Tackling Low Morale Among Remote Workers

Author: 
Tanner Corbridge

Keeping people engaged is complicated when we’ve been told to stay apart. To manage effectively and create action, we need to come together as we’ve never done before. Morale becomes strained as outside influences push in. Proven leadership principles may be the first to go by the wayside, but leaders can maintain morale by moving remote workers to a place of optimism. That won’t happen on its own.

No one should be surprised if loneliness and strained morale arise from working remotely. The brain is wired to grieve and default to the worst-case scenario when change occurs. This so-called negativity bias is natural and real. The challenge of coping with negativity bias during a crisis is that we can become entirely overwhelmed and not see the path forward.

The 10-80-10 Principle

Partners in Leadership uses a concept called the 10-80-10 principle. In a crisis situation: 10% will freak out and may make things worse. Another 80% are stunned, paralyzed and bewildered. Their tendency is to hunker down doing what they know to do, and wait for solutions to come to them. Only 10% will act calm and measured. They see a crisis as an opportunity to leverage change and innovate. They remain engaged. They ask, “What else can we do to thrive in this new world?”

The question becomes: How do you move the middle 80% to being reengaged? When times get tough, leaders get really big or really small. Workplace culture is evolving rapidly right now. Leaders are either intentionally managing it or it is evolving on its own. If you can get mind-sets right, people are going to act. Moving the middle 80% requires three steps:

Step 1: Go big with actions

  • Be visible. To lead big in a remote world means turning on the webcams. It’s essential to interact face to face. Now is not the time to be stuck in the 90s. If you’re slow getting on your camera, you’ll pay a price in the morale and productivity of your team. Anyone who leads a team, whether it’s three people or 10,000, needs to put a camera in front of themselves right now. That’s a necessary shift, whether it’s making a recording or moving conference calls to video platforms.
  • Over communicate. Fill the information vacuum with information instead of worst-case scenario assumptions. Overcompensate for geographical challenges.
  • Make the “why” compelling. Companies are shifting strategies rapidly. The tendency is to focus on what you need and when you need it. Spending time to make the “why” more compelling will reduce the level of resistance you might have otherwise.

Step 2: Shape beliefs with every meeting

Managing beliefs is the most overlooked management element because it is the hardest. Doing so will create a stronger sense of team culture. If you believe your team is worrying about the uncontrollable, start the meeting by asking, “What can we control?” Then, whiteboard all of the controllables. After three minutes, the team is more likely to believe they are still in control.

Step 3: Leverage virtual experiences

Stories play a huge role in illustrating how to show up and get work done. Recognize employees demonstrating extra commitment. Ask people to come prepared with evidence to justify optimism. Invite participants to share stories of what it looks like to live your company’s mission right now, given the realities you face.

Encourage everyone to take accountability for creating connections. Remind them to reach out to people and not to just sit back and wait for connections to happen. Remember, we’re surrounded by people around the world in the same dilemma.

In his role as senior partner at Partners In Leadership, Tanner Corbridge actively leads many of the firm’s largest consulting projects, including the design and execution of multiyear client engagements.

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