Overnight, working from home went from something that many of us would occasionally do to an everyday way of life. It is certainly one of the largest transitions I’ve ever gone through, and I know I’m not alone.
For all of the companies all over the world that can carry on from home, including ours, we have had to find new ways to manage productivity and maintain a sense of community. We are very fortunate to have this challenge, as there are so many companies that cannot work at all.
That being said, one of the things the coronavirus pandemic has really reinforced for us as a company is our mission and purpose.
Before the pandemic, we knew there was inherent value in the software we were building. Our flagship product is a financial forecasting and business planning tool on the Salesforce platform. But watching businesses everywhere shut the doors and millions of Americans file for unemployment, suddenly our work holds a different sort of purpose. Sure, businesses always need help managing their cash flow. But in a time like this, financial planning can mean the difference between life and death for a company.
We’ve gone to great lengths to help where we can as a company, give our software at heavily reduced rates to nonprofits and organizations that need help and can’t afford it. But beyond that, the coronavirus and the way it is impacting businesses all over the world has lit a fire under each and every one of us, and helped us connect to what building a business in America is all about: helping other people.
Here are the ways we’re thinking about morale and productivity right now—and hopefully these ideas help give you and your team members, partners, and employees some ideas of your own.
1. Establish communication norms
Before this pandemic started, we were already used to working with team members in different offices. I have always been focused on how to ensure people feel connected, regardless of whether they are in the same office, different offices, or working from home/traveling.
But to make sure everyone was on the same page, we developed a communication plan to help everyone understand the differences between each channel within the company. A simple example, Slack is for internal communications and Gmail is external communications. Another example is if an internal message takes more than five minutes to write it - stop typing and have a verbal conversation.
Establishing these communication methods helps everyone know where to go, what to expect, and how to best communicate—all of which has a huge impact on morale and productivity.
2. Hold more group chats to foster internal community
We have had a company policy since day one (and I had this at my last company as well), that if you’re going to talk to someone and they’re not in the same office, you have to do it over video. This has always been important to us because a lot of team members never meet each other in-person.
The only exception would be if you have some weird bandwidth issue or other circumstance where you simply can’t.
Since this was already baked into our company culture, the transition to working from home in this sense was a bit easier. In addition, we’ve also been holding more group video calls, where we connect and don’t talk about clients, issues or anything else work-related, instead we are just checking in with each other. We just want to “be around” each other and hear how we are all doing personally. We opened it up so that spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, and significant others could join as well.
This is exactly what we’d be doing at one of our happy hours, and so we’re trying to maintain that same level of connectedness from afar. We are passionate about our work, but our friendships are another big part of the reason we work together.
3. Make time to laugh, and make time to talk about stress
At Place, we definitely take our work seriously, but we are also a culture that likes to laugh. This is actually one of our core values.
I believe that during times of great stress, laughter is one of the best things you can bring to the table. This means our Slack is full of gifs and memes, and on our video calls there’s always time to help people feel more positive in their day. Honestly, we do this even when we are not stressed, but it helps regardless.
That said, there is a lot of anxiety going on in the world right now, and so as much as laughter is important, we also work hard to give people the space to address how they’re feeling.
One of the things I do is update the team on how I’m doing, how I’m feeling, and what I’m seeing, every single week. I give everyone as much visibility into the state of the company as possible so no one is blindsided or too nervous about what’s going to happen—and so far, that has been going really well. Everyone has an open line of communication with me directly to talk, and that helps keep people from feeling like they’re in the dark.
4. Help people create new routines
Whatever your work routine was at the beginning of the year doesn’t exist anymore.
We’ve all had to create new routines for ourselves—and this is easier said than done. Routine is important for harmony, and people want to know how they’re going to get along with the rest of the team, what to expect, what their day-to-day should look like, etc. So, one of our biggest priorities has been helping people create new cadences for themselves at home.
Our meetings are still happening at the same times, just over video.
We’re still doing our one-on-one chats. Reports are still due.
Essentially, we’re trying to make sure the business is still operating as it did before, with the exception that all in-person interactions are now virtual—and that’s it. As a result, a lot of time has gotten freed up. When you take all the travel time, and all the random office time away, suddenly you’re left with new possibilities for where that time can be directed.
5. Encourage not working all the time
Working from home does not mean you are expected to work sunrise to sunset.
Something our leadership team has been doing regularly is checking in with team members to make sure they’re taking breaks, and not feeling like they need to work every hour of every day. This sounds silly, but it’s actually a problem I experienced at my last company as well. People would work on the weekends all the time, and although there is something to be said for that level of work ethic, the truth is, it’s not very effective long term.
If you’re at home all the time, and you’re passionate about your work, of course you are going to want to keep putting in the hours. But it’s important to remember that we all need to take mental breaks and escape work.
Personally, I’m trying to encourage this as much as I can—starting by setting the example myself. I still have my normal times blocked to workout at lunch, I stop working most days at 6 pm, and I’ll only work for a few hours on Saturday morning. This was my routine before the pandemic and it’s certainly helping me stay focused as we are going through it.