It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year that we’ve been in the pandemic. When we first went to remote work, and in universities, remote teaching and learning, our IT staff were in the eye of the storm. The need to quickly pivot to a totally different working and learning style involved long hours and deep challenges. It was stressful and exhausting.
But it was also exhilarating, deeply satisfying, and fulfilling. Given that IT organizations had enabled businesses and other organizations to turn on a dime, IT organizations were lauded with praise and appreciation for the work that they had done in the face of the pandemic, adding to that sense of exhilaration. So despite the workload and stress, morale was quite high.
However, over time what started as a sprint has turned into a marathon. Exhaustion set in. Isolation has added to the stress. The budget issues caused by the pandemic have led to financial vulnerability in some fields, adding uncertainty for IT staff. The appreciation of our colleagues is still there, but more muted than at first, given the stress that they are under too. Morale issues are serious. How can we address this? As leaders, we need to provide support to our staff in this time.
Here are some tips to help elevate morale in a remote environment:
- Don’t forget self-care: Make sure that you are managing your own stress and anxiety. You can’t be available emotionally for your team if you’re struggling also. Do this by taking care of yourself. Have a great routine, get exercise, and practice some work-life boundaries.
- Manage by gratitude: Take the time to recognize and thank your staff constantly. If your institution has a rewards program, use it frequently. Share compliments that you receive about your team, perhaps in a Slack channel or on a Teams site.
- Reach out and check in before they come to you: Don’t wait for someone to say they’re struggling. Ask people how they are doing. Look out for warning signs of stress, anxiety, and isolation. Consider starting all meetings by inviting all participants to tell you how they’re doing.
- Set reasonable expectations and encourage people to seek some balance in their lives: Working at home makes it very difficult to set boundaries, but people can do simple things like designating a workspace at home and leaving it at a particular time of day. A colleague of mine shared this tip: consider your workday complete when you close your laptop.
- Be flexible: Your team has many competing priorities. Explicitly enable them to complete work at the times that work for them, instead of sticking to the old 8-5 routine. Consider rescheduling meetings to accommodate your staff, particularly those with in-home care responsibilities.
- Finally, continue to hold your team to a high standard: Having success in the workplace and having pride in what you do is a great antidepressant! Set reasonable expectations, but still expect your team to do the excellent work they’ve been doing all along.