How are furloughed teams coping and staying connecting during lockdown, and how might this need to change over time?
Many organisations have been engaging multi-channel: email updates, video messages from the CEO, WhatsApp groups, private Facebook groups and the opportunity to join pub nights and quizzes through video calling.
But here are four things are starting to become apparent:
What worked at the beginning isn’t necessarily working now
Perhaps in the first few weeks of lockdown, when everything was a bit of a novelty, furloughed staff were more inclined to join online calls, quizzes or read update emails. The longer furlough goes on, the easier it is for less contact, and staying at home on a smaller wage to feel normal.
Yet we know that team members still care about colleagues, about how teams will function on their return, and about the business as a whole.
So, consider changing it up.
At People Puzzles none of our furloughed team joined our weekly call last week for a variety of reasons, and we realised that the timing of it had got old and boring. So, we have switched to a BYOB drink this week instead. If you have been doing whole company meets, switch to team level instead. Send a personalised email to each person to see how they are (this is surprisingly easy as an email mail merge). It is going to be much harder to bring people back to work if they haven’t stayed engaged with you through the lockdown period.
Make it personal
It is very tempting to just send off bulk emails to communicate with home workers. But we have known for a long time that people don’t appreciate general updates, they prefer personal interest from their employer. One of our People Directors, Nick Lawson-Williams explains how he has been helping his travel agency client get personal:
I was asked by one of my clients to speak to the whole team – 22 employees – to see how they are coping with the situation they find themselves in. Nearly half the team have been furloughed, and the managers and the product team, are working from home.
The team have, not surprisingly, different thoughts, attitudes and emotions about these strange times we are living though. Some of the furloughed team seem comfortable with their circumstances: they have got into a routine; keeping themselves busy at home, exercising, reading, cooking and making the most of the wonderful spring weather by spending time in their gardens. Most people said they are spending a lot of time connecting with family and friends through phone calls and virtual conferencing tools. One person said they have had more contact with a family member since the lockdown than they have had for many years.
Others seem less comfortable with their circumstances. I detected with some people an element of “survivor guilt”: they are at home doing nothing but getting paid (at least 80% of the salary up to the £2500 cap) while some of their colleagues are working hard and could probably do with support. This was more pronounced with those saying they have little at home to do to keep them occupied.
Most people said they are looking forward to returning to work but some expressed concern as to what the future will look like. The travel sector has been badly impacted by coronavirus and there is no clear picture about what the future of travel will look like.
The remote workers are doing a great job keeping things going. After a week of technical issues in getting set up to work from home, all is working well now. The team is very sociable and clearly miss the office banter so this “virtual connection” with each other is important to them. Some are finding the amount of work is challenging – there’s a lot of it at the moment – and others for whom working from home is a new concept are saying that the home environment and inevitable distractions (i.e. children, pets and partners) makes it difficult to stay motivated and to concentrate. Some are saying they would prefer to be furloughed but at the same time appreciate they have jobs; and perhaps there is some resentment about members of the team at getting paid 80% for not working. Despite all this, the general flavour is to remain stoic and make the best of it.
Prepare for the fact that some of your team may be reluctant to come back to work
As businesses are beginning to open again, or switch who is and isn’t on furlough, it is clear that some people have preferred being on furlough, despite earning a lower wage.
A softly, softly approach is the right way to start, but there will come a point where the message will be ‘come back to work or you will go on unpaid leave’. Those on lower salaries are probably less likely to want to come back as they are earning very similar amounts for being at home.
Take a look at our recent Coronavirus blog on Dealing with Tricky People Issues to find out about how to get people back to work who are refusing without good reason.
Our summary tips for staying connected with your remote team – furloughed and home workers
- The furloughed team really appreciate being kept informed as to what’s going on: it helps them still feel part of, and connected to, the company. At the same time, some feel guilty at not being able to help out, especially when they can see their workmates are busy/exhausted/need help.
- Some of the furloughed team are anxious about what happens next and if they will still have jobs at the end of furlough. There is no answer to this at the moment which doesn’t help. However, it is good to let them express how they feel even if there isn’t anything that can, at this time, be done to address it.
- The team hugely appreciate opportunities for social contact with their team-mates – a drink and a laugh. Having said this, some of the more introverted employees are comfortable keeping their distance from the team and this should be respected.
- The wider team, furloughed and home-based workers, appreciate the level of communication and the support they are giving each other.
- Some haven’t had a holiday for some time, are tired and want a break
- Also, taking on board everyone’s considerations and addressing these with them where feasible is also key, e.g. Allowing some flexibility in terms of working hours so people can coordinate free time with their families.