9 Tips for Managing Staff in an Informal Workplace

There’s a lot of information out there designed to help professional managers handle their teams of office-based staff, boosting their performance and keeping them on target. Leaders of smaller enterprises seem to go forgotten, particularly if they’re working in an industry that doesn’t necessarily play by the same rules as a corporate firm.

Managing in a casual, service-based environment presents its own unique challenges, and it can be tough to navigate staff with zero-hour contracts and zero experience without an HR department to fall back on. If you’re just starting a management role in a workplace where jeans and t-shirts are the norm, here are a few tips on keeping your team running smoothly.


1. Hire Conscientiously

The first step in effective management is hiring the right people in the first place.

It starts with writing a good advert; know the skills, personality and availability of your ideal employee, and tailor the advert towards them. If you don’t find your perfect match, don’t worry – new skills are much easier to teach than new attitudes. Honesty, agreeableness and the ability to self-motivate are the most important attributes for most roles, as well as a personality and “vibe” that fits with your existing team.

Try not to employ just one type of person, either. Sure, students might not be fussed about career progression or higher wages, but if your whole team is desperate to get Friday and Saturday evenings off then you’ll run into difficulties. Build a team with complementary lifestyles and you’ll find managing your staff much easier.


2. Treat Your Team as Individuals

Expecting each team member to perform exactly the same duties in exactly the same way is not necessarily the most productive option. Instead, look for qualities in individuals that will make a job seem much easier. For example, your confident extrovert might get distracted during inventory checks, but will thrive behind a busy bar on Friday nights.

Be flexible about this on each shift. If your star employee is having a bad day, letting them complete back-of-house tasks for a day might give them a chance to recover without affecting customers.

3. Plan Shifts Carefully

You should already be aware of how your employment fits into the life of each team member, and you should always use this to inform your shift management. If you have staff that rely on a regular pay cheque or are balancing a second (or third) job, try to prioritise this in your scheduling. Avoid consistently putting your team in a position where they have to make sacrifices to work a poorly planned shift.

Using a dedicated platform, like Planday workforce planning software can make this much easier. Once you have set up a schedule, all of the admin (like availability, shift-swapping or holiday requests) is dealt with automatically or by your team, who can access rotas remotely. Scheduling software cuts down the amount of effort on your part, and empowers your staff and prevents a breakdown in communication.


4. Become the Master of Organisation

The secret to staying calm and collected under pressure? Knowing that you’ve got a firm handle on everything that needs to be done. This typically includes:

  • Preparing rotas at least 2 weeks in advance, avoiding the majority of last-minute scheduling issues
  • Anticipating particularly busy periods (daily, weekly, seasonal or due to a local event)
  • Keeping a training schedule to ensure your staff each have the skills to perform their job properly
  • Having a prioritised “to do” list, including all management tasks
  • Incentivising your team with clear business objectives at the start of every shift, like reaching a sales target, performing certain cleaning tasks or upselling a particular product.

5. Appoint Co-pilots

Make sure you have at least two employees that you can trust to run the business in your absence, and actually give them the training and authority to make important decisions while you’re on holiday, off sick or taking care of an emergency. Demonstrating trust (rather than forcing them to call you for every decision) and promoting from within the ranks will bring out the best in your team, and show that hard work is rewarded with responsibility.


6. Know Your Team Members

The best part of an informal workplace is that you can roll your sleeves up and be a part of the team. When you’re not being pulled away by admin and management duties, take the time to get to know the people you’ve hired to work in your business. It’s a great way to figure out which kinds of work they will be best at, as well as making your workplace a generally more inviting place to be.

7. Deal with Conflict Efficiently

In informal workplaces, the line between friend and boss easily becomes blurred, but it’s essential that you can step into “manager mode” when problems arise.

Don’t be afraid to issue informal warnings, and if you need to escalate, be clear that you are ultimately running a business, and certain behaviours cannot be tolerated. Allowing problem staff to remain in your team can demoralise other workers, ultimately poisoning the unit you spent so much time cultivating.

That said, keep in mind that anyone – including you – can make a mistake, and often the most productive way of addressing a problem is helping to find a solution. The best managers are clear and firm in their disciplinary actions, but are willing to find a mutually beneficial compromise.


8. Manage Transparently

Balancing hours, responsibilities and personalities is always going to be tough, but you can do yourself a huge favour by acting as transparently as possible.

You might feel that, as a manager, you don’t have an obligation to explain yourself to your staff, but that’s not the route to a happy team. Openly discussing your logic behind swapping shifts, granting holidays and delegating tasks will engender respect, and demonstrate that nobody is being unfairly picked on.

Regular staff meetings and giving teams a rundown of targets at the beginning of their shift are a great way to incorporate this into your day-to- day practices.


9. Celebrate Successes

Finally, make sure that you look after your team, and thank them for a job well done. Whether this is done with a free drink after their shift, a staff party or simply acknowledging an individual’s hard work in front of the rest of the team is up to you.

Encouragement and positive reinforcement go a long way in boosting morale and job satisfaction, ultimately improving productivity, professional relationships and customer satisfaction.

Photo credits in order of appearance: Unspash, Unsplash, eOffice, eOffice Unsplash
About the Author:

Mike James is an independent writer and business consultant partnering with staff management specialist Planday on this and a number of other small business advice related articles.