The sudden onset of Covid-19 and subsequent social distancing measures have transformed architectural practices within a few days into remotely-operated businesses. Many practice and team leaders now face the challenge of maintaining strong company culture, sustaining team morale, and keeping their remote-working team engaged. It’s easy for individuals to feel isolated. Collaboration, morale, and belonging can all take a hit in the midst of this sudden change of circumstances. As a practice and team leader, you will now have to put in extra effort to nurture morale and keep team members feeling motivated and appreciated.
Here are eight tips for doing just that.
1. Stay connected.
Staying connected is the key to ensuring your remote team culture flourishes. The more often you communicate, the more you will build trust and foster a sense of collaboration. For example:
- Remove distance among your team members. Use communications tools that allow you to retain that ‘office feeling’ virtually and in real time.
- Introduce regular – ideally daily – short video calls with the whole practice team and/or project teams. For a brief catch up, update on immediate practice news and provide an opportunity for everyone to raise urgent, general issues and questions.
- As project team leader schedule regular team meetings every week to cover what the team is working on and discuss any issues. Invite feedback from team members. This ensures team members stay engaged.
- As team leader schedule regular one-to-one video calls with all your team members. To build and maintain relationships, you need to dedicate time to the individuals that make up your team. One-to-one meetings could follow a defined agenda, but should also leave room for personal check-ins and discussions of ad-hoc issues.
2. Be patient and understanding.
While adjusting to remote working, distractions are a guarantee. These might differ from one team member to the other. Be flexible and acknowledge that although these conditions may not be perfect, you can all make progress through mutual support – this will bond the team together. Regularly check in with team members on what is working well for them and what can be improved.
3. Be available.
As a team leader make a concerted effort to arrange regular, one-to-one meetings with all team members. If you had an ‘open-door policy’ in the on-site office, recreate this in the virtual office using a suitable communications platform where team members can “pop in and chat”. Clearly communicate with your team when and how they can contact you.
4. Be transparent.
While remote working, individuals can easily feel detached from the company. To keep everyone engaged, it is important to keep team members in the loop on what is happening. Although it might be tempting to shield them from bad news, they will invariably feel more appreciative if they feel a sense of transparency. This is especially important at uncertain times like this. Furthermore, the more good news you share, the more you will raise the team’s spirits.
5. Encourage feedback.
Encourage feedback and questions. Open communication ensures that your team’s voices are heard and any issues can be dealt with before they snowball into bigger problems. It also invites fresh viewpoints on ideas for improvement, while also making team members feel valued. In this uncertain climate, it will nurture team bonding and the feeling of “we are all in this together”.
6. Share appreciation.
Recognition and appreciation will always keep team morale high, no matter where team members are situated. However, with remote teams, this is even more critical. Never miss an opportunity to thank individuals and teams for their hard work. Let them know how valuable their work is by sharing how it fits into the bigger picture of the practice. Maintain office celebrations – such as birthdays and other personal events – by transforming them into virtual celebrations. Show your team that you still care while working remotely.
7. Have fun.
While remote working, it can be easy to miss the element of ‘fun’ that on-site office interactions can bring. Make sure social activities persist in the virtual office. Most of what we do on site can be done virtually. Social media has been overflowing with ideas for virtual social gatherings – video coffee breaks, lunches, Friday night drinks, pizza nights, or online office games, just to name a few. Or even a ‘virtual water cooler’ in the form of a dedicated chat group that can be used for the team to socialise and connect with each other in an informal way.
8. Look ahead.
While the current COVID-19 crisis can feel all-consuming at times, don’t let it be the sole driver of work and conversations. Whenever possible, try to keep focused on the future and engage team members in positive discussions and proactive activities. Plan a ‘real-world social’. Encourage collective learning in the form of reading or mentoring to build certain skills and competencies in the practice. Engage people in a strategic ‘think tank’ on the practice’s post-COVID-19 life. A practice-specific project can help to lift team spirits and foster a shared feeling of getting through this together.
These tips will help you maintain team morale and preserve engagement while remote working. Many of these tactics will remain effective once normal office life is resumed. Regardless of whether you usually operate as an online or offline practice, make these guidelines a permanent part of office culture. People want to feel connected at work and feel that they are part of something at work –so if you make the effort, they will meet you halfway.
About the Author:
Britta Siggelkow is an accredited career and leadership coach, and an experienced architect in the built environment, whose career has taken her around the world including Australia, Germany and the UK. She is also the founder of THINK:BUILD, a coaching and consulting practice created to give architects and designers the time and space to see their practice holistically. Britta’s expertise is in the areas of leadership, business vision, strategy and organisational structure.