Navigating the Pandemic: How to Boost Morale and Motivation

by | Leaders Lunch

In early May, ProFocus hosted two thought-provoking discussions with technology leaders from the Portland area and beyond. These roundtable discussions focused on boosting morale and motivation, a common topic for all industries right now.  

 John Boone, the President of ProFocus Technology, moderated the discussion. The leaders in attendance offered various advice, best practices, and lessons learned. The following are notes from both of our one-hour virtual discussions.  

Key Takeaways from Discussion 1: Boosting Morale & Motivation 

Important Issues: 

  • Isolation. Helping individuals stay connected is only becoming more difficult.  
  • Uncertainty. Teams, managers and CEOs alike are not sure how to plan for the future.  
  • Budget. Increased customer use has increased operational costs. 
  • Creativity & Innovation. Problem solving and collaboration is extremely limited.  

Working Solutions: 

  • Isolation. Celebrate every milestone and encourage company-wide participation. Send an employee a pizza on their birthday.    
  • Uncertainty. Consider having your executive team host weekly updates that lead with positivity and provide transparency. Do these more often than you think you need to! 
  • Budget. Many leaders have focused on cutting operational costs rather than personnel. Others have implemented temporary hiring freezes.  
  • Creativity & Innovation. Put blocks of time on the team calendar for creative time. Give spotlight time in meetings for people to present their new ideas. 

Surprising Insights: 

  • Traditionally remote employees are feeling more connected to their companies and their teams.  
  • Productivity has increased in some cases. This has been an opportunity to make sure all team members are aware of how their productivity is measured.  
  • Collective challenges such as childcare or home fitness have bridged new connections on teams.  
  • Maybe all meetings should have a virtual option? As teams transition back to the office maybe having a standing meeting link will be helpful for when people are stuck in traffic or in between offsite visits.  

Every tech leader agrees that the virtual break room or new slack channel has helped their team feel more connected and motivated. Encouraging participation and leading by example have helped these leaders boost morale on their teams. Although this approach doesn’t always work with employees it can be a good start! Here are some other tools and ideas for boosting morale and motivation.  

Resources & Ideas: 

  • For tracking performance and setting expectations: 
    • Waydev Git Analytics Platform 
    • Pluralsight Flow 
  • For motivation: 
    • Create contests around key projects or goals. Quality Assurance Example: Competition to see who found the most bugs that week.  
  • For innovation: 
    • Free Fridays – every quarter they have 4 free Fridays. People use these for developing a new innovation, taking a class, improving a tool of the company. At the end they have a meeting where each person presents what they’ve worked on. 
  • For morale: 
    • Fitness challenge – create a separate slack channel to track progress, the goal is to run 50 miles before 4th of July. Team members post their progress and keep each other motivated.  

Key Takeaways from Discussion 2: Being a Leader, Not a Manager 

Many of the Leaders Lunch discussions have focused on boosting morale and motivation among employees. Tech leaders from Portland (and beyond) believe that their leadership sets the tone in a crisis and can directly impact their team’s productivity and morale. While this may be true outside of a global pandemic as well, check out these insights on how to be a leader first and a manager second:  

  • Everyone has unique challenges, treat them that way. 
  • Address concerns more than once. 
  • Ask the right questions. Not just “how are you doing?”  
  • Focus on the people.  
  • Do not act as a task master. 
  • Reassess what goals and targets are realistic. 
  • Make space for personal conversations. Set an example. 

The remainder of the discussion focused on the challenges and lessons learned throughout the pandemic. Take a look at the situations these tech managers are facing in Portland (and beyond): 

Hiring & Onboarding.  

  • Challenge: With teams dispersed and working remotely many managers have seen a disconnect between companies and candidates. An example discussed at our virtual leaders lunch demonstrated this when two candidates went through the hiring process remotely only to be told after that they would be required to do minimal training onsite. The onsite training and onboarding requirements led these candidates to decline the offer in the final stages.  
  • Lesson Learned: Over-communication between the hiring manager, HR and the candidate is increasingly important during these times. Keep in mind that each of these roles has taken on more responsibilities. Managers, candidates and HR representatives are stretched thin, so it is crucial to provide more transparency than normal and learn from these new challenges. This transparency includes honesty from managers about the ROI of the hiring processes. Losing candidates that late in the process is a huge loss of time, resources and potentially reputation among other job seekers.  

Boosting Morale.  

  • Challenge: Every team member faces a unique challenge and no two situations are the same. This means managers are spending more time strategizing and adjusting their leadership style to fit the needs of everyone, an impossible task. As Zoom fatigue worsens and instability doesn’t improve many employees are feeling disconnected and isolated.  
  • Lessons Learned: Throughout the discussion several different approaches were taken to boost morale and connectivity. The approaches varied based on company size, industry impact from the pandemic, and the role of IT in the organization. Here are some of the examples shared during the roundtable: 
    • Weekly coffee with the CEO, optional for everyone in the company. This gave individual contributors a chance to connect with the big picture and have a sense of transparency.  
    • Don’t trash morale in the first place!  
    • Remote work has helped employees with documentation. Some employees who were traditionally remote really appreciate that attention to detail. This can be an opportunity for your team to support each other and get back to the basics.  
    • One employee created an app for assigning random coffee meetings with every individual in the company.  
    • Give your company a chance to showcase their talent and teach each other new skills. For example, one company’s UI designer led a short drawing class during the lunch hour. Other examples include showing off your musical talent and jamming out with teammates or leading a How-To class on furniture repair! 
    • Structure your check-ins to dig deeper. One manager uses a structure for each meeting where everyone comes prepared with one positive things from that week that is personal and not work-related. Setting these expectations before the meeting ensures that everyone participates, and it goes more quickly.  
    • Collaboration tools these teams are using: Microsoft Teams Whiteboard, Miro, Zoom Whiteboard, Google Hangouts. TIP: Share your screen when collaborating, even if it’s brief.  
    • $$$ helps morale. Make sure to have honest conversations about goals related to commissions/income/raises and be a resource for your team. Help them make achievable goals.  
    • Consider your team members in other time zones. Make sure you and your team are connecting regularly so dispersed employees can feel in the loop.  
    • Find ways to make check-ins more casual. For example some managers have done weekly check-ins in their yard or patio on a nice day. 

ProFocus is proud to host these roundtable discussions for Portland tech leaders to share insights and challenges. For more insights about how Portland’s tech leadership is navigating the pandemic check out the key takeaways from our April discussion.  

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about our upcoming events please email us at [email protected]


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ProFocus is an IT staffing and consulting company. We strive to connect a select few of the right technology professionals to the right jobs.

We get to know our clients and candidates in detail and only carefully introduce a small number of candidates that fit the role well.