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Keeping Your Team Happy in a World Gone Mad

Happy TeamI remain optimistic. I’ve written that many times over the past month, and – with the vaccine being rolled out at an ever-faster pace – how can I not be optimistic? Especially with a record number of businesses being set up during lockdown. That may be down to necessity, with record numbers seemingly applying for every available job, but it is also testament to the entrepreneurial spirit, the drive to create something, and to take control of your life.

Of course, there are still one or two bumps in the road. The ‘South African variant;’ the fact that lockdown is clearly going to last into March; that social distancing looks like it could be with us for the rest of the year.

Sooner or later, though, we’ll be through it. Back to shaking hands, back to team meetings in the office. But as I suggested in the last post, that may well be when the problems start for many businesses.

As I wrote, so many people have been running on adrenalin, juggling work, a relationship, money and childcare. One day that’s going to end, and it won’t just be in the NHS where we’ll see pent-up mental health problems come to the fore. The private sector – you and the people that work for you – are going to be equally vulnerable.

So what can you do? How can you – as the title suggests – keep your team sane and happy in a world that’s gone mad?

It would be very easy to trot out the usual clichés. Plenty of exercise. Make sure you’re sleeping well. Eat the right food. More exercise…

But this is different. This is a situation none of us have ever experienced – either as owners, managers or individuals. So maybe we need to think a little further outside the box. Or, as you’ll read in the last paragraph, outside the bottle. Here are four ideas…

As life returns to the ‘new normal’ your vision is going to be more important than ever. Let me re-phrase that. Your ambition for the company, your sense of where you want to go, of how you’re going to get there, are going to be crucial. We’ll all have lived through a year – or more – of uncertainty. As business owners we need to provide that certainty. We need to say, ‘Yes, it’s been tough: but this is where we’re going. This is how we’re going to get there.’

Will that be difficult? When we’ve all come through a year of uncertainty ourselves it is going to be one of the most difficult things we have ever done. Fortunately, you’re not alone. You have the support of your colleagues round the TAB boardroom table: you have the support of everyone in TAB UK. These are challenges we never expected in our business lives. That does not make them challenges we can’t overcome.

Communicate. Maybe the word ‘communicate’ could have appeared in my list of clichés. It doesn’t, because I think a new style of communication is called for. Zoom calls have changed things (and I don’t mean trying to guess who’s wearing pyjama bottoms…)

Business communication is going to be even more open, even less formal. The manager cocooned in his office, the door shut, a secretary fiercely guarding access… Those days are gone: they are never coming back. I strongly suspect that desks and filing cabinets will be going the same way. I remember reading Robert Townsend’s Up the Organization years and years ago. ‘Go out and buy a round meeting table,’ he advised. ‘No-one is at the top, no-one is at the bottom.’ Absolutely right.

‘Flexible working’ is a phrase that has been on everyone’s lips over the last couple of years. ‘Millennials demand flexible working’ we have been told over and over again. Could I respectfully suggest that we now drop the term? That ‘flexible working’ is simply work?

If the last year has taught us anything, it is that we should – and can – trust the people we work with. If someone works better in the evenings, fine. If someone needs to fit work round school commitments, fine. It’s not flexible working, it is simply sensible employers trusting their teams and recognising one of the key lessons of the pandemic: we’re all in the results business, not the time spent in the office business.

…Which finally brings me to the office itself. As I’ve hinted above, I can see desks, filing cabinets and the boss’s office disappearing. Now many of my colleagues in TAB UK are not unfamiliar with the products of Fever Tree – and what invariably goes with them.

The bosses at Fever Tree – who have clearly got some decisions right – have recognised that their staff ‘are never going back full-time.’ This means lots of spare space at their London HQ. As the company embraces flexible working – sorry, work – they’ve decided to turn some of that spare space into a bar. Yep, a fully-stocked, fully-functioning bar.

I can’t wait for the next Zoom call. I’m not sure the team from Harrogate HQ will even bother to vote…


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