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6th April, 2020

How to keep your team productive during a pandemic

Shifting work conditions can have an adverse impact on any team, let alone when a global pandemic is the cause. Here’s how to keep your team operating as effectively as possible.

If your business is lucky enough to be continuing as normal — or close to normal — during the COVID-19 pandemic, then you’re still facing a number of challenges.

One of those is making sure your team remains productive and in relatively high spirits. Working from home can make this a challenge.

Of course, businesses have options like monitoring software and constant video sharing to make sure employees do the right thing. But for many business owners, that may go too far.

Instead, there are plenty of less invasive methods for business owners to use in order to keep productivity moving along.

These methods aren’t just useful for a pandemic. Consider implementing these now so that your business emerges from the other side of this situation stronger than ever.


Help your team feel psychologically safe


This is a trying time for anyone. We aren’t working as normal, we’re working during a pandemic. That puts a psychological toll on anyone, which means their work will be affected. After all, COVID-19 affects everyone.

Google’s HR team has done a lot of research into the idea of psychological safety at work. In essence, psychological safety means employees have the ability to speak their mind (respectfully), try new ideas, speak freely, and that they won’t be punished for their mistakes.

In fact, Google found their highest performing teams all had this trait in common.

“On the flip side, the safer team members feel with one another, the more likely they are to admit mistakes, to partner, and to take on new roles,” the Google HR research found.

During a pandemic, help your employees feel psychologically safe. Let them know that it’s okay to feel upset, that their productivity might slip, and that they aren’t at risk of being punished for simply being human.

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Give your employees license to work flexibly


With employees who have children at home, it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult for them to work a normal 7.5 hour day in one or two chunks.

Instead, be flexible. Think about what tasks need to get done, and then allow your employees – as much as possible – to schedule their day as they need to.

If they need to jump offline at 1pm and come back at 4pm, let them. If they need to get up at 7 and work until 3, let them.

If that enables them to be productive and help the company moving, don’t let the traditional idea of a 9-5 get in the way. After all, this isn’t a traditional work environment.


Conduct a working from home assessment with the team


Ideally you would do this before working from home, but an assessment will help you understand where everyone lands.

For this assessment, think carefully about these questions:

  • What tools do you use to communicate?
  • What tools do you use to collaborate?
  • What schedules does everyone follow at home?
  • How does your team intend to meet and understand each others’ roles and actions?
  • How will you keep track of ongoing work?
  • What technology do you have to support these arrangements?

In a team session, think through these questions carefully and ask everyone: how well do they feel these tools are working?

Getting everyone on board will help keep you all accountable, which helps increase productivity.

The Australian Government’s Flexibility Readiness guide is a great tool here.


Implement ongoing 1:1 meetings for managers and their direct reports


These meetings are crucial for productivity anyway, but during extended periods of working from home they are even more important.

Consider these statistics: Gallup found that only one in every three employees is engaged at work. Another Gallup study found only 40 percent of employees agree that their manager holds them accountable for performance.

But those employees also said they were more likely to be engaged.

Weekly or fortnightly 1:1 meetings with your reports should satisfy a few different purposes:

  • Avoid status updates on particular projects (those should within project teams)
  • Divide the time between things you want to talk about, and things the employee wants to talk about
  • Ask questions like:
    • How are you feeling?
    • Is anything bothering you lately?
    • Is there anything stopping you from doing your best work?
  • Listen to what your employee is saying and empathise with them
  • Use the time to outline your own expectations of what the employee should be doing

This time is designed to keep both yourself, and the employee accountable. You let them know where they stand, and they let you know what’s in their way. Win-win.


Give employees permission to avoid notifications


One of the more difficult aspects of workplace tools in the constant ding-ding-ding of notifications that come through all the time. After all, it’s much easier and more tempting to send a message than walk by someone’s desk.

But take note from Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, who said he even disengages the notification feature on the instant messaging program for his phone.

As a result? Employees can engage in “deep work” that allows them to get things done.

If an employee doesn’t reply straight away, consider whether you really need a response right then and there. If you don’t, let them go.