Maintaining The Bond With Your Staff During COVID-19

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Consultant Tips” series, written by Charese Fruge on July 21, 2020

One of the biggest concerns among most programmers these days is their ability to maintain a strong bond with their staffs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many employees are still working from home, and those who aren’t are in the building when no one else is there due to safety precautions. That’s according to recent conversations I’ve had with programmers in several different formats. Even Justin Chase, Beasley Media Group’s Chief Content Officer was quoted in a recent article in InsideRadio saying, “While I think a certain amount of our work can be done remotely via technology like Zoom, I personally believe it is a bad idea for radio and for the creative process in general. For me, nothing can replace a team working and collaborating together on a daily basis in person. I look forward to the day when our teams, in all our markets, are reunited and continue to create great live and local content.”

That’s the overall feeling in the industry, but when can we get back to the new normal safely? The reality is that’s not going to happen any time soon. And while zoom meetings are great, they get old fast, people get distracted easily and it doesn’t provide that “in person” bond that a lot of people long for, especially talent. Before the pandemic, it was hard enough to make time to bond with teams due to multiple roles and responsibilities. But now, it’s even worse having to try to do that while never being able to be in the same place at one time.

Think about it, before COVID-19, talent were not only engaging with people in their buildings and going to creative meetings and performances, but they were also out and about at events all the time engaging with listeners, getting feedback, and making a personal connection. Now in most instances, there are no more station events or remotes, there are no more brainstorming sessions with the staff in the conference room with pizza, and there are no more laps around the building saying hi to the sales and promotions teams and business office personnel. Add to that the fact that most of us are still being encouraged (or ordered) not to leave the house unless it’s absolutely necessary, and we’re all starting to feel isolated and alone.

Just yesterday a colleague of mine asked me what he could do to continue to bond with his team while on lockdown besides the usual weekly Zoom meetings. He feels like the “working from home model” is affecting team moral, blocking creativity and motivation, and blocking the ability for all of them to learn from one another as they usually do.

There aren’t a lot of options because of the limitations the virus has caused, but as programmers, we are all going to have to get creative to keep talent and staff engaged, because it all starts at the top. You are probably going to have to set aside a little extra time for each team member individually. Or at least reach out to them occasionally for a quick hello or positive acknowledgement. Let them be a part of the creative process and ask for their input on a regular basis. These are challenging times physically and mentally for everyone, but especially for those who are on the front line who need to be focused and entertaining at all times.

I’ve found that doing a virtual lunch works pretty well. I volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters and I could not get my teenage Lil Sis to be interested in anything virtual during this pandemic except when I had lunch delivered to her house. She doesn’t get out much, so having sushi, or Mexican or some kind of themed food delivered to her right before our Zoom call got her excited. Something like this is small, but could go a long way. Talk to the boss about trade, or if you can, cover it yourself. But buying somebody or your staff lunch is always a great way to show your appreciation for them.

At last year’s Talent Masters’ Morning Show Boot Camp in Chicago, Jacobs Media Strategies did a survey among attendees which revealed that even pre-COVID-19, the majority of talent felt like they weren’t getting much support from management. That’s a problem which leads to unnecessary drama. If you aren’t communicating with your staff, they start to overthink things which leads to a lack of focus and passion. And while I know things are crazy for programmers and managers right now, you are a leader. It’s important to remember that part of your job is to go above and beyond to keep your staff motivated and engaged. Because once they cross that line and it’s gone…it’s gone. Especially in a time where they have no real supervision and you can’t sit across from them and look them in the eye to give them the badly needed, long overdue pep talk they need to get them to give you their A game again. And it appears as though things are going to get worse before they get better with the pandemic, so hunker down, get creative and find a way to strengthen that bond with your staff enough so that it lasts until you can all safely sit in the conference room and be together again.