We’ve been thrown into a time of rapid change and increasing uncertainty. Brandpie is now operating with a completely remote workforce and all contact is virtual. Three days in and we’re already finding new ways to keep energy and spirits high but it doesn’t come without its challenges.

We wanted to reflect on our experience and share what we’ve learnt, even in a short space of time, about what it practically looks like to maintain people’s energy, morale and engagement in the business when it can be easy to feel disconnected and anxious. Hopefully this is helpful and reassuring.

Behaviours will need to change, and fast. Think about creating the right environment for it.

Successfully functioning as a virtual workforce requires a whole new set of behaviours. Whilst some have had months, if not years to hone those skills, the majority of us have been thrust into a new way of working without any kind of training or a toolkit.

Think about the practical employee experience that you, as a business, can control to encourage those behaviours. If you’re needing your people to be clearer communicators, what tools do they need to do that? If you’re trying to foster greater trust and emotional intelligence amongst your staff, how do you get leadership to model that and lead from the front? If you need people to keep focusing on the bigger picture to stay positive, think about the story you’re telling. Are you focusing on the chaos and disruption around you, or are you constantly serving reminders of the bigger picture and the purpose you, as a business, continue to serve despite changing circumstances?

Isolate what the new behaviours are that you need. Then, build an environment for your people that makes it all possible.

Flexible working has been in the spotlight for a while. Let’s really test it.

There’s no doubt that the next few months could feel chaotic. School and nursery closures will leave thousands unsure how to balance work and life.

Our hope is that employer empathy will prevail - we’re all in the same boat now, and the choice has been taken out of our hands. We have to allow for some flexibility in how people work to keep business from coming to a total standstill. This comes with the usual caveats of honouring commitments to meetings, communicating clearly and finding compromise. But realistically, parents may need to work in two-hour shifts. Some might choose to start their day at 5:30am before everyone else is awake, clock off at 3pm and jump back online after everyone else has gone to bed. It really will be all about quality of output, not time spent. It could mark a real sea-change for how we work in general, beyond covid-19.

Being a gracious and accommodating workplace will be a huge relief to anyone who needs it. Engagement and loyalty will be a natural outcome.

Ask the right questions. Listen. Take action.

Now is not the time for continuous broadcast communications. It can be difficult to feel heard when the business is only communicating en masse through a video conference call.

We’re going to be using ThinkTank, our virtual collective intelligence platform, to ask people at Brandpie how they’re feeling. It’s completely anonymous so we want people to give honest, raw feedback and start to collectively come up with ideas that can improve the way that we’re working. We’re going to need quick, actionable solutions that can be turned around in days. It’s a complete work in progress. So we’re relying on everyone in the business to share what’s working and what isn’t, what they need and what they think we should be doing to respond to the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Making space for what makes us human

An unfortunate by-product of virtual working as that people could be reduced to just being working machines. It feels like a step backwards, when in recent years businesses have started to recognise that our overall well-being as employees is critical to business and culture.

But so much of what makes us human (and productive!) are things like our relationships, our extracurriculars, sport, exercise, food…! And sharing those experiences with other people is a huge part of what makes us well-rounded and grounded people. Today, those things feel increasingly out of reach, and certainly not the communal pursuits they have been in the past.

At Brandpie, we’ve started seeing flurries of these little expressions. We’ve started a fitness channel on Slack where challenges are posted three times a week (working from home can feel very sedentary).

Humour is a huge part of office life. So we’re trying to find ways and space for people to be a bit silly. We’ve got an all-company Slack booked in where everyone’s bringing their pets. We’re doing company drinks this evening, via Zoom (BYOB). I’m hoping to get tours of everyone’s home working space. We’re privileged to be part of a small, tight knit business where those kinds of interactions don’t feel uncomfortable. It feels important to invest in those small, everyday ‘silly’ moments that make us feel more connected.

We’d love to help navigate this incredible challenge in any way that we can and feel a huge responsibility for supporting others with our skills and experience. Drop us a note if you need some help, advice or even just a sounding board for ideas. Keep safe, everyone.