8 Things We’ve Learnt About Leading a Team Through Lockdown

By Felicity Griffiths
25th February 2021

It seems to us and those we speak to, that agencies have been working harder than ever throughout the pandemic. Not only has the influx of businesses moving online created a constant wave of new business, but it’s meant the competition online is tougher for the existing client base too.

The work is exciting, it’s varied, and don’t get me wrong, we’re immensely appreciative we’ve been able to keep growing, but it does feel we’re ‘always on’.

Working from home has added to this feeling, there’s no commute at the end of the day to decompress from the brainpower; there’s no definitive line between work you and home you.

Our mindset stays tuned into work at all times, the laptop in the corner of the room constantly reminding you that work is sat there needing to be done.

As a management team, we’ve tried and tested different ways to ensure the team look after themselves during this time and avoid burnout. We’re still trying things, we’ll always be evolving our approach – so I’m not saying we’ve got it totally right, but there are certainly some things we’ve learnt on the way which have contributed to a healthy work environment that we thought it could be useful to share.

1. Slack statuses exist… and they work!

We’ve always used Slack to communicate, even when we were in the office, because we’ve always had a relaxed approach to working from home and needed to be able to easily communicate across teams.

A few months into the pandemic however, we discovered Slack statuses and realised that we could use them to easily communicate when we were and weren’t available.

We use them for telling the rest of the agency when we’re on lunch, when we’re having a break, when we’re concentrating and don’t want to be disturbed, when we’re on a call – and lots more.

Not only has this helped massively in terms of visibility across the team – but individually, being able to definitively set your status to away to take a little break or to take your lunch allows you to switch off mentally, knowing the rest of the agency won’t be messaging you.

This is something we still need to remind the team on every now and again, because we want them to actively take those breaks away, but the take up has been strong and it’s significantly improved ease of communication across the agency.

2. Flexible working needed more encouragement

We’ve always been relaxed in terms of working hours, when you take your lunch, how long you take etc. but during the first lockdown, we all seemed to be confined to the same working hours and routine.

Usually in the office, some people would come in a bit later if they had a long commute or the train times worked out that way, or people would leave earlier if they preferred getting home by a certain time. Some took long lunches every now and again to meet a friend or run an errand, people grabbed coffees and cakes throughout the day together (Kapow we miss you!) and had little breaks, people went to the gym at lunch or for a run (not including myself in this, I’m in the aforementioned coffee and cake gang) – the day was flexible. You were able to structure your working day how you wanted to, because ultimately you’re the only person who knows how to get the best out of yourself.

This stopped in lockdown, and we quickly realised that most people weren’t taking any breaks and were in danger of burning out. In those first few months when we had hot and sunny weather and you could only go outside once a day, we encouraged the team to fit their work in around a different routine, we wanted people to be able enjoy the weather during the day and feel its effects on their mood and wellbeing.

If they wanted to do a gym work out mid-morning, absolutely fine! If they wanted to finish early to go on a long walk, go for it. If they wanted to start later to get their kids set up for home schooling, totally understandable.

Ultimately, we feel that we can trust our team to get the work done and plan their day to get the best out of themselves. We’ve never had anyone take advantage of this, because everyone has ownership of their accounts, so unless they hand something over to another team member – no one else is getting it done but them.

It’s about empowering them with the permission and mentality they need so they have the confidence to apply it to structuring their own days.

After a brief hiatus to begin with, we also kept our Thursday mornings off – these have always been a big part of instilling a healthy work life balance for our team.

3. There’s a thing as too many Zoom quizzes

When the pandemic began, we put in place weekly virtual get togethers – a chance to talk about something other than work and encourage the everyday conversation with colleagues we were all missing so much. But this didn’t quite work how we’d intended.

Not only is it inherently difficult for 30 members of staff to participate in casual conversation at the same time, but some people just don’t like socialising in such a large group – especially when it’s ‘organised fun’.

