Agency culture has been taking a beating these past six months, and in addition to everything you’re doing to ensure business solvency and success through this crisis, the care and feeding of your team should be high on your list. Project deadlines, client calls, budgets, etc. will always get your time, but paying attention to how you’re interacting with each other will feed your culture, which is equally, if not more, important to get your agency through this stressful time.
The fact is, we’re hearing of more and more agency personnel thinking about leaving as soon as the crisis is over: they’re tired, feel abused, and don’t think it’s “worth it.” Many have also lost well-liked colleagues and feel abandoned and less supported. It’s critical to ensure your employees feel valued, supported and listened to. You need them now and even more as work increases.
Here are a few ideas to help keep your culture working for you:
Boundaries: We keep hearing people feel they can’t say “no” and need to be available 24/7. Are you fostering this or helping to avoid this? Are you (or your teams) scheduling conference calls at 7pm (or 7am)? Are you sending emails at 10pm? Are you looking for responses 5 minutes after you hit send? Your actions and expectations speak volumes to your teams. They may need help with this, and you may need to set some guidelines – officially or through modeling your own behavior. The all-hands on deck, frenzied mindset of early Spring should by now have been replaced by an intentional pace and energy – and you should be working even harder to foster an opportunity for a good work/life balance.
Communications: Having the ability to see folks has been great, but Zoom Fatigue is real. We've heard of brands mandating non-Zoom days. Setting policies like this can help avoid the expectation that you are “on-camera” for hours every day. The Harvard Business Review’s article “How to Combat Zoom Fatigue” (https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-to-combat-zoom-fatigue) provides good strategies for this. And remember, the phone is always an option.
Quiet time: This idea is taken from day care when the kids nap or read, but in the case of the business day, it’s uninterrupted time – no meetings, no video calls, no texts. This helps encourage your team to have time to actually think and do the work. Consider scheduling a consistent time of day that your agency has a “no conference call” policy, or at least make sure to encourage your employees to work offline for a while.
Be a human: All the Zoom Happy Hours and Door Dash coffees won’t replace focused, individual attention. It’s more important than ever for leaders to have one-on-one talks with their employees. Start with the person who least expects to hear from you and work backwards to the people you always speak with. Ask what’s hard? How you can help? What they’re proud of? What they’re thinking? Don’t do this as a Zoom call. Now’s the time for more high touch and less high tech.
Be easy to work for: Look for ways to cut red tape and make the company easy to work for, to get decisions made, resources assigned, budgets approved, etc. Ask your staff how you can make their work easier. Examine and remove the stress points.
Don’t forget about yourself: Leadership’s hard even on a good day, and your team is taking their cues from you. This is a marathon and not a sprint, so it’s vitally important to mind your own care and feeding: exercise, limit your screen time, avoid too much news consumption, seek sources of joy and distraction (i.e. cooking, reading, delivering surprise gifts to friends, etc.) that can supplant the ones not currently available (dining out, performance arts, travel, seeing family and friends). You should also share this with our employees as both a role model and a reinforcement that you're a person too.
The belief that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” couldn’t be truer. No matter how great your plan may be, its success is going to be the result of your team’s effort. An engaged team makes all the difference.