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Working side-by-side with others spurs creativity, generates motivation, increases teamwork and even sparks competition. However, with “social distancing” and “sheltering in place” spreading across the U.S., companies are asking employees to work from home for the duration. This shift can be challenging. Although many employees already work from home one or two days a week or a few hours in the evening, it is not the same as working from home 100% of the time. The benefits of working in close proximity to others are lost. For example, gone is the chatter that ensues in a hallway or by the water cooler. The collaboration that happens more casually than intentionally because of proximity disappears. And, brainstorming that occurs on the fly in the parking lot or lunch room vanishes. So how do companies recreate that in the digital world if every employee is forced to telecommute?
Tools and Equipment
First things first. If remote and telecommuting employees cannot get on a teleconferencing site like Skype or Zoom without the feed breaking up, or they cannot download files, or they struggle to print a document, then that is a problem. Or if they receive meeting invitations for times when they are still asleep, or are asked to manage phone calls on phones that have poor connectivity (“No, I can’t hear you now.”), or their own ISP is inconsistent or really slow, then the first thing to do is ensure that every telecommuting employee has the tools and equipment needed to function. That is pretty basic.
Before shifting all employees to remote work, even if is meant to be just temporary, an organization will likely need to invest in reliable tools to make cooperation, collaboration and communication not only possible, but consistent and smooth. Every employee should be able to log into their office computer remotely, if possible. If not, then they can work through a Remote Desktop Connection, but that could potentially overload the network. There are also privacy, security and compliance issues that must be addressed to safeguard sensitive information accessed from outside a physical workspace.
Ideally, if an entire team is asked to work from home, each employee must have high speed Internet, and a backup method for WIFI should that ISP go down. They should have a functional laptop or computer with the capacity and software to handle whatever tasks the employee must do, and a cell phone that has good reception, decent battery life or a long charger cord, and other recharging tools as needed. They should have a workspace that is comfortable enough to sit and work for a full day, day after day. That means a clean surface such as a desk or table, a comfortable chair, good lighting and good ventilation. Once every employee has the right tools and equipment, then managers need to develop clear processes for using those tools.
Develop Clear Work Processes and Strategies
Last week, we looked at seven strategies and processes for working remotely. Here are some additional considerations to keep in mind and put in place.
8. Keep Communication Focused
Remote workers can feel as if they are locked-out of regular-office human interaction. When an entire organization goes on telecommuting, it is more important than ever to not only over-communicate, but to target that communication to what matters. Keep communication aligned with the mission and values of the organization. Focus on work that goes to the “why” of the organization so that employees feels connected to their purpose. This will keep them truly motivated and working longer and more productively.
9. Aim for Results, Not Activity
Busy is not best. Instead of controlling when people work and whether they are spending every moment “on the clock” productively, it is better to adopt a results-oriented attitude. Manage expectations and focus on goals with a remote workforce. Don’t worry as much about tasks and time management. Instead, concentrate on what is being accomplished. If a team is meeting its goals, then that is what matters. If not, look into the situation further and consider how the shift to working from home might be affecting otherwise productive employees. It is all about accomplishment, not activity.
10. Plan for Engagement and Connection
Create an atmosphere of engagement, camaraderie and connection. Don’t leave this to chance. Be intentional in preparing and orientating employees for a telecommuting environment. For this, clarity is key. Make sure every employee knows what is expected. Structure virtual team meetings carefully, intentionally crafting the purpose of the meeting and devising opportunities for each person to engage and contribute. Skype or Zoom meetings should not be a lecture, pep talk or an opportunity for the manager to assign work and for employees to report what they’ve done. Instead, it should be an opportunity to discuss projects, progress and potential in a positive way. This only happens if it is planned.
11. Develop a Communication Protocol
Managing communication for a team that is working remotely can be tricky. Some people want to be able to ask questions throughout the day and get feedback as needed. Others prefer to work uninterrupted for a period of time and then aggregate questions to be addressed all at once. For a team to be productive while working remotely requires discerning what communication strategies are right for them. Determine how many weekly formal “update” sessions are needed for a team, and whether those need to be submitted via email or shared via teleconference as a group. Will everyone be expected to jump on a session or is it optional? Then determine what would be the best approach for dealing with daily communication. Will the group use Slack for instant communication? Or should people save questions for a Q&A Session? By clarifying what is urgent and what can wait can reduce inefficiency, allowing ultimate productivity.
12. Avoid the Multi-Tasking Black Hole
Overcommunication is good when it comes to telecommuting. But multi-tasking has been proven to be bad for efficiency. That’s because multi-tasking is not real. It is a fiction. People who are “multi-tasking” are actually toggling back and forth between two activities. Having to toggle between two competing tasks requires the brain to refocus back and forth between the two over and over. Ultimately, it wastes time. Instead, telecommuting employees should be encouraged to stay in “working mode” and not toggle over to Instant Messaging, Email and Social media intermittently. Emails with extensive “reply all” can depress productivity, especially when people are trying to move work off their plate.
13. Build Community
Help employees who are working remotely to empathize and appreciate their situation by discussing family, commonalities and shared beliefs. During this particularly stressful time, this can not only build community, but it can also relieve anxiety and stress. Use collaboration tools such as shared docs and spreadsheets, phone calls, chat, and video to invest in the relationship. Don’t just check on their work progress. Check on their well-being as well, and allow the team to share ideas about what is working for them and what isn’t. Allow the team to problem-solve.
Last but not least, for a team working remotely, consider what each person brings to the table in terms of talent, training, education skills and overall value to the organization. Some skills or abilities have a higher long-term, big picture value to an organization. If a company shifts to telecommuting temporarily and some members of the team may not be as productive because of the circumstances, such as a sales team who is producing less, keep in mind that this virus will eventually pass and things will return to normal. It is important for organizations to keep top talent now so that they are able to return to a high level of effectiveness as soon as conditions improve. For example, top event planners and resort managers may not have a lot to do as those industries contract for a season, companies would be wise to hold on to those valuable employees so they can return to full capacity as soon as there is a return to normalcy. Wise decisions now will help those companies bounce back faster after the crisis passes…. and it will.
Quote of the Week
“We like to give people the freedom to work where they want, safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they are at their desk or in their kitchen. Yours truly has never worked out of an office, and never will.”
Sir Richard Branson, Founder & CEO of Virgin Airlines
© 2020, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.