By Rowena Rolt

For many of us, this has been the most challenging year of our lives. Each day I am amazed to hear the monumental changes that teams have been forced to implement rapidly, all of which in a climate of continuous uncertainty and dynamism. It’s too early to make assumptions about the overall impact on our mental health, nervous systems and general wellbeing. However, as a psychotherapist and coach I can say that there is undoubtedly a rise in anxiety and huge shifts are happening in terms of peoples’ attitudes towards work and the workplace.

Homeworking for some was already the norm but for many has been an adjustment that comes with an array of ‘distractions’ with children and partners no doubt turning up the volume at your new workstation. Many people are feeling isolated whilst others are welcoming more time with family, celebrating less commuting time, reigniting their passion for hobbies and generally having more time to do the things that matter. One client described his experience as liberating and another like being in a pressure cooker.

As a team manager the most important thing is not to make assumptions about how your team are doing. Engagement is not about motivation and inspiring speeches; it is about connection and being real. If you want to engage your team virtually consider the following:

1. Listen – Do you care, and have you shown that you care?

Perhaps authenticity starts with caring about your team’s wellbeing and showing a genuine interest in each person’s experience. Some people won’t say too much on a collective Zoom call and so it might be thoughtful to connect with people individually. Ask them how they are feeling, what they are doing to cope with the changes and challenges and most importantly ask them what support they need from you and the team.

2. Collaborate – Are you involving people enough in deciding what’s needed?

There is wisdom in the crowd. Ask your team what they need and do some creative brainstorming exercises using an interactive whiteboard available on most online platforms. One team I have worked with throughout lockdown decided they needed random coffee check-ins with each other at routine times as well as their regular business meetings. The shift to remote working increases the need for social engagement which in turn stimulates the vagus nerve and helps people with their anxiety. The more people feel consulted, involved and connected the quicker things will move forward.

3. Coach – Are you coaching people to take ownership of tasks, goals and deadlines?

Now is the perfect time to get some coaching training for you and your team. Through using coaching models, the team can learn to coach each other and you in order for everyone to share responsibility for targets, goals and results. The beauty of coaching is that it encourages action and ownership plus it supports everyone to know their role and stay focused.

4. Socialise – Have you considered how to replace the water cooler?

Research and ask your team how they would like to share informal information with each other online. Some teams are using social media as a place to share fun stuff – the family, pets, and things to make people smile.

5. Be human – Have you shared how this year has been for you?

Being authentic takes courage. Being open about your own challenges and struggles

will give people permission to do the same.  Being human at work is the single most engaging behaviour because we are all in desperate need of human connection. The most successful teams are the ones who relate to more than just a task.

In years gone by, engagement was about spending money on fun and inspiring team activities. This year it’s about increasing trust through connection.

How comfortable is it for you to be human at work?