This issue is taking a different approach than usual. Typically, we link to a few articles to help feed your business-leader brain with good fuel.

This week, I’m sharing thoughts and insights from the research and interviews I’ve been doing about keeping teams motivated and producing during the pandemic, and I want to share some of what’s bubbling up in case it’s helpful to your planning too.

Tsedal Neeley @tsedal is a professor at Harvard University. Her work focuses on global and digital transformation and virtual work. She has a new book coming out next year, “Remote Work Revolution” and I had the pleasure of listening to her talk about her research.

One of the stats that grabbed my attention is this: 70% of employees are worried about going back to the office.

And while we’re all in the same storm, we’re not all in the same boat…

Companies of all sizes are grappling with decisions and their impact on employees’ morale and productivity. So while Zillow and Facebook have told their employees working from home is permanent… Microsoft and Google are saying, “We’ll see.”

Employees’ reactions range from, “I can’t work at home one more minute, I am not going to survive this!” to “Well, hey, I’m liking this waaaay more than I thought I would.”

And there’s not enough data yet to splice us all into easy-to-factor groups, so as business leaders it behooves us to really really approach our employees on as much of an individualized basis as possible. For example, not every single person is dying to get back to the office—some of our introverts are finding themselves uber productive with less in-person interaction while not all working parents are thrilled with the idea of working from home indefinitely while home schooling their small children. And vice versa.

Zoom Fatigue, as I’m sure you know firsthand, is a real thing. And it, along with other WFH bandages, is blurring the lines between “we time” and “me time” for workers. Employees need help knowing that we want them to set healthy boundaries for start and end times to their days and to understand that their co-workers’ hours may vary. So, when one person is working 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. that does not mean the 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. worker needs to respond to an email as soon as they see it. Make sure your team is talking with you and each other about their personal parameters. Communication, as always, is key.

And about that flex time concept…several people I’ve talked with recently, employees as well as business managers, are saying they’re getting more comfortable with taking breaks for self-care throughout the workday. “So what if I go to the gym 2:00-3:00 instead of before work?” said one of my interviewees. I used to feel guilty, like I was cheating. But I talked with my boss and she said, “Go for it! As long as we know you’re away from your desk so we’re not waiting for a response while you’re out, and you are managing your workflow, make this work for you, because that works for us.”

So if you’re on board to this, encourage your employees to talk with you about what will help them be more productive during these challenging times. They’ll appreciate you expressing care for them and hopefully reciprocate with their best outputs.

I like what Martha Marchesi, CEO of JK Design in Hillsborough, NJ shared on this subject. She tells her team to block time in their calendars for their personal needs that occur during the workday, e.g., helping the kids with their homework. They call it “HOMEFRONT” and put it in their calendars that way. But Martha takes it a step further: she looks to ensure her team members are blocking that time and not feeling badly about doing it. She wants them to practice good self-care and she’s leading by example and proactively ensuring they’re following. I love this approach!

We’re experimenting with something at Digital Brand Expressions we call “ZoomRaderie.” Here are the basics: each week we schedule time to “be together without being together.” The idea is we all log onto Zoom, video and audio, and we chat as if we’re in the office together. There’s no agenda, it’s not a meeting. Everyone is on and working, but we’re not “meeting” we’re just “being.” During the 90-minute session, we may ask questions, talk about a show we’re watching, tease something about the mug they’re drinking from, laugh about the dog choir in the background, etc.—just like we did when we shared a physical office together. When two people or more people get onto a “real” subject that doesn’t relate to the others, they go in a breakout room and sidebar with each other and rejoin the main session when they’re done. There’s a nice ebb and flow. The first time we did a ZoomRaderie, we found it difficult to start because, well, it felt like a meeting …but as we relaxed and got into the spirit of it, we found we enjoyed it and are looking forward to ways to keep improving the practice of “just being together when we can’t be together.”

Here are a few other tips I picked up from Professor Neeley and others:

  • Find ways as a business leader to stay in sync with your direct reports and encourage them to do the same with the individuals that report to them. EVERYONE has different home environments and scheduling needs. The more you can help workers get comfortable with asking for what they need and making that work for the organization, the better off your team will be now and in the future.
  • Flex time is going to be increasingly important. Compassion and flexibility will go a long way right now, and asking people what they need and individualizing the attention is smart.
  • Take 90 minutes to do something that’s not work related each week. Kind of like DBE’s ZoomRaderie idea, but taking it further: you can’t go to happy hour together or your local axe throwing joint, but what can you do together that feels like togetherness? Book clubs? Video games? Wine tastings? Stream a movie together and talk about it afterward? Get creative, but get together.
  • Make sure your team has the equipment they need to be as productive as they can. DBE’s team has their laptop, two monitors, and headsets, and we now have several paid Zoom accounts to keep scheduling streamlined and easy. We use MS Teams as a back up in case Zoom is having a bad day. Planning for system outages is part of the way to reduce team stress: practice the art of anticipation.
  • Consider a stipend for improving your home office…what about giving each team member $50-$100 to purchase something that they can use to make their workspace a little nicer.

Do Good Spotlight: Access Fund

This part we didn’t change up this week…

Every time we publish What’s Hot Wednesday, we select a not-for-profit to feature and support with a donation. This week’s recommendation came from DBE’s newest team member, Natalie Lorenzo, who is an avid rock climber. We’re learning a lot about this sport as well as what it takes to keep the natural environments for it healthy, and we donated to Access Fund, an organization dedicated to keeping rock climbing areas safe and thriving. You can learn more about Access Fund here.

I would love to hear from you about this week’s issue: was the info shared helpful? Do you have ideas for leading during challenging times that you’d like to share? Did you prefer this to the article/link approach we usually use? Would both types of info be worth the read for you? Let me know because this e-briefing each week is, at its core, designed to help you lead your team and your business with positive energy that comes back to you, so as they say in the movie Jerry Maguire, “Help me help you.” 😊