April 1st, 2020

Motivating Team Virtually: A Conversation (without an answer)

Transparency and acknowledging that we don’t have the answer is as useful as a clear set of recommendations.

We wanted to share some thoughts on motivating teams virtually - we’re worried about it and we know our clients are too - but we didn’t know whose ‘voice’ it should come from. Do our GI leadership know best? Or should this come from the team whose motivation is in question? Do we even have an answer?

So, rather than try to answer those questions Andrew, our founding partner, and I had an open, frank, at points soppy and rambling conversation. 

I tried to round it up with a ‘So What’ - would I be a consultant if I didn’t? But, perhaps in times like these transparency and acknowledging that we don’t have the answer is as useful as a clear set of recommendations or Action Plan. We hope so, please do have a read in case joining in with this conversation could help you or your team. 

Heather  4:28 PM

ok, here goes..

Have you been worried about keeping us all motivated in this new virtual world?

Andrew  4:35 PM

ha ha ha ha oh my dear god yes

It's one of the many big questions to deal with right now. First question - is everyone surviving? Then it's going to shift to how do we keep everyone close together when we’re all physically apart?

I think it's really important to work out how we can look after each other when the world outside is going to shit. 'We' was deliberate there, it should also be a collective effort. 

Heather  4:55 PM

So much to talk about! Ok, starting with the question of 'is everyone surviving'. We've started our team’s 9.30 google hang out by each talking about how we're coping and feeling that day. We've not really talked in that way as a team before, do you think that's changed things?

And (not to bias your answer and give away my thoughts on the above ^^) what else do you think we got right last week, in the context of keeping everyone motivated?

Andrew  5:12 PM

I think last week did change things. It was clear that people were going to be all over the place with how they were feeling, myself included. It (to me at least) felt more like we needed to create a safe, trusting space for people to talk about that. To be honest, it wasn't really a work thing, it was more of a 'we need to help each other out' type thing. 

I also think it's easier for everyone to talk about how they're feeling when everything isn't 'normal' as it's more expected to be finding things difficult. Everyone was really open and supportive which was great. 

I don't know how open everyone would be about how they're doing if it was a typical Monday in the office. It will be interesting to see if that continues when this is all over.

I also think it worked well to have daily catch ups as people had ups and downs at different points, so it was nice seeing different people support each other. And I think it's important to come together more often if we're not actually seeing each other. More often but less amount of time each time. To be honest, it's all an experiment!

I think Friday drinks worked well too!

What do you think? I only have my perspective, what's your take on it?

Heather  5:21 PM

I've been reflecting on a few things. I really appreciate that you took the time at the start of the week to tell us that we are all trusted to do our work, and therefore could do it on our own schedule. While I think we all knew that, it felt important to hear you say it out loud. I have friends who definitely have not had that treatment or level of support. 

And, I feel like there is suddenly permission to share more - kids sitting on knees, pets, kitchens, boyfriends and mums passing by and saying hi. Ryan introducing his new puppy was a definite highlight. 

Friday drinks were great. I was meant to be on a hen do that evening and was feeling sad about cancelled plans and a bit overwhelmed by a weekend indoors. Blaming the beer for my 5.01 soppy slack post… 

Andrew  5:27 PM

I really like the random life getting in the way of work - it's fun, it's who we are and it's also (I think importantly) setting a precedent that we're allowed to work like that. I think it's important that we all know that it's ok to have a bit of a messy life going on around us at the moment, let's not be fake and say that everything is carrying on as usual. If we're open about the craziness, then we're not setting false expectations of behaviours that we can't sustain

Heather  5:28 PM

I can't imagine people pretending to be on top of life at the moment. Do you think that is going on? Are there industries where that level of 'professionalism' would still be expected?!

Andrew  5:28 PM

I just think we're a bunch of grown-ups, everyone is trusted so the challenge isn't about who's working, it’s about creating the environment to make sure that we can all thrive

Last week a friend told me that he'd had an email from work saying that if they have childcare responsibilities they're expected to work around the children, i.e. early morning and late at night. Basically, saying no slack is being allowed. I think that's shocking!

