When offices shut down last March, perhaps you thought things would be back to normal in about a month. Two at the most. However, we are now approaching the ninth month of remote working, with no clear end in sight. Although some agencies rotate days in the office, many are still working fully remotely, and almost none have their whole team in a single location.
At first, many agency owners and project managers were concerned about productivity. Would creative teams be able to resist the temptation of a Netflix binge on company hours? It turns out they can. In fact, they resist the urge so well that the true problem is the exact opposite. Employees are working longer hours, not taking enough breaks, and feeling burned out.
In this blog, you’ll learn how you can make sure employees aren’t quietly burning out, how to keep your team engaged and focused, and the best way to keep connected to your team.
Encourage Employees to Take Breaks
While agency owners and project managers may have been afraid of creative teams slacking off at home, the creatives themselves were worried about their bosses thinking they’re not working hard enough. Especially right now, when budgets are tight and cost-cutting looks appealing, nobody wants to look like they have a lot of spare time on their hands.
This leads to employees feeling an invisible pressure to always be working. In the office, they felt comfortable taking a short break to chat with a co-worker while their coffee brewed, but at home, where no one is watching, they feel that taking a similar pause is unacceptable.
There are also fewer social outlets at home. Some people are working with children, roommates, or significant others in the same home. However, for the creative professional working alone in a studio suite or one bedroom apartment, their avenues for socializing during the work day are limited. This means productivity is up but short breaks—which allow us to recharge throughout the day—are down.
All of this results in fewer breaks and more work—a sure fire way to burnout.
The problem as an agency owner is it can be difficult to spot burnout through a video call. At the office, you’d likely notice if none of your employees took a break or talked to each other for an entire day. But when everyone is in separate locations, this can become a common occurrence without you ever noticing.
One way to get insight into how much your team is working is to compare your billable hours since implementing remote working to when everyone was at the office. If they’re noticeably higher, it could mean your employees are feeling that invisible pressure to be always busy.
If that’s the case, gently remind them that it’s okay to take breaks. The next time the whole team is in a meeting, mention that you’ve noticed how hard everyone’s been working and that you want to remind people to take time for themselves. Reinforce the idea that you don’t expect them to be working on client work every minute of the day and that it’s okay to take a brief walk or listen to a couple songs if they need a break.
Show Appreciation for Your Team
Throughout a typical week at the office, there are likely several moments where you congratulate someone on a job well done. A good presentation, a completed project, or design that the client liked. These small moments of appreciation have disappeared. There’s no walk back to the office after a client presentation, everyone simply disconnects from the meeting room.
This can lead to team members feeling like their efforts aren’t appreciated, that their work isn’t valued by the agency, or that they’re not doing a good job. The result of ruminating on since thoughts leads to heightened stress and burnout.
This feeling is heightened when creatives only interact with their bosses when something goes wrong. Evidence shows that even when our efforts are positively reinforced, negative feedback can have a disproportionately large impact on our emotions.
Fortunately, these feelings can be mitigated by the occasional congratulatory email, phone call, or Slack message. The more specific the compliment, the better. If one of your project managers handled a client especially well, let them know exactly what you thought they did such a good job on. Or if you liked the outcome of a design project, compliment your designers on specific elements of the design.
Schedule Catch-Ups with Team Members
As an agency owner, how often are you interacting with your team? Not just the project managers and financial people, but your designers, web developers, and copywriters? Are you their boss whom they send monthly updates to and only speak with when there’s a problem, or have they had a chance to speak with you in a more informal setting?
If it’s the former, consider setting aside time to get a coffee or go for lunch with your employees (while following your area’s COVID guidelines, of course). Ask how they’re feeling about their current work situation. The point of these meetups is to make sure your employees are happy and engaged at work, provide an informal avenue to talk about anything on their mind, and have an opportunity to connect with your employees in a setting that doesn’t feel like a business meeting.
Scale this to the size of your agency. Perhaps it’s not feasible to meet directly with everyone at your agency, but you can schedule a small virtual happy hour with small teams.
Keeping your team connected and motivated while working remotely may be more challenging than it was before, but it is still possible. The key to doing so is clear communication from the top down. The common thread between the three scenarios we mentioned in the blog, invisible pressure, feeling underappreciated, and being disconnected from the team, stems from a lack of communication.
By clearly communicating your expectations around work, sending messages of appreciation to your team, and setting aside time for informal connections, you will be taking steps in ensuring that your team is motivated every day.