No amount of company-planned activities can make up for a spontaneous after-work Friday drink between a few of you. And the fact we were all still sat at our work desks (or dining / coffee tables!) in front of our laptops just wasn’t a good way to allow our staff to switch off.

So, we don’t take up any more of our team’s time than we have to, we’d rather they used that time to switch off in a way that benefits them. Now and again for specific occasions or when we feel like it we might book something in (we even had a virtual baby shower!) – but there’s nothing forced about it.

We’re all just waiting for when we can get back in the office together and catch up with each other in a natural, relaxed setting.

4. Everyone works differently

Sounds like a bit of a no-brainer but it felt like this point was really elevated in lockdown. Everyone reacted to it differently; some love working from home and are thriving with little distractions and getting through work faster than ever. Some absolutely hate it – and struggle with concentration and a lack of motivation.

We’re not claiming to be experts on this – but we’re certainly learning to better spot the signs of staff burnout in a virtual working environment. Often, we find that increased one-to-one communication gets to the bottom of the issue.

We opened our office back up after the first lockdown. Quite early on, we had members of the team really struggling mentally and emotionally to work from home. We quickly did everything we could possibly do to make the office as safe an environment it could be – we have a desk booking system, we have a state-of-the-art air fogging system, we created a new kitchen area so employees didn’t have to use the shared kitchen, and much more.

Instantly, those who were struggling had a huge boost in motivation and productivity. We now have the same few people going in regularly throughout the week, able to keep the correct distance and adhere to the rules but with a much needed change of scenery and more productive environment for them.

5. Always keep your video on

We have a bit of a rule for virtual calls to always have your video on, not only does this motivate the team to get ready for work as they usually would (just keep it to PJ bottoms then…), but to help that face-to-face socialisation.

Like many agencies, we’ve also grown in the past year – we’ve had 12 new starters in lockdown and more planned for the next few weeks, and it would have been really difficult for them to get to know the team by voice only!

To that point, we’ve also created a hub of resources for new starters with an intranet on the way, as there are so many questions new starters naturally have that would usually get asked across the desk in an office environment.

6. SharePoint is a lifesaver for new business

Lockdown accelerated our need for collaborative software – SharePoint has transformed the way we work on new business proposals, and indeed, any work across the agency.

Gone are the 50 versions of the same document and confusion two minutes before a pitch about which PowerPoint deck to use – SharePoint allows us all to work on the same document at the same time, a real game changer when we can’t all huddle around the same computer in the office making amends.

7. Celebrate the wins

It’s difficult when you’re not in the office to speak about the wins as they happen – whether that’s a piece of dream coverage going live, an uplift in search visibility, or even a personal win. In a virtual environment, communication seems largely confined to business.

We set up a channel in Slack dedicated to sharing good news, this gives the whole team instant visibility of the work we’re producing as well as providing some much needed motivation and inspiration throughout the working week.

We also introduced Pick of Pack – a monthly celebration of one member of the team, nominated for by the rest of the agency in an anonymous form whereby they win a prize and well-deserved recognition.

8. We need to lead by example

By far the hardest lesson to follow but perhaps one of the most important. Everything mentioned above can be quietly undermined by management not following through.

Again, we’re not experts and we’re certainly not perfect at this, business needs and deadlines can quickly take over and soon you’re sending out emails after hours and not taking breaks yourself. But every now and again we take a step back and think about the message that our small actions can be sending to the rest of the team.

Everyone’s felt that lockdown working paranoia; do they think I’m not working hard enough? Will they think I’m not working if I don’t reply to that message quick enough? Again, it comes back to empowering your team with the confidence to take ownership of their own working schedule and environment, and the best way of doing this is giving visibility of your own.

Following our own guidance is something we need to continue working on, but when we do and when we remind the rest of the team on it, it feels like there is an immediate sense of relief and reassurance in their own working pattern.

About
Felicity

Felicity is Wolfenden's Marketing Director, setting the strategy for our brand, marketing activity and new business.

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