Heather  5:30 PM

I guess it might be fear driving those behaviours? Do you think this will shift the nature of how we work in the future? Not just us, everyone...

Andrew  5:32 PM

It's bound to have an impact. If people can work from home effectively for 3 months, then why not more?

Heather  5:35 PM

In 3 months time do you think you'll be a) running back into the office or b) settled into your new routine and happily adjusted to working from home life? 

Andrew  5:36 PM

Ha! Who knows. It'll be a collective decision about what type of business we want, it's not just about me! Who knows, maybe we'll all decide we love working remotely and we'll carry on that way. I suspect people will want a place to come to. I think it might make it easier to have international projects and work with people in different countries though.

Heather  5:38 PM

Unless this fundamentally changes me as a person I'm option A all the way. Work is more than the work we do for me, it's so much about the people. I'm missing the ‘while you make a cup of tea’ chats. 

I guess that must be a funny thought as a leader? You run a company that provides jobs, but also interactions and friendship.

Andrew  5:40 PM

But that's always been the way, hasn't it? Work is much more than slides, it's about the people you do slides with...

Heather  5:40 PM

We should put that up on the wall. 

Andrew  5:40 PM

I suspect an 8-hour day in the office though could equal a 5 hour day WFH though...

Heather  5:42 PM

that's interesting. Probing question - do you think there might be business benefit in the long run linked to our productivity?

And, has our conversation come around in a circle? Because how important is the motivation (that might come from the making a cup of tea chat) to productivity?

Andrew  5:44 PM

Interesting about there being a business benefit. In an ideal world, sure, less chit chat = more time to work. But I'm not sure it works like that, as that extra 'chit chat' time is the glue that ensures people can collaborate and help each other, meaning better quality. And for people that value that it's a big part of their motivation.

Heather  5:45 PM

I think I might take up journalism, this is fun. Final topic - let's talk about communication channels. 

Andrew  5:48 PM


Heather  5:48 PM

What channel is winning for you so far - zoom, google hangout, slack?

And, where do you think WhatsApp fits into all of this? I know you've asked us not to use it in a work context. 

Andrew  5:49 PM

Zoom is working well, I like the layout where you get everyone on the screen at the same time. Slack seems to be reducing my emails, but that might just be me!

Not using WhatsApp was advice from someone that runs a remote agency. Makes sense to me. With no boundaries between work and home anymore I think it's important to separate the two. I struggle myself when work and non-work are blurred, and I expect it'll become a bigger thing for people going forwards. 

What do you think the next set of challenges we'll face as a team as we get used to this?

(am I supposed to be asking you questions?)

Heather  5:55 PM


Rob and I had an interesting chat about how we do the 'can I grab you for a second and run an idea by you' conversations. 

I guess there is a risk that we all crack on with our work, but we lose the informal collaboration / challenge that comes from sitting in amongst one another. 

Because, do you schedule that?

Andrew  5:57 PM

Yes, that'll be interesting. Slack video calls. We should just try the same approach, with a slack call rather than a tap on the shoulder. That's where we all have a responsibility not to sit at home alone and try and figure things out. We have to adjust, and it takes effort.

Makes me think that we need to put some short-term focus on this, make it a new behaviour quickly rather than have everyone struggle for a while.

Heather  6:04 PM

Sounds like a good idea. Moral of the story - take the time to think about what worries you, what might impact your motivation and put a plan in place? Or am I trying to wrap this up in a bow? 

Is life too messy for clear conclusions and action plans at the moment?

(my inner consultant hates that thought)

I want this chat to have a take-away, but maybe at this time it's more about having open conversations and admitting to not knowing the answer, but as you said early on trying and experimenting?

Andrew  6:08 PM

My two pence. Immediate term make sure everyone feels safe and able to cope with the new situation. Get this set up and then start to think about getting the new way to work as best it can. If you don't do the first, the second won't work.

You can do a nice phased diagram of the plan if you’d like? 

Heather  6:11 PM

Thanks, a phased diagram is my no 1 coping tactic. Gantt chart coming your way tomorrow.