Remote work is here to stay in some form or another. The coronavirus pandemic necessitated urgent work-from-home (WFH) for as many jobs as possible thus redefining the way individuals and teams communicate and work together. To make it successful you have to be very intentional about how you lead and manage for the performance and wellbeing of you, your employees and the organization.
Remote Working Benefits
The biggest benefit of remote working historically was the time saved from the lack of commute and the ability to focus without distractions. Many employees would work remotely to have thinking time in comfortable clothing. The lack of commute contributed to better work/life balance and had green benefits.
Remote Work Productivity
Pre-pandemic research showed that remote working is more productive with a +13% productivity increase (or almost an extra day per week) and 50% decrease in employee-quit rates. There is uncertainty from this same expert, Nicholas Bloom, on whether those benefits will be reaped now with coronavirus due to the distractions from children as there has been little childcare, lack of in-office time and the absence of choice about work from home (WFH).
Before coronavirus many organizations had a very restrictive remote work policy. Managers often feared that employees would work much less at home due to children, laziness, or doing personal things instead.
Remote Workers’ Worries
Antidotally I’ve heard quite a few worries about remote work from home:
- My boss doesn’t keep in touch or know what’s going on for me
- Loneliness for those living alone (more severe during lockdown)
- Missing out on overhearing information in an office
- Having to figure things out on their own as previously they could learn by observing or overhearing or asking someone easily
- Lack of social interaction and fun, little frivolity
- Feeling anxious of making a mistake or wasting time given little direct, detail-oriented supervision
Remote Work Best Practices
1. Set expectations clearly upfront and re-visit them periodically. Be clear what the rules of engagement are about working hours (number and when), peoples’ availability, how communication will work such as when you’re most likely to be available in a day and week and how to connect if there’s something urgent (eg. text or instant message in emergency). How should information be shared. Talk it all through so everyone is on the same page. Talk about how emails will be acknowledged so people don’t wonder if they’ve been ‘heard.’ Make the implicit explicit – this bridges the distance and lack of physicality.
2. Communicate regularly, frequently and proactively. Set up regular team video meetings as well as 1:1 check-ins. Some organizations do quick daily morning team meetings to highlight the priorities and focus the team enthusiastically. It’s also a good way to share knowledge periodically to compensate for what is often overheard in an open plan office. 1:1 discussions can happen every week, or two, varying the platform for variety and effectiveness (people are using audio calls so individuals aren’t under the ‘camera’ all the time).
3. Have social connection in addition to working relationship. One company in London does an internal pub quiz with each department split into teams and taking 15 minutes or so a week virtually together to complete that week’s quiz (no internet cheating), with an overall ranking board updated each week. Another has set-up on-line video game sessions for his team (with rules of engagement agreed beforehand). Another has done pizza lunches, having pizzas delivered at the same time to each participant’s home. Or sent care packages to be opened during the meeting.
4. Create a sense of team and belonging. Conduct intentional team building and bonding exercises. Ask “what do you appreciate about being part of this team?” and then break the team into pairs to discuss. Have each pair share an idea back in the larger group either through on-line chat or verbally. Celebrate milestones achieved and if things aren’t achieved yet, celebrate the process and efforts along the way.
5. Establish a work from home policy. Formalize the policy about what is acceptable and what is not in terms of remote work. This would include: who is eligible to work from home and when, equipment and space requirements and whether the company or individual are responsible for those, health and safety parameters and procedures if there is an accident, company information and data protection necessities, stipulate how employees should treat WFH days, whether and how work performance will be monitored. Ensure the policy is a group effort of HR, business units and governance/legal.
6. Ensure governance/legal aspects are covered. In addition to what is in the WFH policy above ensure someone is championing the legal and governance aspects. For example, how is confidentiality being ensured remotely. Clients have coaching sessions with me with family members in the background. This is not ideal, and it is their choice; your customers or clients may not want family members to be in earshot and worse, it might be unethical or a data breach depending on the industry.
7. Be a secure base for your employees. This means that employees can try new things knowing their boss has their back, that if they ‘fail’ you will look for the learning rather than blaming. You do this by listening, by appreciating what they do well and how they do it, and by understanding and acknowledging their situation. Ask for feedback if you’re not getting it spontaneously – this means what you could stop/start/continue. Good leaders also self-manage so staff can see someone acknowledging difficulty and displaying optimism and encouragement. Staff judge how to react to a given situation by looking at their leaders. A secure base is about creating a bond with them, just as you’d do with your kids (if you have any).
8. Grow your people. In 1:1’s coach occasionally to create a reflective space for them to find their own answers. Ask them what their career ambitions are, where they think they need to grow and develop and then how they’d go about achieving that. Also, give feedback – always constructive – whether it’s articulating what they do well and being constructive about what they could do better. Nip any issues in the bud, don’t wait until the performance review. Remote working doesn’t stop development or career opportunities.
9. The foundation to remote work is TRUST. In the absence of information or communication, where there is a void and you are uncertain about what’s going on, choose TRUST and ask your team to do the same with you and each other. Psychologists say that when there is a “lack of mutual knowledge,” people will not give other the benefit of the doubt. This is a heightened issue in WFH. When you don’t know a colleague is having a bad day because you don’t see their stressed face in the office or overhear a difficult call with their partner, your empathy or compassion decreases when you receive a curt email from them. You get curt and then it becomes a vicious downward circle. Make it a virtuous circle by trusting their intention is positive even if their words or actions might not be in a specific moment.
Remote Work Tools
There are a variety of tools to optimize remote working. The technical tools will be provided by IT in your organization or you have been required to use by your customers and clients. The management tools are based on skilful emotional intelligence techniques and current leadership thinking. These tools are for yourself or to use with your teams for healthy productivity.
Set up multiple communication streams. Use phone, email, video conferencing, instant messaging so the appropriate platform is available of any interaction. IT is an even more important partner in the organization to be forward-looking and solution oriented.
- Have a proper working space. This means ideally an area dedicated to work only so there are clear boundaries between personal and professional. Minimize or eliminate distractions. Have a chair that provides proper skeletal support. Position the computer ergonomically.
- Take breaks. Have lunch away from your desk. Go outside for fresh air. Pair up with a colleague to have a virtual coffee or lunch break together, as you might have done in the office.
- Follow a schedule consistently. This creates routine and further differentiates personal and professional. Have a to-do list or use a project management system if multiple people would benefit from having access to each other’s status.
- Wear work-type attire. Don’t work in what you would lounge at home in, so you feel different at work versus relaxing. I’ve often said to clients having phone interviews before the pandemic to wear their work outfit, including shoes, and stand up for the call. This creates a productive, professional attitude within yourself that can be sensed across the phone line. Physiology affects psychology.
What aspects of your leadership would help your team’s effectiveness while working remotely?
Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to assess your leadership and your team’s performance with remote working.