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  • Writer's pictureLaura Weil

Re-living team-building in Home Office

How to strengthen employee retention and motivation in Home Office?

2020 forced many companies to introduce home office not just as an exception or special reward, but as the new normal. Home office or mobile work before was considered a privilege, now became the new standard for most employees within a very short time.

The first studies from 2020 have shown that employees often find the home office stressful after the first few weeks. The boundaries between work and private life become blurred, everyday routines such as commuting to work fall away, and new challenges at home with family and partner or even all alone are added (source: Very Well Mind, March 2020).

In May 2020, many people posted tips and tricks on how to handle it at its best.

But working remote does not affect the individual level but it ultimately shifts the culture of teams.

Relationship rituals with colleagues disappeared or need to be done online - which becomes now a higher burden because we are sitting for hours in Zoom. The chat at the coffee machine, the business lunch or the after-work beer were valuable rituals before the home office, where employees could meet and strengthen their relationship with each other and the company.

The economic challenges of declining orders, short-time work or technical challenges are immense, but employee cohesion and motivation should also be on the priority list of managers. If companies do not prioritise employee motivation and retention in times of crisis, they run the risk of having a burnt-out, unmotivated workforce that cannot sustain the upturn, at the latest when the crisis is over.

How can managers motivate their employees and retain them despite distance and online communication?

The situation of working remote as the new normal also offers the opportunity to strengthen a culture and organisation from the inside, to motivate employees and to retain them in the long term. The opportunity reveals from the external securities that are faltering. The security of routines, economic success and commitment in planning changed to volatility, short-term planning and risk-taking. This external development in society and the economy, increases the need for an internal security from within the company.

The need for security is anchored in all people and needs stability in groups of any kind. In order not to fall into a lethargy or hysteria of the group due to a lack of security, the change of perspective towards the inside is necessary. To strengthen the inner resources and connections among individual employees and leaders.

The core element for a successful strengthening of the inner core is conscious communication.

In the office, you could still feel and perceive quite well the mood and atmosphere in a meeting room. Or sense the subtle expressions and moods of colleagues. This level of body language is less pronounced in the home office, since you can usually only see your face or upper body in the camera, or even talk on the phone without a picture.

Instead, the level of conscious communication is trained. Communication that focuses on language, words and expressions and allows us to literally "read through the lines." Phrases like "This is so tough" or "I always have to do everything here by myself" already provide insights on what employees are currently concerned about and which needs are not filled.

Conscious communication is the main element of relationship-oriented leadership

And relationship-oriented leadership picks up on a main aspect: Needs.

Perceiving and recognizing which needs are important to the other person and which are also currently neglected helps managers and colleagues assess what the other person needs at the moment. How to pick him or her up and help to fulfil their needs.

Because one thing is clear: When important needs are in deficit, we humans have difficulties to work in our full energy, with all our knowledge and capacity.

Therefore, leadership is evolving more and more in the direction of empathic leadership, understanding others and meeting them where they are.

The model of relational needs by psychologist and transactional analyst Richard G. Erskine provides a simple framework for perceiving, recognizing and responding to the individual needs of employees.

Source: Richard G. Erskine

On the basis of the eight relationship needs, which are weighted differently for each person, a manager can learn to recognize the needs of his or her employees in communication and to respond to them.

And each individual can also use this model to understand which of his or her own resources are currently strengthened and which have a deficit. In this way, one's own motivation and that of the employees can be managed and relationships can also be maintained and strengthened online. When we perceive our own needs from the inside and determine what we need, we can only gain strength and motivation from our energy and resources.

How can you recognize the relevant relationship needs of your employees?

The words, phrases and comparisons that employees use give a good indication of which needs are relevant to them. And at the same time, which ones are neglected and should be strengthened in order to work in a motivated and energetic way. As a manager, it is helpful to primarily ask questions in conversations and to engage with the other person with curiosity.

Managers or colleagues can also build new ways of meeting to create a space for such conversations and relationship strengthening. It helps to create a framework for this outside of project-based meetings.

New ways to connect:

  • Regular communication: use daily check-ins not for status reports, but to engage in casual conversation. For example, with extended "how are you" questions (e.g., asking specifically about family, personal hobbies and passions, current mood). This can also be extended as a team through "warm-up" sessions (see below).

  • In-person sessions: online coffee sessions, lunch sessions.

  • Monday Morning Growth Sessions: create personal development opportunities online, e.g., 30 minutes of input and practice every Monday morning

Warm-up Ideas:

  • What was the first job you did to make money? (This reveals very exciting insights into the personalities of colleagues, e.g. grave caretaker, babysitter, photographer)

  • What would you do if you lived on the North Pole for a year?

  • What would your autobiography be called?

Being creative, open-minded and interested in new ways of meeting people is the most important thing. It can be a bit unusual for one or the other in the team, but in return there is the possibility to pull out something online. Managers should create opportunities, because employees often do not approach managers directly and proactively with their concerns.

By Laura Weil, Founder & Coach of Monday Morning Growth - Your 30 minute Team Development Session every Monday Morning

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