Motivating, managing WFH teams in 2021 – Part 1

Practical tips to tackle the 3 most pressing human issues created by work-from-home

With more teams spending time working remotely in the last 12 months, leadership has been given the proverbial “peek behind the curtain” into their personal lives.  This has created an opportunity to extend the company’s role from simply building a better employee experience to supporting a better life experience.

In part 1 of this topic, I’ll be looking at 3 of the most pressing human issues created by the new WFH culture, and give you some pro-tips on how to handle each situation.

Be aware of daily routines

In the not-so-distant past, employees were expected to be at the office at set times.  During that period, they were expected to give 100% focus and effort to their assigned tasks, while dealing with personal issues in non-work hours. 

In the last 12 months, the flexibility provided by working from home (WHF) has created a unique set of challenges for employers, as team members juggle business and personal responsibilities simultaneously.

As the saying goes, “life happens”, and to get the best out of our teams, we need to accept that if they’re working from home, personal issues may need to be handled swiftly to create the necessary space to give full attention to business-related matters.

Perform Forward tip:  Having an awareness of each team member’s personal life should be a priority. Include the “biggies” (e.g. relationship status, living arrangements, kids, and pets) as well as smaller, seemingly insignificant points (e.g. an employee deals with work stress by hitting the gym every day at lunchtime).  This will help you provide a better framework for interacting on a human level.

Create and respect “time boundaries”

As the focus has shifted from the office to remote locations, it’s tempting to erase the line separating work hours and non-work hours.  While WFH has increased the ability for everyone to follow their unique rhythm, tackling tasks when their focus and energy is at its peak it has blurred the line between work and home. 

This has created a scenario where team members are expected to be “always-on” simply because the office is now the dining room table, kitchen counter or spare bedroom.  This, in turn, leads to unrealistic expectations regarding turn-around times on replies and projects.  To make matters the situation more complicated, it is usually a gradual process that leads to work creeping into traditional non-working hours. 

Perform Forward tip:  Remember that WFH doesn’t mean “available 24/7”.  Creating a framework that regulates expectations around responsiveness will go a long way to ensuring individuals are maintaining a healthy work/life balance. 

Take mental well-being seriously

While the last decade has seen an increase in soft-skills and well-being workshops, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought mental health in the workplace to the fore.

Managers now face a complicated challenge when it comes to keeping in touch with individual team members’ mental states.  No longer can we rely on a glance around the office to see that “Kim is drowning” and “Thabo hasn’t been himself the last few days”. 

Feelings of isolation and fear are just 2 of the concerning effects of the extended lockdown.  The neglected mental well-being of a single team member can have devastating effects on the team as a whole, so it is vitally important to connect with each individual on a human level.

Perform Forward tip:  A combination of quick check-ins and in-depth one-on-ones will help managers stay on top of potential issues.  I suggest keeping your finger on the pulse of the latest research, surveys and trends on mental health in the workplace, and use them to formulate a strategy (e.g. daily check-ins and providing resources) to help team members who appear to be struggling.

Conclusion

The employment landscape is going through a rapid, albeit overdue, evolution.  Effective change management is required to help our teams navigate from “the way we always did things” to a new, better way of interacting with our teams.