Welcome back to your virtual office! It’s a new year, with a new outlook and new opportunities for kids and pets to photobomb important meetings.
Many companies are still operating remotely – and even entertaining the idea that this is a long term arrangement. For those of us in the business of team building, this poses a new(ish) challenge. Namely, boosting and maintaining a high level of office morale without the help of sharing four walls and a coffee pot.
When your office is in the cloud, all the little invisible things that knit a team together through the sheer magnetism of being able to share space are out the window. And many of the old tricks for cultivating a happy company culture either need a little adjustment or a full-on remodel.
For us, intentionally fostering our team’s morale is important. It’s baked into our core values. So now that the new normal is a thing and the virtual office is very much a part of it, we’ve started reflecting on what morale means in this context. Here is a look at some of the things we’ve learned.
Teaser: One of these lessons involves amateur drawings of Kathy Griffin.
Why is morale a big deal?
Morale isn’t just about inside jokes and socializing. Really, it’s an indicator of the health of your company culture. And when morale dips, it’s telling you it’s time to check in with the elements that make up that culture: your team, your ways of working, your core values, or all of the above.
But if tending office morale seems like a lot of work for a warm feeling that doesn’t help keep the lights on, consider these statistics:
- Disengaged employees had 37% higher absenteeism and 60% more errors and defects.
- 60-80% of workplace accidents are attributed to stress.
- Stressed-out work environments have 50% more voluntary turnover – and replacing an employee costs about 20% of their salary.
Bottomline: Low morale is a big deal because it impacts your bottomline.
What’s the deal with your team’s morale?
Think of a virtual office morale assessment as a building inspection.
Is morale low because the break room sink is broken, leaving the office Keurig perpetually dry? We need space, resources, and reasons to get together (like the pursuit of caffeine).
Is morale low because the floorplan is a maze and the location of the copier is a mystery? We need to be able to connect and collaborate seamlessly and easily access the tools necessary to do our jobs.
Or is morale low because the foundation is failing, making Marty’s stress ball roll off his desk everytime he sets it down? We need solid footing under us, like work/life balance, shared values, and organization-wide commitment to enacting those values.
If you know what issues are harrying your team, then you’ll know which fixes will make your office a happy, healthy place to inhabit – virtual or otherwise.
How can you boost morale?
Once you understand what exactly is causing your team’s morale to slump in the first place, you can create a tailor-made solution. Here are some of the ways we keep our team buoyed, and some of our favorites from other companies.
Helpful tip: As you get started, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, be strategic. Try not to dump a dozen tactics at once. Second, don’t forget to get feedback and iterate. You can’t measure employee morale without their input, right? And third, be intentional. Don’t propose Zoom Bingo as a remedy for deeper, structural concerns.
1. Schedule “office hours.” Like your college professors used to, slate time on your calendar to be available for virtual drop-ins.
2. Host Dad Joke Mondays. Vote on the best joke monthly and give the winner a boobie prize appropriate for the dadness of their dad joke.
3. Incentivize practicing work/life balance. This can mean making it a job performance goal, instituting a no-emails after 5 pm policy, or simply making space for flexible schedules.
4. Share a weekly riddle. Get your team’s wheels turning with a head-scratcher each week. For us, the person who solves it picks the riddle the next week.
5. Conduct stay interviews. The flip-side of hiring interviews, these ask your team members what makes them stay and what they would change if they could.
6. Institute Hawaiian shirt Fridays. Since every day is casual Friday in the home office, make Fridays special again with a bold top. You can level up the team connection by sending out custom Hawaiian shirts with your logo, colors, or unique-to-you imagery.
7. Hold a virtual dinner party. We send out Grubhub gift cards to the team and choose a type of cuisine (Thai, Italian, Mexican, etc.) and get together on Zoom. It’s a chance to socialize, compare dishes, and support each of our neighborhood’s restaurants.
8. Support employee led initiatives. Whether for work or fun, and whether they could use resources or five minutes to make an announcement, this cultivates meaningful engagement.
9. Create an office playlist. Mix up your home office jams and crowdsource new songs and artists from colleagues. Our team’s Spotify playlist is always growing and it helps the day sail by.
10. Host a Friday Spotlight. One person from the team tells a story, gives us a tour, shares a talent, or teaches a short lesson or skill.
11. Sponsor self-care. You can send out personalized care packages with useful items like puzzles, pajamas, or performance shirts. Or just make it a policy to devote a few hours each workweek to mental health time – whatever that means for each individual.
12. Draw celebrities poorly. As the name of the activity suggests, you do not have to be skilled to enjoy this. In fact, a lack of skill can be an asset. The results are not only silly, but a good break from screens that fires up parts of the brain many of us don’t often get to use.
13. Put together an exercise challenge. With gyms closed, focus on exercises folks can do in their homes and ideally ones that people of all abilities can achieve. Then get your sweat on!
14. Make a meme channel. Whatever team chat tool you use, devote one channel just to sharing silly memes.
15. Grow a (dispersed) indoor garden. Send out a starter kit for everyone to grow something stunning like a sunflower. Soon you’ll have a team garden growing across your city, state, or even the world.
16. Hire a local expert for a virtual presentation. Maybe you hire a magician, maybe you hire a chef; either way, it’s a chance for you all to be entertained, learn a skill, and support other professionals who don’t have an easy work-from-home option.
17. Host a pet obstacle course competition. Now that everyone has met your dog Taters via Zoom meeting interruption, they can show off their furry friends by sharing videos of them completing home-made obstacle courses.
At the end of the day, constructing and shaping this new virtual workspace is an opportunity. You can architect it to meet the needs and goals of your company and its culture. And if you build it well, morale will come.