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Virtual cocktails at 4:00 and the local pub at 5:00: How to manage and motivate global teams through differing COVID experiences

Written by Rachel Irvine on Thursday, 09 September 2021. Posted in Global, HR, People

With after work drinks back on the menu in the UK following the recent removal of the work from home guidance, it can be easy to forget that staff based in other countries may still be experiencing the pandemic in full force.

Virtual cocktails at 4:00 and the local pub at 5:00: How to manage and motivate global teams through differing COVID experiences

With after work drinks back on the menu in the UK following the recent removal of the work from home guidance, it can be easy to forget that staff based in other countries may still be experiencing the pandemic in full force. How can business leaders continue to manage a team whose members may still be facing restrictions and home working while other parts of the world are opening up?

No two countries have had the same experience of the pandemic, and individuals in the same country haven’t all had the same experience either. I’m based in London, and my company, Irvine Partners, has 50 staff members dispersed between offices in London, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Nairobi and Lagos-- all with very different experiences of the pandemic. In London, like many other businesses, we’ve been fully remote since March 2020, and only recently started going back into the office with the lifting of restrictions and our entire team being vaccinated. In South Africa, remote work started around the same time, interspersed with periods of return to office as restrictions were lifted. But the country is now experiencing a third wave and a slower vaccine rollout, and though staff are welcome to spend time in office, many are opting to stay home.

Feelings of vaccine envy, or losing motivation when seeing colleagues in other offices out and about again while still being stuck at home, are valid. Business leaders who find themselves navigating their team through a similar situation, take note.

Listen to team members and give them a voice

Managers need to keep up-to-date on the restrictions and experiences in all of their teams’ locations so that they can not only make the best decisions for staff health and safety, but so that staff feel seen and understood. Do your own research to stay aware of where countries are in terms of the pandemic and vaccine rollout, but also give team members the opportunity to discuss what they’re going through. 

Following news that large organisations like Bumble were closing down for a week to help staff combat burnout, a staff member based in our Cape Town office suggested our offices implement something similar. Between the pandemic and the fear that brings, the lockdowns, protests, personal illness, disruption to normal life, coupled with not taking leave because it seems like a waste, it's enough to make anyone anxious or stressed. Providing an open line of communication created space for this valuable feedback, which we acted on in July with a company wide mental health day.

Promote and maintain cross- office culture

Even prior to the pandemic, our staff in various countries were already working together and collaborating virtually.  We have employees based in London with a manager in Johannesburg who have never connected outside of the virtual office, and thus have a relationship based largely on the clients they share. 

Organisational culture keeps employees engaged and drives brand identity, so one of the ways we sought to foster this was through monthly watercooler sessions for staff to get to know each other better on a personal level. We create rotating groups of around six employees who video chat for 30 minutes with the only rule being that they can’t talk about work. Even though our staff have been returning to their respective offices, our watercooler moments are here to stay to keep them connected, no matter where they are.

Though some countries continue to lift restrictions as more and more of their population is vaccinated, new variants and a lack of vaccine access have slowed the return to normalcy for others, which can create an environment where staff feel left behind. Surveys have shown that organisations that have built strong employee relationships during earlier phases of the crisis will be better positioned as we emerge from the pandemic, and taking a tailored approach to staff with differing experiences of the pandemic is crucial in doing this. 

About the Author

Rachel Irvine

Rachel Irvine

Rachel Irvine is an Entrepreneurs’ Organization London Board Member and CEO of Irvine Partners with more than 20 years’ experience as a global communications professional. She worked as a journalist in London before spending time in Moscow where she set up a successful PR agency focused on the commercial real estate and financial services sectors. She founded Irvine Partners 11 years ago in her home city, Cape Town and now runs the business from its London office.

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