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How we maintain staff morale while remote working

24th April 2020

At Worldwide Cancer Research, we have a regular schedule of all-staff meetings where we look back together at the previous quarter’s performance, look forward to the next one, and stitch it all together with a good dose of teambuilding and laughter.

When we closed our office for the foreseeable future on 18th March, I could see our next ‘Staffternoon’, as we have come to know them, four weeks ahead in the diary and I couldn’t help eyeing it with trepidation.  It would be straightforward to do the usual Q1 update presentation over video conference, but how on earth would we maintain the collaboration and fun side?

Resisting the urge to abandon it completely for fear of falling flat, I determined to stick with the usual format and find a way to make it work from our WFH set-ups. I was delighted and more than a bit relieved when it went well.

In case anybody else is wrestling with the same issue of running what would normally be an away day, and has now become an ultra-away day, here are my reflections:

Structure

Plot out the meeting more than you would normally and write yourself a good set of notes, so you stay on track. Oversee the continuity of momentum, direction, energy and interaction without chairing the meeting.

Factor in time for an icebreaker

To warm everyone up we took inspiration from our recent #MissYourMug social media campaign.  Everyone was asked to bring their favourite mug and I asked for volunteers to share the stories behind them. Other options include anything from quick-fire polls to animal impressions (admittedly, this is one for the extroverts).

Encourage un-muting microphones

The convention that has developed with large-team virtual calls is for everyone to stay on mute. But the problem, if you’re doing something interactive, is that you feel like you are speaking into the void. Instead, ask your staff to use their discretion on mute depending on whether they have background noise.

Don’t forget chat functions

If like us, you use Microsoft Teams, people can submit questions and volunteer to speak, and that helps maintain interaction without everyone shouting over each other. And, if your screen is busy enough already with faces and screen-sharing, you can also view the chat through your phone so it’s easier to monitor.

Re-evaluate your presentation style

Your audience can see the slides much better than they can see you. So, if your PowerPoint style is image-led and content-heavy then consider if that will work.

People also tend to mute when you present so be prepared for no feedback. If you are not 100% confident with the content or tone of your presentation, I’d run it by a couple of trusted colleagues first.

Most importantly – remember that while you can’t see or hear your team, they can see and hear you! Keep the energy up in your performance and don’t absent-mindedly blow your nose or wander out of shot.

Have some fun

This was the biggest head-scratcher for me as at this point we would typically go off and do something physical and fun. Then, inspiration struck from childhood memories and I drew up a plan for a virtual scavenger hunt. We raced to collect a list of five common household items and – for a bonus prize – an item that represents #TeamWorldwide. We had some genuinely poignant and touching moments with the bonus items. 

I have to concede that it helps enormously to work with a team who always chuck themselves wholeheartedly into any silliness thrown their way. One team even came in surprise fancy dress…which gives you some idea of the culture here at #TeamWorldwide.

But as well as our quarterly performance review, we did have a giggle too. I’m certainly a lot less anxious now about keeping the usual ‘Staffternoon’ routine running through the lockdown.

As well as the safety of the Team Worldwide family and running of the charity, our priority is to keep providing the funding to start bold new cancer research. This will not change.