The studio is the beating heart of most agencies, so with the coronavirus outbreak scattering your team far and wide, what’s the best way to keep spirits up, get work done and make sure everyone can tap into rock-solid support, when they really need it?
For most agency owners, a day at the studio means working with the same small, handpicked bunch of designers, developers, writers and account managers. And at tough times like these, that can pay dividends. Because when your team’s working remotely, knowing what makes them tick is worth its weight in gold.
In every agency, there’ll be the extroverts who love brainstorming ideas, bouncing around banter and being the life and soul of the studio. And there’ll be introverts, sitting in the corner in noise-cancelling headphones just doing their thing. Crafting web wonders needs a bit of focus, right?
So while your gang’s based at home, allow for those different working styles and help people play to their strengths. You might hear a lot more from your extroverts in video chats, but that doesn’t mean your introverts don’t have plenty to say. Give them time to mull over ideas before calls, give them space to speak up and remember they won’t always ask when they need extra support.
Encourage everyone to work the same hours that they would in the studio, if they can. If they get up, get dressed and get cracking at the same time as usual, it’ll help them mentally prep for work, and it’s always easier to get things done when everyone’s available at the same time.
That said, these are unusual times, and anyone with children is going to have a lot to juggle (more on that below) so be kind, be flexible and be really clear on when everyone’s free. Sending round a list of everyone’s working hours can be a good way to make sure nobody’s pestered while they’re parenting – or left wondering why a colleague’s out of reach.
When you’re working from home with loads to do, hours can fly by before you know it. So tell people to take breaks, move about and get some fresh air if they can – just like they would at work. It can make a massive difference to creativity, energy levels and mental wellbeing.
Draw a line at the end of the day too. Encourage people to finish when they usually would, clear their work away and protect their personal time. Some people even find it useful to try exercise or relaxation techniques during the time they’d usually be commuting – it’s a good way to help your team distance work life from home life, clear their heads and properly unwind.
Like we said, right now things are pretty chaotic for working parents, so work with them to put together a plan. It may well be that they can only manage half days, need to fit work in during the evenings, or even have to take a break if a partner isn’t well.
And they’re not the only ones. Chances are, someone on your team might need to self-isolate with symptoms, or might even develop coronavirus. So be prepared to cut people some slack, know you might be shorthanded and be realistic with your clients.
We’re all in the same boat here and your clients will be working from home too, so be honest with them, try not to overcommit your team and avoid making promises it’ll kill you to keep.
Staying in touch with your people has never been more important. They need to feel connected right now and there’s a world of awesome tech out there to help you make that happen – however far away you might be. So tap into tools like Slack, Basecamp, Trello or whatever else your team feels comfortable with, and use them to make collaborating super quick and easy.
All of those options are amazing for powering through projects, but don’t forget the personal side of things too. Try to set up a group call once a day, even if it’s just for 15 minutes in the morning – and ask everyone to turn their cameras on. Seeing people’s faces helps us understand them so much better, and feel like we’ve actually shared part of our day with them. It’s great for boosting team spirit and can be a total lifeline for anyone living alone.
These calls are the perfect chance to check in with everyone – and the small talk is just as important as the work. If you can set tasks for the day that’s brilliant, but giving people a chance to chat, troubleshoot and make each other laugh will keep your team stronger, and happier. Setting up a team WhatsApp for informal chat throughout the day can be a great idea too.
If your team isn’t used to working from home, they might have a whole new bunch of distractions to deal with. Try to give team members with kids time to find their feet – and potentially get their heads around home schooling. They might find working as a tag team with their partner helps – dividing the day in two and being clear with the kids when they can and can’t be disturbed.
But be aware of other distractions too – it could be time to dish out some more of those noise-cancelling headphones for anyone trying to work in a busy shared house. And you might find people struggle to switch off from the news and social media when they’re away from the studio.
Encourage people to avoid checking news updates throughout the day, maybe just checking in before and after work to get the headlines. The constant drip-feed of bad news isn’t just distracting, it’s inevitably going to make people anxious, unsettled and down, which won’t be good for productivity – or their mental health.
Likewise, ask people gently to go steady on social media while they’re working. The key to this whole home-working set-up is trust, so tread lightly and be supportive, rather than laying down the law. But there are some handy free (or almost free) apps out there to help people switch off from social for a few hours – things like Flipd or Appblock.
It’s estimated that one in six workers is dealing with a mental health problem right now, and whether that’s anxiety, depression, panic disorder or OCD, it’s pretty likely someone in your team is quietly suffering. Add a generous helping of coronavirus-related anxiety and some lockdown-based loneliness and they could be having a really tough time.
Make sure people know your door is always (virtually at least) open, if they want to talk something through, share their worries or get some extra support. But be aware that when people are struggling with their mental health, they don’t always feel comfortable speaking up.
So, while you’re working remotely, it’s even more important to keep an eye on how everyone’s doing – and have those regular team video chats. Look out for things like changes in someone’s behaviour or mood, a drop in performance, difficulty making decisions or a loss of interest in something they used to enjoy. They’re all tell-tale signs something’s wrong.
If you feel someone needs your support, make time to talk one-on-one, either over the phone or on a video call. Ask simple, non-judgemental questions, listen and let them explain things in their own words. From there, make a plan together and keep checking in with them to see whether it’s helping – and what else they might need.
There are also some great resources like this from the mental health charity Mind.
You’re all in this together (and we’re right by your side)
None of us have ever lived through – or worked through – times like these before. We know it’s not easy to run a business when everything’s so uncertain, and keeping team morale strong might feel like an uphill struggle, but whatever you give, you really will get back in return.
All the time you invest in supporting your people is building trust, loyalty and a team you’ll be able to turn to time and time again when you need to wow a client, meet a deadline or take your business to the next level.