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How to Strengthen Team Bonds in Tough Times

Investing in your team now will reap rewards for years to come.

Woman working remotely

Jacob Lund - stock.adobe.com

Does it seem like the world is burning around you? It does to your employees.

With emotions running high and work-life boundaries blurring during the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s time to invest in your team’s well-being and repurpose time saved on things like commuting with health and wellness activities.

In 2018, the average U.S. commuter spent 226 hours a year in transit to get to and from work. Don’t spend that time in meetings; invest it in connection and reflection. Remote teams need regular, meaningful interactions to stay strong.

An emotionally healthy team is a high-performing one. According to a report from PwC, every $1 spent on emotional well-being yields a $2.30 return in productivity. What other investment has an ROI of 130%?

To engage your employees and exceed your 2021 goals, here are my top tips and best practices:

Connect Diverse Teammates Using Gratitude

Never before in history has connecting diverse teams been so easy. But when we talk about diversity, we aren’t just discussing race, gender or ethnicity; we’re also talking about teammates who live in different time zones and who have vastly different lives and experiences.

Connect diverse teammates in low-pressure ways, such as team-building exercises. For instance, our team is one that’s spread out across different time zones, countries and continents. A common point of connection for our team is our ability to be grateful to others regardless of the situation, good or bad. We’ve spent time cultivating it as a culture, and it’s never been more prevalent. Gratitude helps us connect people from different backgrounds because gratitude is a universal human trait, feeling and behavior. When our diverse team comes together to express who or what they are grateful for, they’re better able to empathize with teammates from different upbringings and backgrounds.

These engagement programs aren’t just “feel good” initiatives, either. According to a study by Virgin Pulse, employee engagement programs result in 56% of companies seeing improvements in employee satisfaction, 40% reporting enhanced company culture and 14% seeing revenue growth.

Go Dark

How many hours out of a typical day do you actually work? A pre-pandemic survey of U.K. professionals found it’s not eight hours, but just under three. In other words, most employees spend more than half the workday on activities like visiting the watercooler, taking clients out to lunch, commuting or surfing social media.

That has changed because of the pandemic. Now, most people are spending the full eight hours staring at a screen. The trouble is, too much screen time has been linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety. Screen time overloads our senses and discourages focus by messing with our attention span.

Business leaders can encourage their teams to unplug by initiating “no-meeting days.” Our no-meeting days happen to fall on a Wednesday every week. Having dedicated days off from scheduled Zoom meetings can help your team combat Zoom fatigue and take some time away from the screen. During this time, we encourage walks in nature, solo reading time or even just sitting alone in silence with our thoughts.

If a whole day of no meetings and reduced screen time is too much to ask, encourage tiny breaks away from screens, and promote the benefits of reduced screen time. Think of this time like the pre-Covid-19 ritual of walking to the watercooler or coffee shop for a 10-minute break.

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Amplify Quiet Voices

How often do you ask someone who isn’t in a leadership position to give an inspirational, TED-style talk with the team? It probably isn’t often.

Empowerment and voice, after meaningful work, are the biggest contributors to a positive employee experience. What builds culture isn’t top-down directives, but stories from the front line. Don’t just use companywide meetings as a speaker stand. In the age of Zoom, ask everyone to weigh in, even if in a small breakout room. Even the newest nonsenior team members have important stories to share.

Having a board or forum that allows quieter individuals to write out their ideas is a way to help their stories, ideas and opinions be heard. Alternatively, it is crucial to hold time and space as a leader for any and all employees to come to you for their voices to be heard (such as an open-door policy). Holding Zoom “office hours” once a month for employees to voice their stories, ideas and opinions will help to amplify quiet voices.

Communicate Casually and Consistently

Silence does not put troubled minds at ease. Help your employees feel less stressed about the future by making them laugh often.

This doesn’t have to be difficult. One way you can bring humor into the workplace is to hire an outside comedic writer to edit your internal briefings. We invest in writing workshops to give our team different ways of sharing the same message, even when the message repeats itself due to the pandemic. It’s the consistency that’s key. If you’re lacking anything inspiring to say, turn to gratitude. Giving gratitude to small wins or positive moments as a team on a consistent basis is how you build up to big wins and big vision over time.

Who says a pandemic has to be a slog? Make the best of a bad situation by treating it as a chance to build a stronger team. To that end, employee engagement is everything.

In This Article: covid-19

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