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Like a Boss: “We won’t be working together in an office for a year. How can I keep my team motivated?”

August 20, 2020
By

Welcome to Lattice’s advice column for new managers, “Like a Boss.” I’m your host, Jennifer Romolini. I’m an editor, an author (of the career guide “Weird In a World That’s Not”), and, yes, a boss who’s been managing other humans for the past dozen or so years at companies both giant and tiny, at quick and dirty startups and multi-layered corporations, with remote and in-office teams ranging from five to 45. I’m also a speaker who talks about succeeding at work even when you feel like a freak. And, sometimes, I give advice, like right now.  

Dear Boss,

We just got word that our company is going to be working remotely until July 2021, and the idea of being out of the office for another full year is hitting a lot of my people particularly hard. How do I keep momentum going? I know it’s summer — should I just consider this month a wash and try to start something new in the fall? What do I do to keep employees engaged? My staff is really dragging. 

Signed,

Slow going in Seattle

Dear Slow Going,

As we hit what feels like the 400th month of COVID (I know it’s only the fifth, but still: the fifth!) and as we’re deep into the scorching-long days of August, when employees either wish they were on vacation OR actually are on vacations, it’s hard to know how much pressure to actually put on the gas. To me, salvaging dragging morale at this moment seems like an exercise in letting go, in rethinking your approach to managing the work day, and perhaps even managing itself. 

I’m not suggesting you throw in the August towel, or the September one, or any of the towels left in this bizarre pandemic towel game we find ourselves in. But as a manager, now is the time to laser focus and prioritize, to use the energy you have to create efficiencies and avoid busywork. It’s a time to boost morale; to be human, empathetic, and, most of all — when and if you can — fun. That means identifying with your supervisors the company’s most immediate/pressing challenges; setting clear, realistic goals on how to meet them; and postponing nice-to-have projects that could overtax an already vulnerable/emotionally maxed team. 

Here’s some other stuff you can do to motivate your employees long term and — shorter term — shake them out of their August haze.

1. Celebrate daily progress, not just big wins

This pandemic is (obviously) not the sprint we’d all hoped it would be, but more a marathon, a test of our long-term endurance. Which is why it’s critical to view work right now in a similar fashion — as a longer-term journey, not a race to a favorable outcome or a winning end result. One way to do this is to think of your team’s success as a daily practice and celebrate the progress they achieve every day.

Acknowledging daily progress is actually not just a strategy for pandemic times, but an idea that’s been studied and promoted for years. Recently, researchers at the Harvard Business School found that recognition of small accomplishments — the daily progress we make on a goal or a project — is a key indicator of greater productivity and even happiness.  

So set smaller daily goals (ie. Can we improve our customer service score today? See a high-level of engagement on a social media post? Boost our online sales of X item by X small amount?) and find a time each day to champion employee progress. And if you're a Lattice customer, you can share that recognition in Lattice Praise, either publicly or privately.

2.  Keep a staff-wide “completed” list

This one is simple: Keep a shared team to-do list, update it every week with every small task the team needs to finish (with stakeholders’ names next to them), and have your staff virtually cross off each item as it’s completed. And if you can link these tasks to OKRs, you can track them as progress against larger overall goals. And if you're Lattice user, you can do this via the Goals tool. This will keep you all organized and focused, yes, but more than that it will replicate the satisfaction and motivation we all feel checking something off a task list, only this time, writ large.

3. Build a reward system

When she was four, my daughter’s preschool class featured something called a “kindness crown,” a cheap gilded plastic hat that was worn by that day’s kindest student and so revered and coveted by the children it may as well have been made of solid gold. Of course your staff doesn’t need a kindness crown — or do they? — and you shouldn’t infantilize them or institute an arbitrary or overly complicated prize system that may make them feel stressed out, annoyed, or bad. But a simple gesture, a small, weekly token that acknowledges smart and engaged work (an inexpensive gift card, an afternoon off, company swag), can go a long way to bringing joy in a time when there’s a dearth of it. 


Lattice’s people management software helps you build feedback and recognition into your team's everyday routines. We bring employee engagement surveys, performance reviews, and employee career development together in one platform, giving your company an edge in retaining top talent. To learn how Lattice helps over 1,850 companies keep employee turnover at bay, watch a product tour.