Over the last 6 months, we have been working with small local businesses in Portsmouth and London, and with big global corporations.   What we are seeing across the board is very long period of intensive stress for people who used to work in offices and who are working from home.

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Every business has spent the last 6 months reacting to a crisis, trying to save each other’s jobs and keep providing our services, and I think I’m right in saying we all hoped we’d be coming out the other side right now. For some of us, working remotely was not new — but what’s different is the pace of work is so much faster, and the pressure that everyone is under is so much greater, and that’s on top of the stress of home schooling, and caring for older or lonely family members.

It is very difficult for the majority of workers right now, no matter how big your business is, or even the sector you’re working in. And after 6 months of uncertainty, there’s no end in sight. But there are ways to make it feel more manageable.

Here are 5 ways teams are working well together in tough times

1. Communicate much more than before

You may think sending out one email a month is enough, but as the situation is changing so fast, keeping your people updated is important, and you need to do so more often. One business we work with in supply chain are updating their customers twice a day.

Telling your customers and your employees what is happening in your business is crucial to keep their support. Even if you don’t know how immediate events will affect you, sharing your concerns and plans helps people to understand what you’re going through and how you are making decisions.

When you are communicating, be careful with your tone — sometimes official guidelines can seem strict or unfeeling, so consider how to make sure every message has the right tone to help people customers or employees feel understood, supported and valued.

2. Tell people how to support you

It’s tempting at work to try to appear really successful and professional, but now more than ever, we have the permission to be honest with each other and explain how the situation is affecting us, even to our clients and customers.

One of the big companies we work with sent out an email asking their teams to support other small agencies like ours, especially now, after finding out how serious it can be for us to lose just one project. On the other hand we’ve been in the crazy situation of being a small company giving free trainings to our clients in big companies because their budgets have been stopped by their bosses. We knew they needed the support and the training, and we knew they would remember we helped them.

There are big and small ways we can support each other, and it feels good and at least it’s something positive to do. As Maya Angelou said, people may forget what you say, but they will always remember how you made them feel. How we support each other now, whether as colleagues, clients, customers or employees will be remembered for years to come.

3. Don’t forget to connect

It’s so important to take the time to connect as people right now, especially when working remotely. When we work together in person we can have a chat by the coffee machine, or standing at the train station together, or even walking down a corridor looking for a meeting room. It’s those little moments, when we ask each other about our lives, that we build trust and relationships.

So even if you’re in back to back zooms, it’s not a waste of time to do a personal check in at the start of every meeting. This could be as simple as asking what people did on the weekend, or what holiday they’d like to plan for next year, anything that helps people hear each other and understand each other before getting down to work keeps us connected as human beings in between the zooms.

I heard a John Lewis manager on a webinar the other day saying they have set up a 10 minute meditation meeting every morning before work, which helps people to share a moment together and calm down before the day starts. Making sure we connect with each other is so important to help with the stress and to keep our mental health strong.

4. Don’t just put it online without thinking

Very rarely can you take something that used to be in person and just do it the same but online. This rule applies not just to conferences but to meetings, workshops and trainings that need to be adapted for online. No one can spend 8 hours in an online training — it’s just crazy to even think that’s acceptable, and I can’t believe people are doing it! You can do more offline prep tasks, pre-reads and pre-records for shorter live online events, and keep live time for true interaction, not pretending to listen for hours while checking emails.

Give your teams permission to have shorter meetings like a default 15 or even 30 mins rather than 1 hour, and leaving time between meetings to reflect or work. Keep some days free from meetings so you can catch up and take care of yourself, for example if Monday has 5 catch up meetings, keep Tuesday meeting free.

We can and must say no to too many meetings, and respectfully explain the pressure we are under, to try and protect our own time and mental health. We have to try to take back control of our time and not spend it in back to back zooms.

5. Create small, easy wins

Someone joked that the biggest waste of money this year was the 2020 calendar they bought. I certainly feel the same about the strategy piece I did for my business at the beginning of this year! No one knows when or if things will return to how they were. Businesses need to work as well as they can in the current situation rather than wait for things to change back to how they used to be, or they’ll be delaying the actions they need to take to adapt.

We can’t do long term or even medium-term planning, but we can set out small team goals to achieve. Whether it’s a small internal training event or a date in the diary for a few weeks time to share best practice with clients, having something achievable to work towards makes people feel good and keeps up positive momentum. We all need something to aim for while we work out what is going to happen and when we might recover from all of this.

We have the opportunity right now to reset for the better

Even before Covid, we were all working far too hard, far too fast, with fewer resources, and that wasn’t sustainable then. It’s even less sustainable now to work this way. This is our chance to create a better way.

Let’s reset how we talk with our customers, how we treat our staff, how and where we choose to work. We all went through a massive learning curve at the beginning of lockdown, but there’s still a lot of opportunity for businesses to keep innovating — we can learn from where we are now, improve what we are offering our customers and create better value in our businesses. Now is the time to keep improving how we do things, so that we can work together well, despite the tough times.

Article first published via Medium in The Innovation October 2020