Maintaining Employee Morale In A Remote Work Environment

Marti Fischer
Contributor – Forbes

Finance departments operate on a schedule of predictable routines. Earnings calls, investor meetings, profit and loss, or P&L, reports all adhere to strict processes and deadlines. CFOs face unprecedented challenges upholding these routines and maintaining morale under the mounting stress of the current economic and health conditions with staff working remotely. During this time of transition to remote work, the staff will look to leadership for reassurance, empathy, and guidance.

For staff accustomed to close physical proximity, colleague deprivation is real. The physical distance of working remotely erects a sensory barrier. Even with today’s exceptional technology-based solutions, it’s easy to see how some individuals will feel disconnected and insecure.

Morale is a crucial ingredient in a company’s culture and a direct reflection of how the leaders of the organization communicate with staff. Keeping morale healthy and communication lines open is fundamental for creating an environment where productivity can flourish. Barbara Larson, a professor of management at Northeastern University in Boston who studies remote working reminds leaders that, “It’s easy to be stressed out or depressed these days. Acknowledge there’s stress and difficulty. Your job is to be a cheerleader for the team.”

As your department’s new working rhythms are forming, here are five suggestions for maintaining morale.

1) Non-Verbal Communication

As a rule, it’s not what you say that counts, it’s what everyone else sees and hears. Albert Mehrabian, psychologist and emeritus professor at UCLA established that people evaluate a message based on 55% body language, 37% tone of voice and 7% on content. To gain acceptance, content must align with visual and auditory cues. When meetings are taking place on the phone or through videoconference, it is harder for staff to “read the room.”

It’s, therefore, critical for leaders to signal confidence through non-verbal communication. On the phone, practice voice modulation and slow down the delivery of your message as there may be distractions happening in your staff’s new home offices.

On video calls, your physical presence will magnify on a small screen. Maintain good eye contact and lessen the movement of your head. Newscasters are good models of this behavior. If you have had any prior media training, employ the techniques you learned for a television interview. If you’ve never had media training, make a recording of your next video and phone meeting. Listen to the results and quickly address areas for improvement. If this is too painful an exercise, ask a trusted colleague to offer real-time feedback.

2) Let the Elephants Out of the Room First

In addition to technology platforms like Slack and Google Hangouts, where staff can chat, dedicate a specific amount of time at the beginning of each group meeting for social conversation. It allows staff to reconnect and talk about daily stressors and successes. Let the team begin the conversation and then contribute your stories. Keep your contribution short and to the point, lest it becomes the “cold open” to each meeting. Allowing staff to connect first results in more productive meetings.

3) Practice Empathy and Patience

Dogs will bark, and babies will cry. Lots of distractions will happen. Being flexible and acknowledging that “things are different, not perfect, but we’ll make progress and get through it together” is an important message to deliver with sincerity and confidence.

Regularly incorporate questions into your conversations to uncover what’s working well and what can be improved. “How’s it going today? What’s working well? Where are your challenges? What resources do you need? What do you think about…? How can I help?” will provide you with the information you need to request additional resources.

4) Be Available

Make every effort to keep one-on-one meetings on the calendar. These become important and anticipated appointments and check-ins with senior staff. If you had an open-door policy in the physical office, offer “drop-in times” on a Google Hangout or other platform where staff can come by and chat. Maintaining prior office behavior creates a feeling of security.

5) Appreciate and Recognize Frequently

When staff is not physically together, it’s more important than ever to maintain team spirit. Personally appreciate the work of individuals and publicly recognize a great job often. For staff, there is nothing that affirms their value more than being recognized by the C-level.

“In a crisis, the only asset you have is your credibility.” That’s the mantra of the late Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve Chairman and Chairman of President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board throughout the 2008-2009 economic crisis.

Adhering to financial reporting deadlines ensures a predictable flow of data for decision-making. Maintaining staff morale by adopting more deliberate communications reduces barriers among remote staff and keeps productivity high.

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