Top entrepreneurs advise on the best care for teams during lockdowns
Now we are well into the 2nd session, caring for your teams during lockdowns has been the priority for most entrepreneurs. For many, the 2nd lockdown has felt harder still, and people need more care and understanding than ever.
As Jimmy Williams, founder of Insurtech disruptor, Urban Jungle, says, “It’s really hard to know what to do when the rules change so often, so it would be good to get a more stable set of rules that we have to work with.” But caring for his teams during lockdown remains a priority for them.
Here are top tips from Jimmy and other leading entrepreneurs and experts in the UK to help see you and your team through:
When speaking to the experts, communication seems to be the number one priority for your team. Andrew Hirsch, Co-founder of Engaging Business, works with companies to improve workplace engagement. Data from their Annual Report encouragingly shows employees were overwhelmingly happier with their managers than before the pandemic.
Andrew calls on businesses to build on this and further engage and, importantly, pick up the phone. He says that communication with staff is central to understanding the challenges Lockdown 2.0 is having on the workforce.
Line managers must talk to their teams during lockdowns and be sensitive about their needs. Some staff may be struggling to get motivated or having difficulty with their working environment. By picking up the phone and asking how they are, this will help make everyone’s working lives a little happier.”
Anne Cantelo is MD of Onyx Media and Communications, a company that has worked remotely since 2016. She also co-authored the best-selling book, “The Agile Revolution,” on remote working, and she delivered a TEDx on the subject in 2017.
She, too, emphasizes communication as critical for teams during lockdowns. “One of the key problems is that you’re less likely to notice if someone is struggling (than if you’re sat next to them every day). It’s, therefore, important to ensure you have those private chats with people in the team. Make them informal and chatty, like you would if you were standing making a coffee together. Give people both space and opportunity to tell you if they have problems or need help, without having the embarrassment of making the call themselves or confessing in front of the whole team.”
Jimmy Williams of Urban Jungle notes, “ we are putting money into things like coaching and counseling, which will help people get through this tough winter, and setting up processes as a business which will give us sight of when people are struggling, and how we can support them. We’re now spending about £150 per head per month on new initiatives to support our team through things like mental health coaching and remote socials. We used to spend money on happy hours and after-work drinks. These days, it’s more likely to be online yoga sessions or counseling.”
Keiron Sparrowhawk is a neuroscientist and founder of the mind restoring and cognitive workout app, MyCognition. Many companies have been encouraging their staff to download the app and use daily to improve their mental health as part of caring for their teams during lockdowns.
He says: “Working from home might be ideal for some, but can make many others feel very isolated, especially when for a long-term basis.
“This is particularly pertinent for people who are either “deep thinkers” or “creative types” and require face to face human contact to express their thoughts and feelings. It has never been so important for employers to consider their staff’s mental health when making long term work from home plans. Ensure that there are routine communications across and between staff members, with regular updates, agreed targets, and sufficient team support in place.”
Andrew Hirsch of Engaging Business says that employers shouldn’t worry about productivity. People will be more productive if they respect the lunch hour.
The shared equity management platform Vestd has been running remotely for two years. Ifty Nasir, the CEO, says that the most important thing when it comes to teams during lockdowns is trust. You’ll need to get comfortable with the fact that you can’t see your colleagues each day, so how will you know for sure that they’re working? Focus on the output, not input.”
Ifty says you need to trust one another to take responsibility for their own performance against agreed deliverables, outputs, and outcomes. He also says that tools and regular video meetings can help you track progress and performance. “Be transparent – share plans for the future. Share recruitment news, customer feedback, and changes in processes and policies. Training and mentoring, online, are also very important for teams during lockdowns.”
During the first lockdown, practicalities, especially surrounding equipment and tech maintenance, were a big stress source. Jimmy Williams of Urban Jungle says that they gave everyone in the team a £300 per person allowance to buy home office gear in the first week of lockdown, including proper chairs and standing desks.
Francesca Dowling, Head of Compliance at the business money app, Amaiz, warns that working from home increases fraud risk. She advises that employers need to make sure their team treats security as a priority, installing updates, having secure passwords, and making regular changes of them mandatory. She also warns against data being held on personal laptops unless they have quality anti-virus software.
With many people struggling financially, caring for your teams during lockdown should include ensuring they get the right financial help and advice.
Tommy McNally, the founder of Tommys Tax, says: “With employees working from home, they are using their own gas, water, and electricity. This is all stuff they can claim for, but so many don’t bother because they’re too busy, they don’t realize they’re eligible, or it’s just too complicated. It’s also worth checking that they are on the right tax code and if there are other things that they could be eligible to claim for when working from company’s premises, such as uniforms, travel costs, or food.”
Andrew Hirsch of Engaging Business says that it is important “for everyone working from home to take time out and have a zoom-free lunch hour every day. Employers should encourage everyone to take an hour to grab a takeaway coffee, go for a walk, and get outside. Stepping away from the computer for an hour will help to reset and refocus.”
Amy Appleby’s company is Happy Healthy Holistic. She provides upbeat, therapeutic virtual entertainment for corporate events and private parties and her work has become a vital part of caring for teams during lockdown.
Amy has found striking commonalities between each group she has worked with and the people within them. She says that “even those who have kept their income and continue to work albeit largely or entirely from home, they are still wide-eyed and on high alert. The teams I interact with are a mix of bored, worried, overworked, underwhelmed, brave, lonely, and fatigued in varying degrees.” Amy gets them moving and gives them permission to laugh, too often forgotten by teams during lockdowns.
She says that work-life balance has deteriorated since COVID. Commuting time is being spent working; people are always on call and using work to keep their minds off the world around them. They have no evenings out or holidays to look forward to. This lifestyle leads not just to inefficiency and errors but burnout and breakdowns for individuals and teams during lockdowns.
Amy suggests that companies schedule remote movement, entertainment, and social activities between working sessions, emphasizing light-hearted, and sociable. Ideally, hire a professional but if money is tight, encourage team members to take the sessions in turns.
She also suggests that companies encourage their teams during lockdowns to have clear working hours, structured breaks, and log-off and personal time. Also, encourage them to avoid technology during all out-of-work time and choose physical activities instead, ideally outside and connected to nature. Wherever possible, advise team members to store their work equipment and paperwork away during weekends and evenings, well away from relaxing areas.
Hannah-Beth Clark of The Little Surprises Company, which runs team events for many large and small companies. They do everything from murder mysteries, writing salons, murder mysteries, and musical comedy gigs to reflexology workshops. All are now available remotely.
Hannah-Beth had just hosted an online chocolate tasting and spent ten hours packing celebrations boxes for a google party when we spoke. Caring for teams during lockdowns is keeping her busier than ever.
There is nothing quite like getting a thank you, and that matters more than ever for your teams during lockdowns. Hannah-Beth also manages to juggle a job as a teacher, and she told me that they do shout-outs to each other every Friday morning, and they find that saying thank you is absolutely the best thing for morale.