How to keep the morale of a remote workforce up

The current climate has been a catalyst for many organisations having to quickly react to facilitate a remote workforce. And whilst countless workers are already well versed in occasionally working from home, the recent government response to the COVID-19 outbreak has meant thousands of employees will now need to work remotely for the foreseeable future.

For HR leads, this dramatic change in working practices is a challenge in itself, even for those with the right infrastructure already in place. But as we begin to adapt to this new way of working in the long-term, HR now also find themselves at the heart of maintaining a happy and productive workforce during these testing and uncertain times.

Despite the Coronavirus pandemic continuing to cause widespread unease amongst the population, there are some simple strategies that HR leads can use to put employees’ minds at rest and keep morale high in the workplace both now and over the coming months.

Regularly communicate company updates

Openness and transparency are key at a time like this. Amid a bombardment of messaging from the media, it’s essential for businesses to continue communicating with their employees to provide reassurance and guidance in line with the changing government advice. Through noticeboards and messaging apps, share important information and updates with your workforce in one place, such as tips for staying healthy, sick pay entitlement, changes to benefits packages, new remote working policies and who to contact with any concerns.

That aside – remember to keep sharing the good news too. For many individuals, recent events have somewhat turned life upside down. By continuing to share positive news about ‘business as usual’ activity, HR can help to maintain some semblance of normality when it is needed the most. As part of this, you may also look to encourage employee recognition in the form of a quick note over email or by simply picking up the phone, so that workers can make shout-outs and give kudos to colleagues to heighten team spirit during these difficult times. 

Encourage video sharing and discussion forums instead of emails

In the face of long periods of isolation to protect ourselves and those around us, society has likely never been more thankful for living in a digital age. In the absence of in-person interactions with colleagues, now is a great time to implement or make more use of video conferencing platforms, such as SkypeGoogle Hangouts or Microsoft Teams, if not simply picking up the phone more for check-ins with peers to keep engagement levels high.

You should also ensure your leaders and managers maintain those all-important one-to-ones where employees can confidentially discuss their workload, changes to their routine or any other concerns they may have, whether work-related or personal. Discussion forums are another useful way to keep up regular communications as a team, facilitating the back and forth idea sharing and social chat that we’re currently lacking outside of the office environment.  Not only will this help to maintain feelings of inclusion and positivity, but it will also go a long way in reducing what has become a significant influx of impersonal email communications.

These tools can also be vital for those non-work-related interactions to maintain an element of camaraderie and fun, which are much-needed to offset employees’ prevailing anxieties. Suggest ideas to your leaders that they can introduce to their teams to keep working relationships flowing smoothly, such as online pub-style quizzes, morning ‘coffee catch-ups’ or a virtual after work social with a drink.

Get feedback from employees

Emotions are understandably high at present and it will take time for your workforce to adjust to the significant changes afoot. By administering pulse surveys (if you already have this functionality within your existing HR software) or by utilising free tools such as Survey Monkey, HR can gain a better understanding of the general mood of their remote employees.

Ask questions pertaining to how well-informed staff feel about company developments in light of the changing landscape, if they have the right tools to carry out their role effectively; or if they have any immediate concerns that may be impacting their productivity, happiness or job satisfaction. This data can then be used to identify any trends or key areas where HR and other leaders can help to make a difference and ensure that work is not becoming a source of stress for your valued employees.

Similarly, keep track of the enquiries coming into the HR team, as this might also highlight the most commonly asked questions that are at the forefront for employees. By collating these into FAQs that are easily accessible for staff, you can begin to minimise the number of emails into the HR inbox, whilst allaying any pressing concerns.

Prioritise employee wellbeing

Great businesses put their people first. Now more than ever, the health and wellbeing of your workforce is paramount, though it has long been essential to ensuring higher engagement and productivity. By making a few small adjustments, HR can help to better support wellbeing in these extraordinary times.

Where structure and routine have taken a back seat for many workers as they navigate the challenges of a merging work-home life and an increased number of distractions, try to accommodate different schedules. This may come in the form of being flexible on working hours, especially for those who may now have their children at home, whilst also encouraging regular breaks for fresh air and exercise (following government guidance).

HR and leaders should also be more sensitive to the mental health of employees and offer support where possible. Ensure that you have the right tools in place so that staff can contact HR or their manager to let them know if they need additional support, as well as providing a platform for employees to quickly notify HR of COVID-19 related absences or self-isolation. Plus consider increasing your communications about this to make staff aware that these resources are at their disposal to support them; whether this is in the area of health and wellbeing, financial worries or for managing stress and anxiety.

Alternatively, if you don’t currently have this type of programme available for your employees, how about sharing other supportive communications with staff? This could be in the form of a daily or weekly newsletter containing useful information such as free workouts to do at home, mindfulness apps or free resources online that they can make the most of to help alleviate stress.

A silver lining

Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted working practices worldwide, forcing millions to quickly adjust to remote working, technology will be a lifeline for HR teams as they continue in their crucial role to keep their workforces connected, productive, and more importantly – happy and healthy.

Damian Oldham
HCM Divisional Director
The Access Group, UK