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Keeping Your Team Motivated and Connected in the Midst of Pandemic

Remote
Motivation

2 March, 2021

Dr. Amit Sawant
Dr. Amit Sawant

Chief Operating Officer at Somatix

Amit Sawant, Director of Product Management at Dell Technologies, details how he managed to keep his team motivated and connected in times of uncertainty and distress.

Problem

A year ago, hardly anyone could predict that the Covid-19 pandemic will fundamentally transform the world we live in. The pandemic is likely to have permanent effects on how we do business, and for many, the new reality of remote work didn’t happen without turbulence and anxiety. Managers today are facing a common challenge: how to motivate their now-remote teams to strive and excel in spite of the uncertainty and distress surrounding us all. I was most concerned about keeping the communication channels open and allowing compassion and human connection to flourish, while motivating the team and keeping their morale high to ensure productivity.

Actions taken

To keep the team motivated and connected, I launched virtual social hours where people could chit-chat, play online games, share personal stories and engage in any kind of interaction as long as it had nothing to do with the actual work. The purpose of these virtual social hours was to see how team members were doing and keep them in high spirits. I would encourage team members to talk about how they were coping with the pandemic and how it was affecting their work. This also helped the team bond and develop empathy for each other which was amazing since we are spread across Santa Clara, Pune, and Beijing.

Being aware of how visibility could suffer in the remote setting, I decided to compile a newsletter to send out to the broader organization showcasing the team’s achievements and initiatives.

I was worried if and how the Covid-19 pandemic would impact our productivity. I am a big believer in the Get Things Done (GTD) principles and have run many presentations pre-Covid to my team members on how to organize their time and become more productive. In the remote setting, I had to re-emphasize and repeatedly remind the team of the business objectives and how they cascaded down to our day-to-day work. I tried to help the team understand the changing priorities while navigating the uncertainty and vagueness of the new circumstances.

The “new reality” meant the increased number of meetings on people’s calendars. Earlier, much of those meetings had been hallway conversations. Now, people need to be very intentional about their meetings, and set up training sessions to help the team learn about features and capabilities that we could leverage for our needs. We extensively use the chat, video call, and screen share functionality instead of going down the avenue of the planned activity of scheduling every single meeting.

Finally, after 1 pm on Friday, we don’t have any meetings. That is time reserved for self-development and learning, time to reflect and pursue your passion projects. It can also be used as a time to catch up because people are often swamped during the week.

Lessons learned

  • I noticed that the team came together, expressing empathy and understanding more strongly than they did pre-Covid. Also, people on the team became more conscious about how they were using their time and improved their prioritizing skills.
  • Work-life balance changed significantly because suddenly, the home became a workplace which presented a challenge. I’ve seen people get better at maintaining this balance by setting their boundaries. I empowered my team members to say ‘no’ to low priority tasks and stay focused on important goals.
  • My universal recipe is to set the stage first and have the team understand the bigger picture of what we are trying to achieve as a company and as a team, and how each person on the team contributes to that.
  • My biggest fear as a manager was that my team would get burnt out from being overburdened by responsibilities. Therefore I was deliberate in empowering my team to use their time wisely and meet the business objectives.

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