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Picture this. Mike’s adorable toddler interrupts his Zoom meeting. David’s doorbell rings twice during a single team call. Sara’s spouse is having a loud conversation in the background since they both work from home and the sound carries. Daniel is working bizarre hours, sending emails at 3am. Ruth’s Internet outages are affecting her ability to work from home and hit deadlines. And Rachel is taking three 15-minute breaks a day to walk her dog. Meanwhile, the legal department has issued restrictions on what can be said or done in dealing with customers when working from home. And the compliance department has added an extra layer of directives to ensure the company obeys all of the laws and regulations of the industry. Meanwhile, IT is unable to keep up with the demands for support. Sounds chaotic? It is. Now imagine having to manage such a posse and answer for the team or department’s productivity.
At the moment, everyone is willing to make big allowances and excuse a lot of disruptive behavior resulting from the realities of telecommuting. If pivoting was the most popular word in management in the first half of 2020, then flexibility is the top buzzword in management circles for the second half of the year… and beyond. However, that kind of patience, tolerance and go-with-the-flow attitude is likely to wear thin over time for companies that intend to allow employees to keep telecommuting post-Covid. So turning a blind eye to remote worker management issues is not a sustainable solution. Productivity must be maintained and measured in order for companies to continue to grow. So how should companies measure productivity and results in the remote revolution?
From Remote to Results
Managers of remote teams must oversee these employees with an emphasis on the three Cs: greater clarity, connection and communication, but with the ultimate focus on results. It is not about counting keystrokes, or tracking amount of time logged in. Busyness is not necessarily beneficial or bountiful to a company. Here are some things to do as a manager of a remote team to maximize productivity and ensure accountability while nurturing the three Cs.
1. To increase the likelihood of success, spell out the rules of engagement
Don’t expect employees to just “know” what is expected of them. Even if they’ve worked for the company for years, working remotely — on a permanent basis — is a horse of a different color. Because it is a permanent arrangement, a person’s ability to meet expectations will affect career mobility and financial success. So it is important to spell out explicitly what is expected and what success looks like.
2. Set expectations, get buy-in and achieve predictability related to communication.
What makes people ‘feel’ far away from each other is not actual physical distance. Two people can work in different offices a block away and feel like they are light years away. Whereas, others can work in different continents and yet feel very close. That closeness is affected by the ability to communicate… meaning the lag time it takes between asking a question and getting that person to answer. And that amount of time should be understood / agreed on by everyone. Here are some questions to ask:
- Is there a hierarchy of communication channels based on urgency, such as email, text or phone?
- Will all internal emails be answered by close of business, by end of day, or within 24 hours?
- Will an instant messaging system be used? Must a person be logged into the IM system during business hours? Must all IMs be answered in real time or is a lag time acceptable to allow for uninterrupted blocks of focus?
- Will calls be made only when an immediate answer is required? Will employees commit to answering all calls, or agree to return calls within a certain amount of time? 2 Hours? 4 Hours? By end of day?
- How should a member of the team communicate when he/she is unavailable? Should an employee notify HR, the boss or the team when he/she is unavailable and unable to meet these expectations? Will that be communicated via an email, instant message or via a shared calendar?
The key is to determine what is expected in terms of responsiveness, ensure everyone agrees to this protocol, and then lock it in so that there is a sense of dependability related to communication. Consistency is key. Speed is not necessarily the goal. People feel connected when communication is predictable. It does not need to be fast, just predictable.
3. Set expectations and get buy-in related to work schedule.
This can be an area in which it is hard to control expectations or get buy-in. The flexibility of working from home causes many employees to think that as long as they get their work done, they don’t have to work the same hours as everyone else. And in some jobs, that may be true. But in many jobs, productivity is one goal, but creativity is another key goal. And whereas work gets done when people work alone, innovation happens when people work together. So having employees work vastly different hours can crush creativity. Depending on the type of business, this could be a pivotal issue. To avoid that, it is important to establish a work schedule to that everyone embraces. Here are some questions to answer.
