Two weeks ago, my team concluded a web application project and we handed it over to the client. They received the work, confirmed all was done per the initial specification, and went live thereafter. The whole engagement was extremely disheartening.
Was the project done? Yes.
Was it created per their requirements? Yes.
Did they express gratitude? Yes.
Did we feel excited? No.
There’s this major issue emerging amidst working from home whereby the feedback loop has completely disappeared. There are less meetings and more time for execution. Our productivity on tasks is heightened. Further, the people I’ve spoken with are saying they’re working harder and more consistently than they have in the past.
But the morale has dropped considerably.
While productivity is heightened, the feedback loop that creates an endorphin rush at work (such as upon completing a project) has disappeared.
This has led to a very emotionless workplace with actions driven by quantifiable factors. While this may suit some, the modern workplace had previously been a centre for collaboration, passion, and team spirit. Vision, mission, and values were the epicentre of the workplace.
Now, these qualities are substituted by the desperate plea for social activity; namely that Friday afternoon Zoom meeting to have a laugh over the two beverages you have left in the fridge before you need to do another supermarket run.
While this may sound dire, it’s awfully true.
But, it doesn’t need to be this way.
What’s missing, as silly as it may sound while reading this alone at your home office, are the high fives, claps, bell ringings, and communal opening of beverages amongst friends that happens when milestones are achieved at work. And if you’ve forgotten what a high five is, wiki defines it as a friendly gesture in which one individual slaps another’s hand. Riveting.
How Would I Know Morale Is Low?
I’m glad you ask. My team recently interviewed employees amongst our clients’ teams. While the managers were happy with the rate at which tasks were being worked through with minimal distractions, the theme amongst staff members was very different. Questions such as “am I adding enough value“, “am I about to get sacked?“, and “is my work good enough?” were incredibly common.
To my fellow founders, entrepreneurs, and managers reading this blog…these are NOT healthy thoughts for your team to be having. These are signs of reduced morale, and general dissatisfaction with work driven by a poor feedback loop. People are often feeling powerless, with no clear insight as to how they’re performing. One interviewee mentioned that they stare at the screen in hope that what they’re doing is of value, but are filled with fear.
Leaders Need to Develop a Feedback Loop for Startup Success
These are tough times, but moving through this this will be even tougher for your startup if you don’t take action now. You NEED to provide adequate feedback. Currently, I’m dong this twice a day. We do this through two primary mechanisms:
I begin each day with a 9:00 am video call. We start with general chit chat about how everyone is doing. In essence, we talk sh** like we would in the office. Thereafter, we run through each team member so we can confirm our tasks for the day. I take this opportunity to praise team members for any achievements they’ve recently made so they are recognised by the whole team.
Team Member Check-Ins
When a team member has completed a task, I’ll call them immediately. These are huge successes that need to be recognised. I start by walking through their work, providing feedback in real time, and letting them know where they can improve next time. I further take them through what has been done well, and where they’ve created a “wow factor” (or something that has taken me by surprise as a positive). I will further note this down and ensure it is recognised the next morning amongst their peers. Feedback, whether positive or negative, is key here.
Irregular Motivation Boosters
Other activities I would entice you to explore should they fit your culture are team drinks, team break out coffees, and training sessions. Put simply:
- Team Drinks: Doing a full team catch up every Friday at the end of the day over a few drinks is great. It helps you to harness inter team relationships, and form new friendships with those in your team you were less aligned with in the office due to spatial distance.
- Team Break Out Coffees: For some teams, taking a break at 3pm for a coffee over Zoom is really powerful to mimic the good old fashioned water cooler chat that we so painfully miss.
- Training Sessions: Not enough can be said about learning during times like these. With mentorship within organisations suffering, there’s never been a time like the present to hop on a video conference and mutually train another team member to fill gaps in each other’s knowledge. There are also new learning opportunities such as Udemy courses which you can circulate within teams to ensure people are growing and collaborating.
- Phone Calls: If none of this works for you, or even if it does, just hop on the phone and call members of your team. Make it clear there’s no agenda, and just enjoy yourselves. We’re all in this together, but sometimes we can feel worlds apart.
I’m not saying these are the right strategies. Different businesses have unique cultures, and you need to find something that works for you. However, as with culture in the office, you need to ensure it isn’t all about the productivity, as the long term impacts are negative and potentially permanent.
When this is all over, your team will remember how they were treated by one another. People and your culture are the most important thing about your business; you know very well you can’t do it all on your own.