As a return to the office is seemingly on the horizon, you may be wondering whether you need to be making any changes to your current work practices. You may also be considering whether you remove remote working structures once you are allowed to have your whole team return to the office.
Aside from the need to have contingencies in place should offices have to close again due to social distancing requirements, many employees will begin to request flexibility in their working arrangements having experienced the advantages of doing so.
Therefore, despite any teething challenges you may have had, now is not the time to throw out any progress you have made. Instead, I would encourage you to embrace the opportunities that are presented with a remote workforce and to finish the period of enforced remote work as strong as possible.
Here are some of the fundamental aspects to ensure your team are set up for success while working remotely.
The right tools
You will be unlikely to have a productive remote team without quality tools. Yes, this may have required an upfront investment, but lost productivity and reduced efficiencies is a genuine risk to your business performance over this time if your employees are not adequately set up.
Ensure that you have a good quality video conferencing system, cloud-based filing systems and a tool with chat functionality to ensure that people can continue to communicate easily and frequently.
If employees continue to struggle to hear on conference calls or are unable to locate or download the files they need, they will quickly become frustrated and disenchanted with the prospect of remote working.
The key to managing a remote workforce through this period is to have a meeting at the start of each day with everyone present to discuss any business updates and what the priorities are for the day. This also allows for any issues that have arisen to be discussed and to have everyone across their solutions. Essentially, you are enabling a strong and united start to the day.
Beyond this, seek feedback from the team around what level of communication people want and need and then make this happen. It will be important to drive ‘connection’ at every opportunity. This is even more vital during this time of social distancing when people are at very real risk of becoming lonely and depressed, which will have its own ramifications on businesses and the community.
Set up a separate daily leadership call
It’s important for team leaders to reach out by phone or video to individual members at least weekly to help them feel connected and cared about. This may seem burdensome when leaders have other seemingly more significant priorities. However, it is difficult for team members to feel valued and important when there is such a physical distance.
Team members need to know that the effort that they are putting in, often under very challenging circumstances – particularly if children are involved – is appreciated and valued. It also allows organisations to capture any feedback about how things are working and what improvements might be made to make the experience better for all.
Trust your team
While it is important to drive accountability, reinforce deadlines for completion and encourage focus, ultimately, it will be trust that binds the employee-leader relationship during the remote working period. Focus more on the longer-term goals you are working towards, rather than what minor activities the team is undertaking day-to-day. Not only will this free-up the leader’s time and head-space to focus on bigger priorities, but it will also provide employees with a feeling of empowerment and instil a sense of trust that is hugely beneficial to the employee-leader relationship.
The current environment is not typical. We are working and living through once-in-a-century, unprecedented times, and we have all adjusted as best we can. Demonstrating empathy to your team will let them know that you understand that it can be very challenging to work remotely – especially with children underfoot. Let your team know that they’re not expected to be at the computer for eight hours straight. Encourage them to chat to their Manager about how best to structure their day and what will be important to them to allow them to fulfil their roles as best they can. That may look quite different for each team member, and that’s ok.
Continue to celebrate the wins
When working at home, we miss out on the chit chat of the office and hearing about people’s wins and successes. It’s crucial to celebrate good work in these times, so people feel their role is meaningful and that they are making a contribution.
Don’t let this imperative culture driver slip just because some of the usual forums are currently on pause. Think about ways of doing this differently.
Virtual team activities
In the spirit of togetherness, it’s probably a good time to call for team drinks or other virtual social activities. It’s a great opportunity to understand everyone’s situation a bit better, share some TV binging suggestions, movies, recipes or just provide an ear for each other and hopefully a few laughs.
Nobody has to drive home from this work event, so breathe easy. Drive the conversation, keep it upbeat as best you can, encourage some virtual tours of people’s home workspaces and try to have some fun.
While there are many reasons to feel bleak about COVID-19 and its impact on all parts of your lives, there are some silver linings. Organisations that were not previously equipped for remote working may even come to realise that it often allows for greater efficiencies and increased productivity, autonomy and accountability from their team members.