schedule and stick to it- Once you’ve spoken to the team about what they need, set up your schedule and stick to it. Silence breeds speculation, and a quick 5-minute call to say you’ve no news and check in to see how people are will bring that stability to the team and is invaluable. In a vacuum people usually think there’s stuff going on that’s not being shared, and the trust is broken. It’s easy to counter that, by staying in touch.

4. Assume the best in people - You don’t need to worry if people are putting in the graft or not, they most probably are. Don’t waste your time checking up on them. Show them you trust them and you will get that back in spades as they will be more likely to want to live up to the trust you have placed in them. Be obvious about this and tell them you trust them and know they are working hard at every opportunity.

5. Create a space for the lighter stuff  - We all have too many WhatsApp groups on our phones, but sometimes they do work well. If you have lots of channels for business communications, keep one for the lighter stuff, where the team can engage just as people. This is what they do naturally in the office, so try to find a way to replicate if you can. A good way to kick this off is to ask where everyone is working from and share a photo of where you are. Maybe once a week you could arrange to have coffee break together and chat over video call. 

6. Lead by example - The most important thing you can do it lead by example. There’s no point in setting a healthy structure for your team if you are not doing it yourself. ‘Do as I say not as I do’ is not an effective strategy.  Send a quick message to say you’re taking an hour to clear your head and go for a walk; this will encourage them to do the same.  

Your team are people who are doing their best to juggle a lot of things, just like you are. Look after yourself and you can then be at your best to look after them. Listen to what they need, be as open and honest as you can, and stay in touch.

March 2020


3 drivers of engagment that have stood the test of time

If you do a google search on the term ‘employee engagement’ on any given day, the results you get reach the hundreds of millions. If you ask anyone what they would define it as, most people would be able to give you a fairly succinct answer and be able to tell you what their understanding of the term is and what they think drives it. The answers though will vary greatly.

Academic investigations into the origins of the term agree that while this exploration of human behaviour at work goes back a long way, the term ‘engagement’ first appears in 1990. William A. Kahn of Boston University conducted research on the hypothesis that ‘people can use varying degrees of their selves, physically, cognitively, and emotionally, in work role performances, which has implications for both their work and experiences’.  

Kahn’s study focused on two very different groups of workers, a group of counsellors in a summer camp and a group of professionals in an architectural firm. The study was focused on recognising these states of engagement or disengagement in people and understanding the conditions that were consistently present when people felt engaged in their work.

He defined ‘engaged’ as ’In engagement people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively and emotionally during roles performances'. His definition of people in disengagement ‘people withdraw and defend themselves physically, cognitively or emotionally during their role performance’.

Through a number of research methods to understand the conditions that fostered engagement over disengagement Kahn cited three conditions that needed to be present for someone to feel ‘engaged’ at work.

1. Meaningfulness - To get a sense of return on investment from work and to feel valued. This will be influenced by the tasks at hand, the role you are given and associated identity you take from that role and your work interactions and the impact those interactions have on you. 

2. Safety - To be able to show your true self without fear of negative consequences. Interpersonal relationships also play a big part here and those that offer support, trust, openess, flexibility and lack of threat will all build a person's confidence in being themselves at work. The behaviour of leaders and organisational norms will also play a big part. 

3. Availability - To possess the physical, emotional and psychological resources needed to invest yourself in work and your role. Influences called out here are physical energy, emotional energy, insecurity in own ability and your life outside work. 

These definitions and drivers still stand the test of time 30 years later. And it's interesting how many of these factors continue to be called out under the banners of diversity & inclusion and workplace wellness. Evolving technology and work practices throw up new challenges and opportunities in how we meet these needs, but the needs themselves are human ones, and they have not changed.


Ref : Kahn, W. (1990). Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work. Academy of Management Journal, 33, 692-724.