Executive Education

How You Can Support Your Team While Having Fun Remotely

If this were a normal workweek, I’d be at the office. I’d drop by people’s desks to check on them and see what they’re doing. But our current circumstances are far from normal.

Like so many other leaders, I’m disconnected physically from my teammates for safety reasons related to the coronavirus. It has been a huge shift to be in charge of a remote team so suddenly because I thrive on face-to-face communication. I enjoy impromptu brainstorms with colleagues and the sounds of laughter from down the hall. I even like being available to troubleshoot problems that need an executive touch. No one wants an out-of-sight CEO, especially now. To stay present, I call each person on my staff every few days.

To be sure, the majority of my employees have adapted well to the realities of remote work. Thanks to technology and the world’s innate connectedness, my team can generally complete tasks from home. But despite our success in dealing with this massive change, we’re still stumbling over how to get certain processes done efficiently and on time.

Take the new products that we’re launching next year: Since we can’t all sit in a room together carving out plans and throwing around ideas, we have to be more strategic in reaching our end goal. We’ve had to break down every process into its smallest piece. That way, we’re able to move forward successfully and not miss any moving parts that would have been obvious if we were all in the same place.

As a result, many more considerations have to be made in the day-to-day. And let’s be honest: The day-to-day is busy enough as it is. My employees aren’t working any less than before COVID-19, and many of them are working more. I appreciate their diligence, spirit, and loyalty — but I also encourage them to engage in frequent mental and physical breaks to stay energized and motivated.

Bringing Lightheartedness to Hard Times

If you’re leading a group of talented people remotely, rest assured that you don’t have to watch your team’s engagement wither under the pressures of working from home during a pandemic. There are easy ways to spice up the workday for them, thereby increasing motivation and engagement.

Remember that work isn’t everything. People feel valued when they’re treated like human beings, and human beings blossom with a little levity and joy. Show your employees that you appreciate their hard work — and bring the fun — with some of my tried-and-true methods:

  1. Set up regular snack deliveries.
    Getting a surprise delivery of chips, dried fruits, crackers, and more can turn your employees’ mood from “it’s just another day” to “it’s just another day in paradise.” We all need to eat, right? Plus, everyone can share their favorite new snacks during your next video meeting. I love sending boxes from SnackNation, which offers a great lineup of goodies and treats that will appeal to just about everyone on your payroll.
  2. Give out restaurant gift cards.
    Although restaurants are beginning to open around the country, many people haven’t warmed up to the idea of going out for meals. Yet even the most experienced home chef needs a night off every now and then. Food delivery has risen astronomically since the start of the pandemic, but not all your employees may have treated themselves to delicious dishes sent right to their doors. Gift cards from Grubhub, DoorDash, and the like allow your workers to “go out” to dinner without leaving their homes.
  3. Arrange themed video calls.
    Zoom calls are quickly becoming stale. To liven things up, turn an everyday Zoom meeting into a themed gathering. Have everyone send baby pictures, then have team members guess whose photo they’re seeing. You could also ask attendees to set up fun backgrounds, wear silly hats, or show off their pets. Some companies even host formal meetings where employees dress in gowns and tuxedos — which could be a fun break from the standard WFH uniform (i.e., sweatpants). You don’t have to go that far, but you might enjoy adding a bit of excitement to mix up your online meetings.
  4. Share shelter-in-place recipes.
    Self-isolation has turned people who couldn’t boil water into veritable master chefs. Set up a shared document where your team members can upload their favorite recipes. Be sure to ask colleagues to include drink suggestions, too, since we could all use a happy hour right now. This digital take on an old-fashioned recipe exchange gets people talking about something other than their growing to-do lists. Who knows? You might amass enough recipes to create a company-produced e-book as a special giveaway for clients!

Like it or not, we’re in this COVID-19 craziness together. Prove that you’re a leader who has empathy, insight, compassion, and a dash of humor by instituting internal initiatives that will leave your team replenished and ready for whatever comes next.

Commentary by Alison Gutterman. Here’s what you’ve missed?

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Alison Gutterman
Alison Gutterman is the president and CEO of Jelmar, the family-owned cleaning products manufacturer of CLR and Tarn-X products. She began her career at Jelmar in 1993 without a title or a desk and was named president in 2007.

Alison Gutterman is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn.