How to Help Employees Working From Home Stay Engaged and Productive

leadership Mar 30, 2020

First time running a remote team? Here are 6 ways to make sure your team is on track, motivated, and happy while working from home.

In this video, I'm joined by my partner, Sinem. We live in London, and like the rest of the city, and most of the planet, we are under lockdown. I enlisted Sinem's help because, aside from being my wonderfully supportive partner, she is also a Digital Technology Director at a global consumer goods company and an expert at leading geographically distributed teams.  

Almost overnight, working from home was thrust upon us. And while some of us are used to varying degrees of working remotely. For many, this is something unfamiliar, even scary.

We are all trying to navigate an unforeseen crisis: you, your family, your employees, your customers and partners. Everyone is going through some form of a change curve.

Initially, the idea of working from home was met with enthusiasm—no more commute and jokes about working pyjamas. But disillusionment soon kicks in when kids and pets become "Coworkers" and "Colleagues"; the Wi-Fi buckles under the combined load of a couple of Zoom sessions, a dose of Netflix and a budding YouTube influencer in the basement.

Quickly, uncertainty and panic take hold. How long will this uncertainty last, you wonder, before the search for a guilty party begins—COVID-19, the government, the kids, the cat.

Like you, most of your employees are going through some degree of change. The question is, how do you help them settle into this new way of working and help them stay productive.

Well, here are 6 ideas Sinem and I have come to make sure your team is on track, motivated, and happy while working from home.

1) Start with yourself

SINEM: You’ve heard the old adage about putting on your own mask before helping others put on theirs. We can’t help others if we don’t take care of ourselves first. If I can't understand what I am going through and look after myself, how can I help and support my parents, my partner, my friends or my team?

I started by replacing old routines with new routines. A couple of weeks ago, I was going to a Pilates instructor a couple of times a week and enjoying dinner dates with friends. Those routines and social events are no more. To deal with the change, I've created new routines. I start my day with a meditation using the Headspace app and Yoga using Downdog App for Yoga—like many companies; they are offering free membership. In the evenings, I do breathwork with The BreathGuy on Instagram live. 

I've also built connecting with my family into my routine. We check-in in the morning and I talk to my parents in Istanbul. I want to make sure my loved ones are okay and feeling connected through conversation.

Also, I stick to my morning routine, getting ready for work as if I were going into the office. That means doing my hair, putting on makeup, wearing earrings—sure I wear tights below the waist, but I want to feel like it's any other day at the office.

2) Help your team to settle into working from home

JEAN: As scary as this is for you, it's just as unsettling for your employees. Your first goal should be to get everyone comfortable and into a rhythm. I saw a Tweet from WP Engine's Partner Manager, thanking the company for delivering a desk and sticking to their values.


SINEM: At the office, most people have a structured work environment. Perhaps surprisingly, many employees enjoy the structure the office environment brings. Working at a kitchen counter on a laptop, competing for bandwidth is very different from the comfortable office chair, large monitor and fast internet at the office. People need time to settle into their new work environment, and you can support them by:

  • Giving them time to explore their new working environment;
  • Supporting them to create a comfortable work environment;
  • Sharing resources with them to help them deal with the change;
  • Recognize that team members will have different routines, do your best to accommodate them:
  • Begin and end the day with 15-minute catch-up sessions—setting the tasks for the day and checking progress at the close.  

Structuring our days in a disciplined way to ensure productivity, effectiveness and most importantly, that work is not bleeding into home life.  

3) Be communicative and supportive

JEAN: We all handle change differently. While some team members can comfortably settle into the work from home routine, others will struggle. Uncertainty and isolation can cause frustration and panic. Make sure you are accessible to your team, and that you are continually communicating what is going on.

Your employees are going through many of the same anxiety you are experiencing. Like you, they're worried about a lack of control, or about their 80-year-old parents that live in another city or country who they are unable to visit.

Be supportive and understanding of the challenges they are facing in this uncertain time. 

4) Maintain Social Interactions

SINEM: Social interactions are essential, and most employees are feeling more isolated than ever. We've taken our social activities online. I've scheduled recurring virtual coffee breaks and a weekly happy hour with my team. 

Creating an environment that encourages banter and non-work related conversation helps keep personal connections. We've created a space where people can drop in or out. It's an optional activity, where we're not talking about work. People can go as deep as people want or need talking about the challenges of daily life in a lockdown. 

My team is spread across the globe, so I've scheduled a couple of times to accommodate everyone in the coffee breaks. And our virtual happy hour happens every Thursday at 4 pm.

In our first session, there were few. But we stuck with it. I think that at first, people saw it as just another work meeting. However, after a week more people joined—with their drinks in hand!

There is an opportunity in the uncertainty and our new way of working is encouraging deeper connections. In the office environment, we wear a mask. When you're working from home, you tend to drop your mask—you are more human. Now we're even including family and pets, and the conversations have become deeper and more meaningful.

5) Take advantage of collaboration tools

JEAN: We have so many tools to make working from home easier—Zoom, Teams, WhatsApp, Quip, Dropbox, Slack, Jira... the list goes on. However, the best advice I can give to leaders and owners is to provide your employees with the freedom to use the applications for family and friends outside of working hours.

SINEM: Yes, our company is permitting staff to use their company Zoom accounts to connect with family and friends outside of work time. This is another great example of a company sticking with its core values during a very uncertain time.

6) Embrace a new way of working

JEAN: Many of us have been through economic downturns. We always recover and will this time, too. The question is, what can we take away from this experience that makes us better leaders and helps create a more valuable business.

We have the opportunity to explore new ways of working, time to learn new skills and reflect on how our businesses operate. It's the perfect opportunity to put systems and guidelines in place that give your team the autonomy they need to run the business without you around.

It's a stressful time for everyone. Business owners and employees alike. However, every cloud has a silver lining. And if you are a business owner who has dreamt of having a valuable business that runs itself, now is the perfect opportunity to set that plan in motion.

I want to close by thanking Sinem for joining me on this video. It was the first time she has done something like this and I while she took it in her stride it was something a little daunting for her.

Be sure to also check out: 

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