Incarcerated and motivated: How to make tired teams feel energised

Last year’s Virtual Vistage Executive Summit posed a question that got me thinking… What’s drained and fuelled you this year?

For me, the constant unknown has been pretty draining. Work life has been a bit of a guessing game since March and I miss the stability of pre-pandemic days. I also long for the face-to-face interactions with the team, clients and journalists that I took for granted BC (before Covid). I’m an extrovert. I get my energy from other people. And I’m afraid Zoom or MS Teams is no substitute for the real thing. The lack of contact, combined with the isolation that comes with homeworking, has at times made me feel less energised than ever before. I know I’m not alone with many tired teams around the UK.

energise tired teamsBusinesses have to respond to various challenges. At the beginning of this pandemic, there was a sense of unity across the nation. Working from home was a new thing and many felt excited and energised about a new way of contributing to business success that didn’t require a lengthy and uncomfortable commute. But that energy is now dwindling. Every day feels the same as the day before, because there’s not much to break up the weeks, the months. And all this is taking a toll on our mental health, not to mention our performance at work. For a leadership summit, that was of course Vistage’s focus.

The keynote was run by Dr. Lynda Gratton, professor of Management Practice at the London Business School and creator of The Future of Work Research Consortium. Gratton believes that there are four aspects of productivity: energy, focus, coordination and cooperation. One of the tricks to ensuring tired teams are happy, healthy, motivated and productive lies in understanding how the concept of place and time can be reshaped to suit business needs. What does the workplace offer that the home does not? What are the benefits of working to a fixed time schedule, the standard 9-5, over an anytime, flexitime, asynchronous model, and vice versa?

It depends on which of the four aspects of productivity you’re looking to drive. If, for example, it’s all about focus, most would assume a flexible time model works better than a synchronous one. People have varying levels of effectiveness depending on the time of day so why not let them choose their own time to focus? If it’s all about coordination, on the other hand, a fixed time model is more likely to support the coming together of a group of people who are working towards the same goal.

When aiming to facilitate cooperation, many believe the office plays a role in supporting creative endeavours. Others would argue that you can collaborate just as well via online platforms. You don’t have to spend three hours on a train to get to a meeting, for one thing. You can just click a button and bingo. But the experience isn’t the same. And work isn’t just about being effective. Or performing. Or producing. It’s about having fun. It’s about enriching the working lives of those you work with. And that’s where energy comes into it.

It has been a long, hard winter and it’s important to understand how your teams may be faring in these strange times to ensure momentum doesn’t dip from being over-tired. So, how do you communicate to motivate? To find out, I asked five business leaders for their tips on how to energise tired teams.

Allison English, deputy CEO, Leesman

“The pandemic has invited our teams and colleagues into our homes and all but erased the divide between ‘work’ and ‘life’. With children screaming in the background and cats prancing across our screens, our work personas have all become a little more human, giving us the unique opportunity to connect with one another on a level we couldn’t have before. And while chance encounters don’t happen virtually, we can work at making these connections by reaching out, asking questions and making time for chit-chat, regardless of how long to-do lists are. We need to make more effort in this regard because Leesman’s research has revealed that only 56% of 145,000 home workers that we’ve surveyed report that their home environment supports ‘informal social interaction’.”

Rachel Houghton, MD, Business Moves Group

“Team leaders and managers have the especially difficult task of keeping disparate staff engaged. Central to engaging a team is to recognise the value of each person, and doing what you can to help them feel that recognition. Managers should ensure their team understands what is expected of them and how their work contributes to the bigger picture. This can be particularly challenging at the moment. Some businesses are finding their work is limited by the pandemic and staff are finding themselves less busy; others are being asked to take on new roles and responsibilities. Communication plays a huge role in keeping the team together, even when physically apart. Business updates, new projects and developments should be shared with the team so they can see how their work pays off.”

Kirsty Gaunt, learning & development manager, Anabas

“We use a variety of tactics to keep the team motivated during this tough time, from weekly update calls so the whole team (whether they’re working or furloughed) knows exactly what’s happening across the business to hosting online events such as virtual coffees and ‘fizz Fridays’ to bring in the much-needed social element. Dr Andy Cope, a best-selling author and happiness expert, runs ‘Be Brilliant’ sessions for the Anabas team – these 90-minute training sessions are designed to challenge behaviours and mindset multiple times a year so that we can reach everyone across the business. Our ‘Be Brilliant’ programme also includes a newsletter, and we make a point to openly recognise and reward our people for going above and beyond. It’s important to build self-esteem and the easiest way to do that is to praise people for doing a good job and to celebrate the little things.”

Steve McGregor, group managing director, DMA Group

“Creating and maintaining a strong team culture is a massive step in fuelling motivation and driving momentum. For us at DMA Group, it’s all about working together, sharing pain and success, and supporting each other along the way. That can only be achieved by being real. Honesty and integrity are key. In addition to staying in touch with the team, ensuring everyone has access to leadership and issuing regular business updates, we also make a point of sharing and restating our business-critical objectives. One of our primary and repeated objectives during COVID-19 was to protect as many jobs as possible. During a pandemic there’s lots of things outside of your control so we focussed on the things we could influence: looking after our people, cherishing our customers, working hard, delivering a quality service and seizing our opportunities. We find that’s the best way to motivate others (and ourselves) in and beyond times of crisis.” 

Amanda Baber, director, Portico

“It’s so important to offer people a sense of purpose and belonging, particularly during these strange times when most organisations have physically tired teams and employees are still on furlough leave. Focus on driving a culture that will bring people together and inspire through messaging – it’s not just what you say but how you say it, so consider the tone of voice and best platform to engage and connect. Ensure there’s always a ‘call to action’ with your communications to really get people involved and participating in your business and community. Finally, prioritise physical, mental and financial wellbeing and provide the tools and support for those who need help. It’s tough out there so don’t forget to have fun!”


Jo Sutherland, manager director of Magenta Associates, an integrated communications firm