The Slice

How to Boost Employee Morale When Working from Home

January 13, 2022

Some people thrive in a remote working environment. Others struggle. As their employer, there's only so much you can do about this. You can't mandate a home office, you can't punish them for distractions, so what can you do? There are many ways you might boost employee morale in a remote or work-from-home situation; you simply need to figure out which ones work best for your situation.

Some people thrive in a remote working environment. They can effectively separate their work and home lives, have a dedicated office space and take advantage of every bit of flexibility the situation offers.

Others struggle. They have constant distractions and stressors; they have to handle household tasks during the workday, they have no additional commute time to decompress and shift modes. This stress wears down their productivity and, more importantly, their morale.

As their employer, there's only so much you can do about this. You can't mandate a home office, you can't punish them for distractions, so what can you do? There are many ways you might boost employee morale in a remote or work-from-home situation; you simply need to figure out which ones work best for your situation.

Be Mindful of the Return to the Office

While most of this post will focus on work from home or fully remote teams, we have to take a minute to talk about the "end of the pandemic" and the "return to work" that seems to happen every couple of months. In particular, morale can take a big if you push for a return to the office, but not everyone returns. Some people might have special deals worked out to stay remote; others might be fully remote in the first place.

It's one thing to have an entire team of fully remote employees. It's quite another to have a good portion of those employees return to the office, leaving a handful behind. That handful, while they do get to enjoy the benefits of remote work, might feel left out of office culture. Their knowledge of the inside jokes and social lives of their work friends will slip, and it makes them feel even more disconnected.

This work-life crossover is a tricky situation to navigate. It was even before the pandemic, and it will be after. Generally, the best thing you can do is strive to keep your remote workers in tune with the rest of your staff. Regular meetings, social gatherings on Zoom, enforced use of Teams or Slack, and other ways to include your remote workers can be critical. It's something you'll have to navigate for yourself, unfortunately.

What about morale for your fully remote workers and teams? Let's get down to the meat of today's post.

Dedicate Time to Everyone

You can't raise morale through an all-hands meeting.

One of the most significant sources of morale in the workplace is your socialization from spending time with other people. Your employees are looking for opportunities to chat with one another and with you in many cases. Whether it's a casual chat on Slack or a one-on-one video call, make sure to make time for every employee.

"As an extra note – and you may have heard this before – but a video is always better than voice calls to stay connected when remote working. By seeing your body language and facial expressions during manager-employee one-to-ones or team meetings, remote workers feel reassured and more comfortable and connected." – Perkbox

The key with these meetings is just to chat. Talk about life, talk about worries, talk about hobbies, but don't necessarily talk about work. If the one-to-one session is all work-focused, it does nothing for that socialization.

Use this meeting as an opportunity to learn about the challenges and stressors facing your employees. This tip will play into our next point.

Take Steps to Ease Their Burdens

Everyone who works remotely or from home has specific challenges they have to face, and those challenges are not always equal between employees. A single employee will have a different experience than one with a newborn, who will face different challenges than one with a teenage child. All three can face challenges – and no one is necessarily facing more complex challenges than the others – so getting a glimpse behind the curtain can be significant.

When you talk to your remote employees, please talk about what makes work and life more challenging for them. Then, see if you can do something (within reason) to ease their burdens.

For example:

  • Lighten their task load a little so that they can work more flexibly.
  • Allow them to work more flexible hours, so the distraction of a family emergency isn't devastating.
  • Use company funds to enable them to purchase work from home equipment, like a desk and chair.

There are two significant challenges with this.

  1. The first is staying professional. You are your employees' boss, not their therapist. Some problems you aren't qualified to solve, and others you probably shouldn't even discuss in a working relationship. Make sure you have boundaries that won't get you, your employee, or your company in trouble.
  2. ‍The second is remaining equitable. If you provide a budget for work from home equipment for one employee, what about another who already has the equipment they need? If you give one employee flexible hours, should another who hasn't needed it still get it?‍

It's extra tricky because a perk for one employee might not be a perk for another. Giving everyone a reimbursement for childcare isn't equitable for an employee with no children. The key is to have a flexible range of relatively equal-value perks and budgets you can customize for each employee. If nothing else, maybe it can be cashed out for more PTO or a bonus for those who don't use it in other ways. You need to play this one by ear, but try to keep everyone happy; jealousy doesn't foster better morale, after all.

Invest in Recognition

Modern business already suffers from the problem of the average worker feeling like little more than a disposable cog in an impassionate machine. When you can replace them at the drop of a hat, morale is low, and they feel unappreciated.

You can help counteract this in two ways.

