They were telling each other about your weekend in the cafeteria. Tap a colleague’s shoulder for a question, a comment or just a hello. Debriefing at a table with 20 people: small moments of daily office life that no longer exist in these times of teleworking forced by the coronavirus.

A large number of employees now work from home. The technical aspect of this change is worrying, but so is the human element. How do you keep a team united and motivated when they can no longer see each other?

Some companies are less concerned than others. For Ecodev, web agency and IT services, teleworking is already a habit. Although the company is based in Neuchâtel, its seven employees have been practising telework from this city for more than ten years, and also from Lausanne, Prague, or Indonesia. For Mark Haltmeier, managing director of Ecodev, the key remains the human factor, even at a distance:

“We maintain regular and strong links, we don’t just communicate work-related information. Personal exchanges are mixed with more technical discussions, as we would do around the coffee machine. You have to show that you care about other people, not just about professional performance.”

Multinational companies also try to maintain relationships. At Firmenich, many employees now work from home, and managers are encouraged to maintain daily contact with their teams. “We also maintain a constant flow of communication on our intranet, in which our managers are heavily involved, to prevent anyone from feeling isolated or disconnected,” reports François Rohrbach, site manager in Geneva. Our managing director brings together the local site managers once a week on Skype and regularly publishes video messages.”

“When faced with a question from an employee whose answer is uncertain, it’s better to say that it’s a transition and that we don’t know yet rather than giving half or even false answers.”

The contact must be frequent, but also of high quality. “It’s not enough to just give instructions in writing and worry only about logistics,” warns Brigit Peeters, a specialist in teleworking and founder of Goodvibes, a Swiss company that helps companies to encourage employee commitment. “You have to take the time to see how everyone experiences this organization.” Léa Guillaumot, a career coach in French-speaking Switzerland, agrees: “The telephone or videoconferencing, in addition to writing, allows you to feel any tension or stress related to the situation.”

But in this period of indefinite duration, the personal and the professional will necessarily be more mixed. “Many have to babysit and talk about their children and show up in virtual meetings with them. It brings us closer, we get to know each other better,” says Léa Guillaumot. For the coach, we might as well accept it and take advantage of it to strengthen the bonds. Messages between colleagues, therefore, benefit from being more informal, for example, by including fun little videos or inspiring quotes. Should we go further, by organizing virtual cafés or even virtual aperitifs? At La Mobilière insurance company, which now has around 5,000 employees working from home, it is estimated that yes: “Fixed contact and communication strengthen the team. It can be a matter of agreed virtual appointments such as a coffee, an exchange of experiences of working from home or mutual coaching,” reports Nathalie Bourquenoud, head of human resources for La Mobilière. “Some of our subsidiaries schedule a coffee break every day at 11 am and 3 pm,” also tells François Rohrbach, director of the Firmenich site in Geneva.

Ask the employees
Aperitifs and coffees online, perhaps, but not for every business, says Brigit Peeters. “If these are moments you don’t share at the office, they may not seem authentic when you’re teleworking. But this new context is also an opportunity for executives to be creative. So the best thing to do is to ask the team: “What would you like to do to keep the team together? Asking questions more generally helps to keep teams motivated. “Asking teams how they see themselves doing their job helps them to take ownership of the new framework,” says Guillaumot.

Accepting the fuzziness
Personal and professional virtual exchanges, new surroundings, new routines: to coordinate all these changes, the role of the manager is more critical than ever. “He or she must be exemplary: giving clear directives to teams, supporting them and enabling them to be autonomous. But they must also respect health rules and not panic.” Léa Guillaumot.

Reference: Le Temps Article by Julie Eigenmann


  • Sunita Sehmi

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    Org Dev Consultant I Exec Leadership Performance Coach I DEI Warrior I Author I Mentor I Work smarter I Live better I Think deeper. With over three decades of expertise in multicultural environments, Sunita brings a unique blend of Indian, British, and Swiss heritage to her consultancy, fostering a deep understanding of organisational contexts and her clients. Sunita’s insights and expertise are tailored to elevate your leadership.