- What will be the normal working hours for the team?
- When will the regular workday begin?
- When will the regular workday end?
4. Establish a regular schedule for connection / interaction.
There should be a regular cadence of connection between the manager and all team members… especially if the team is a hybrid team of remote and in-house workers. There should be a set time to communicate and build relationship. How that is accomplished within each remote team will be up to the manager and team.
- Weekly One-on-One – Some managers have a Monday Morning Meeting with each direct report to briefly discuss direction, ask/answer questions, set priorities, share ideas and just bond. Managers should not have these meetings with some members of the team and not others. The meeting should last between 15-30 minutes. It gets every person on the team going in the right direction.
- Team Huddle – Other managers will also have a group meeting lasting less than an hour with the whole team to brainstorm ideas, align priorities, discuss issues, review data, collaborate on projects and other interactive efforts. This should happen regularly and should be mandatory for everyone on the team, whether in-house or remote.
- Periodic Wrap-up – Still others will have an accountability check at the end of a set period of time; weekly or biweekly. This can be done via email, by text message, or using a project management system. It should indicate the tasks completed that day.
By embracing communication on a regular basis, it eliminates one of the biggest killers of remote work effectiveness: Social Isolation. In fact, according to an article in Harvard Business Review, “Loneliness is one of the most common complaints about remote work, with employees missing the informal social interaction of an office setting. It is thought that extraverts may suffer from isolation more in the short run, particularly if they do not have opportunities to connect with others in their remote-work environment. However, over a longer period of time, isolation can cause any employee to feel less “belonging” to their organization.”
5. Encourage a Pro Video-Conferencing Ethos.
As a company-wide communication strategy, a Pro-Video ethos encourages video conferencing over audio-only conference calls or email threads. This should be something that is explained and agreed on by the team. That means employees cannot turn off video because they aren’t dressed properly. It also allows everyone to pick up on non-verbal communication cues, like rolling of the eyes, raised eyebrows, tilted heads, pursing of the lips, etc. It also ensures that meetings are held in a professional setting, not a noisy coffeehouse, on a bus or train or while driving a car.
6. Encourage Personal Connections.
It’s a fact that people are more likely to go above and beyond for a coworker or boss if they like and trust one another. Work relationships are important to productivity and performance, especially for a team as a whole. Personal relationships also help reduce unproductive conflict. Since the traditional banter that happens in hallways and lunch rooms is lost for remote workers, it is important for the company to provide opportunities for remote employees to build rapport with the team. That means it is okay for team members to talk about what happened on the weekend, or share tidbits or post tasteful photos of their personal lives in a team online board, such as a photo of an employee’s child performing in a play or a photo of the manager taking a swing at a golf ball on the 9th hole. There could be a 1-minute sharing session for each person on the team to say the “Best thing that happened to me this week”.
7. Discuss protocol.
Let remote employees know what is expected in terms of vacation and sick time, travel, and other typical workplace issues. Prepare an Employee Manual that is specifically for Remote Employees that lays out the ground rules. If attire is an important part of the company’s culture, explain what it is and how remote employees are expected to comply. Leave no area unclear. This is how miscommunications are avoided.
Managers may be asking themselves why jump through all these hoops? In a survey conducted by International Workplace Group, 74% of respondents described flexible working as “the new normal” and “80% of workers in the U.S. said they would choose a job which offered flexible working over a job that didn’t.” That means employers embracing remote work may find themselves in the advantageous position of landing top talent for key roles simply because of its remote workplace policy. That’s a good reason to embrace the Remote Revolution.
Quote of the Week
“We need to take a more flexible approach to both the workplace and the work we do; one that provides us both the physical and cognitive space to harness the incredible power, insight and experience we offer, but focused not on the individual processes but instead on the overall outcomes our organizations are seeking to achieve.” David Coplin
© 2020, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.