The first is to keep the overall vision, direction, and contribution to the company in mind. Employees like to feel like they're part of something bigger and their contributions matter. So, show them how they matter. Talk about outcomes, effects, and the tangible benefits the employee has to the company and its mission. Try to be specific, too; a solid "We couldn't do it without you" is fine once or twice but wears thin if you never back it up.

The second is to include ways to recognize and reward employees and teams throughout the weeks, months, and years. You don't have to have a big, formal "employee of the month" event, nor do you need to turn it into a contest with a cash prize for the best employee. Instead, recognize the contributions your employees make and encourage them to acknowledge the contributions of one another.

Let the Hair Down

Socialization is key. That's why so many morale-boosting products and services these days are focused on things like gift boxes, holiday parties, or pizza parties.

So, do that. In a physical office, you have a break room; you have people walking by one another and having the chance to chat. You have office parties, and you have lunchtime gatherings and more.

So, dedicate some digital resources and allow, encourage, and organize these online. Ideas include:

  • Virtual lunch breaks. When everyone is taking their lunch, set aside a secondary Zoom call and let everyone chat and hang out as they please.
  • You can have casual "water cooler" chats. Slack channels dedicated to the off-topic, informal, non-work discussions are always a good idea, as long as they don't get in the way of work getting done.
  • Social events. Check those links up there; we have plenty of ideas for everything from holiday parties to virtual happy hour to, of course, pizza parties you can organize for your company.

The key is to give employees a way to let their hair down instead of being in "work mode" 100% of the time. It lets them relieve their stress, rant about that latest episode of a popular TV show, and more.

"It is important for employees to feel that you recognize them as human beings, not just output machines. Assume that your team is negatively impacted by the stress of global events and virtual work isolation. Carve out time to check on your team personally and see how they are doing emotionally. if you notice that someone on your team is overworking themselves and on the brink of burnout, be proactive and give them extra days off so that they can reset." - Paymo

Don't Stagnate

One of the biggest challenges many businesses face, particularly over the last two years, has been stagnation. Ever since the start of the pandemic, the transition to remote has been viewed as a "temporary measure," something like a holding pattern that will drop any day now, and everything can go back to normal.

Well, chances are, this is the new normal. There is danger involved with the pandemic and the risk of employees leaving. Oh, eventually, people will start going back to the office – and some already have, to varying degrees of effectiveness and risk – but many businesses have gotten stuck in a rut. They're paralyzed; on the one hand, they don't want to push for a return to the office. On the other hand, they want to return to the office, so even now, two years in, remote work is viewed as temporary.

The problem here is that many of the typical means for employee improvement have been put on hold. All those little boosts; cross-training, funding for certification, e-learning, and so on – have fallen by the wayside.

The biggest problem is that many employees now feel like their careers may have dead-ended. They'll grow dissatisfied with their lack of growth and progress. They may even start looking for employment elsewhere. When one leaves, it can trigger others to do the same, and the entire house of cards crumbles.

So, focus on providing those means of improvement. It can come in many forms, but it needs to happen if you want to avoid stagnating.

Address Morale Busters

A "morale buster" is a person who, through their attitude or actions, drags down the morale of everybody. Sometimes, your morale buster doesn't even know they're doing it. Someone being relentlessly negative, someone downplaying every achievement, someone saying "yeah, but" to everything good; these people might think they're employing dark humor or adding a humorous edge to the company chats, but these things need to be tempered.

Watch for this kind of behavior, and set aside time for a one-on-one to talk about it. Try not to be too punishing; sometimes, the behavior comes from mental health issues, struggles at home, or the stress of, well, everything. Your meeting should be aimed at doing two things. First, see if any problems need to be addressed like mentioned above. Second, talk about the negativity and ask them to lighten it up somewhat. They don't need to be relentlessly cheerful suddenly, but maybe hold back a little, you know?

Adapt to Change

The truth is, we're living through unprecedented times. Sure, pandemics have happened before, but not in an era where digital communications enabled unabated business. The relentless press of negative news from every angle makes it harder and harder to be optimistic in life.

That's why you need to be flexible. Every month, it seems, something new comes up. Different companies are trying other things to keep their employees happy and healthy. Watch what works, and implement what might work for your business too.

Remember, every company is different. A small team of digital natives will adapt and adjust much more quickly than an extensive roster of older employees. Some may be keen to socialize; some might not need it as much. Watch your team, watch your environment, implement techniques that help, and don't keep pushing ones that don't. Adapt and change as the pressures of work and home life call for it.

Now we turn to you, dear reader. Have you been experiencing issues with your remote team morale? Have any of these tips stood out to you, or do you have any questions for us? Feel free to reach out! We specialize in fun morale-boosting events for remote teams worldwide that are easy to set up and fun for the entire company. We'd love to hear from you.

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